Examination of Witnesses (Questions 166
MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2006
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.