Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 166 - 169)



  Chairman: Good evening, and welcome. I saw some nods and grimaces during that first session so no doubt we will explore further themes. Thank you very much for agreeing to be here tonight; we do appreciate your time.

  Q166  Justine Greening: In relation to the employment rate of ethnic minorities, what key policy changes do all of you think are required if we are going to succeed in increasing the employment rate of these disadvantaged groups; perhaps I can ask the Equal Opportunities Commission first?

  Ms Ariss: I think we are probably going to spend a lot of time this afternoon talking about particularly the issues around ethnic minorities, but we think there is a need for a wider range of changes. We welcome the fact that the 80% target is there, we think that is helpful, not least because many of the people who are not in work now but who want to work face some kind of disadvantage in getting into work. We do have one or two not concerns about the target but other things that we think need to be thought about alongside it. The first is, we feel strongly that people who have caring responsibilities should not be forced into the workforce against their will. The evidence that we have suggests there are many people with caring responsibilities, either parents or people caring for an older or disabled person, who would like to get into paid work and who are struggling to do that because they cannot get the care services they need at the times that they need them. There are some people for whom caring is a full-time role, either because of the needs of the person for whom they are caring or because of their personal choice, that is what they want to do, and we feel that nobody should be forced, in those circumstances, into the workforce against their will. The second thing we would like to throw into the conversation around the target itself is that having a job is not the whole story. Whilst the target is something that we welcome, we would like to see policy recognising also the very different quality of jobs that are available to people, and that people facing disadvantage in getting into work often end up being clustered in the lowest-quality jobs, with poor prospects, poor pay, and so on. Not only is that unfair to them and their families, it is a waste of skills, because there are many people who are in jobs which do not use their skills. Millions of part-time workers, for example, are in jobs which do not use their skills and experience, because they need to work part-time, mostly women, to balance family and work and those are the only jobs they can get, and it is a tremendous waste of their skills, which is obviously bad for productivity. Also we think that pattern of disadvantaged people being clustered into low-quality jobs is bad for community cohesion, because it tends to follow a kind of segregation of particular kinds of people into particular jobs. We would like to see the policy agenda not looking just at the 80% target but looking at the quality of jobs, so that ethnic minority people, parents, others with caring responsibilities, have as good a chance as anybody else to have a good-quality job, to progress, and so on.

  Q167  Justine Greening: Do you think the Government has been ambitious enough in its targets for reducing the unemployment of ethnic minorities?

  Ms Ariss: They are not as specific as they might be, so in that sense they could be more ambitious. We welcome the fact that there is a target. The idea of narrowing gaps between different groups of people seems to us fundamentally a helpful one, but the target could be quite a bit more precise. I suspect one of the reasons why it is not is that there is not very much data, that it is just aggregated to show the different position of ethnic minority women and ethnic minority men, for example, which is a very important thing to look at but often is overlooked, or indeed to look at the quite distinct position for different ethnic minority groups, because the pattern is hugely different, and a target that just merges everybody together is not likely to be tremendously illuminating; it is checking that things are working.

  Q168  Justine Greening: Is that too much of a blunt instrument with which then to do the strategy?

  Ms Ariss: I think that is a very fair way of putting it. Yes; it is good to have a target but the target as it stands is quite a blunt instrument.

  Q169  Justine Greening: Then the Commission for Racial Equality, what are your views?

  Mr Christie: We agree with all of that. Let me offer two thoughts, which have already come up in the conversation so far today. One is the value and the benefit of targeted policies. We think that the Ethnic Minority Outreach scheme, for example, is a big success. One of the reasons we believe it is a success is because it is delivered largely by community organisations to the community which is being served, so there is an inherent understanding of the needs of the population being served by the people who are delivering the policy. In our view, that has to be a good thing. Therefore, it is worrying, the thought that EMO is going away and is being absorbed into a much more generalised initiative which will not have the same ability to target that the EMO programme has. The other thing is that there are initiatives which clearly deliver employment benefit and the one that we have in mind particularly is public procurement. There is research in the US and Canada which has demonstrated that public procurement is probably the best way of getting employment opportunities, raising the employment rate of disadvantaged populations, like ethnic minorities, lone parents, and so on and so forth. It is concerning, therefore, given that we have a public procurement policy in place, that perhaps more effort is not put into making that broader, deeper, bigger, more successful than it is currently.

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