Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)

MONDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2006

MS AMANDA ARISS, MS KAVERI SHARMA, MR ALAN CHRISTIE AND MR SUKHVINDER SINGH

  Q180  Justine Greening: Can I just push you on that. When talking about the differences, you were saying "We don't really know either." Being the Commission for Racial Equality, you must be better placed than most to have perhaps some hypotheses which you think might explain the differences. Do you have any evidence which you can give to the Committee, which might point us in the right direction, about what you think is actually going on?

  Mr Christie: Not really. All evidence in that area is going to be anecdotal and it is going to be based on opinion and is not really particularly sound. What we do know is that there are variations of expectation, for example, between communities, and that may well be because of the particular origin of a community in a particular area. It may be any number of factors which come into play. We know no better than anyone else exactly how those different factors interlinking with each other create a particular set of circumstances' problems.

  Ms Ariss: We have actually got some research being done for us at the moment, to try to look in a bit more detail at some of these differences between different parts of the country. I do not think we have got a report back from the researchers yet, but we will have pretty soon, so very shortly we may be in a position to say something a little bit more nuanced about why there appear to be such big differences between localities. At a guess, I would say some of it is going to be about the structure of the local economy, what kinds of jobs are available, because one of the things that we have found in the research we have done so far is that, particularly for some ethnic minority women, they are likely to feel that some types of work or some employers will not be welcoming to them. They fear discrimination, therefore they do not seek jobs in that sector or in that firm, therefore it stays very unrepresentative of the local labour market. Therefore, you get a vicious circle of more and more young ethnic minority women who look at that organisation or that sector and think "That's not for me, it's full of people who aren't like me; it's probably going to be very unwelcoming, I'll probably face harassment." You can get a vicious circle going like that, and if you have got that kind of vicious circle going on in an area then it might be part of the explanation of why there are such different employment rates for particular groups of ethnic minority women in different parts of the country.

  Q181  Harry Cohen: To take you back to the comment about using the Olympics to generate more and better employment for those who are otherwise at the sharp end of inequalities; actually, a large part of my constituency is within one of the five Olympic boroughs, so there is a lot of interest in my area. You talked about the EU rules in contracts, but you could still require equality provision within those contracts; could you require a local labour content within those contracts? The last point is, clearly there need to be work skills developed well before 2012, and personally I am little bit concerned that we are a bit slow off the mark, including particularly in the five Olympic boroughs. Do you think really we should be pressing for work skills, training, even now and focusing in that an equality component?

  Ms Ariss: I think it is absolutely right to say that in relation to the Olympics particularly the hour is here to be seized, and given the scale of the projects which are going to be undertaken and the pace at which the development is moving it is an urgent question to be addressed. In relation to the law and what you can and cannot do, most certainly you can set various requirements around equality in contracts; it is quite a technical legal question and I am not a lawyer. I do not know all of the exact details but you can require quite a lot about equality in contracts, provided that equality is linked to the subject matter of the contract, and in many cases equality can be, or is, linked to the subject matter of the contract. Without doubt, you can require people to comply with all of the legislation which already exists and applies in Britain, in relation to equality and anti-discrimination, in any contract; there is a great deal that you can do. Obviously you need to be careful in this, as in any other area, to make sure that you are complying with all of the relevant legislation, but there is a great deal more that can be done than most people do currently. I have to confess that I do not know the answer in relation to local labour clauses, because my particular area obviously is around equality and contracting, rather than local labour, so I am afraid I do not know the answer to that.

  Q182  Michael Foster: I would like to bring you back to what you have mentioned already, rightly, and that is the question of discrimination by employers. The presumption often is that discrimination is the reason for the differential employment rates. Is that justified, or is it the fact that much of it is simply perception?

  Mr Christie: One of the things I would say is if there is a perception of discrimination then there is real discrimination, at least in the minds of the people who feel that they are being discriminated against. It is very difficult to quantify what employer discrimination exists; how do we measure it? We do not have the kinds of things which existed before the Race Relations Act, 30 years ago, very overt, crude forms of discrimination, but, if you look, there are some strange numbers out there. 85% of Asians and 82% of Black people continue from school into some form of further and higher education, compared with 69% of white people; yet, if you look at any work training programmes, only 4% BME employees are in work training programmes as against 10% white employees. Why; why would that be the case? There may be many reasons, but you have got to think that there might be some element of differential expectation, or differential perception, between different groups of people, and that will be true within the BME community, looking at it as a whole. We know that if we go back to the Outreach programme, 22% of jobseekers in that programme who did not get a job felt that the reason they were not getting the job was because they had been racially discriminated against. 50% of all of the BME people within that programme felt that they had experienced some form of discrimination for the last five years. Where is the break point between perception and reality? I think, if people feel that they are being discriminated against and that somehow they are getting a raw deal or they are getting a less fair deal than everybody else then the problem exists, it is there, even if we cannot quantify it terribly precisely.

  Q183  Michael Foster: The answer may be different, of course, as to whether it is real or whether it is a perception. If it is real, one looks at the employer end; if it is a perception, presumably one looks at the employee end. Let me look at this issue of the employer. Are there any statistics which suggest that the nature of the employer makes a difference? I think it has been mentioned already that if it is a public service employer, like the Passport Agency, like the Home Office, in Croydon, you will get high levels because people expect much of it, presumably; if it is in other towns, maybe fewer. Does it make a difference if the employers themselves are from a minority ethnic group, as opposed to not so?

  Ms Ariss: Yes, there are big differences between employers. As far as ethnic minority women are concerned, they are much more likely to be working in the public sector; so, for example, 35% of ethnic minority women who work full-time are in the public sector compared with around 16% of ethnic minority men who are working full-time. There are some significant differences between types of employer. There are also significant differences which are not to do with sector or whether you are in the public or the private sector. We have looked recently at employers in areas with above average, compared with the national picture, ethnic minority communities in their area and found very significant differences between how many ethnic minority women there are in their workforce, and there does not appear to be any particular pattern to that. There are some small organisations which have got a very mixed workforce, some large ones which have, and some have not. We are actually doing a little bit more work at the moment to try to get underneath that a bit to say what it is that is making a difference. We are concerned that at the moment it may become more polarised, that those employers who are already succeeding in attracting ethnic minority women are the ones who are thinking about doing more to go even further, and the ones who have got barely any ethnic minority women in their workforce, or none, tend to be the ones who are not planning on doing anything to attract them. We have got this increasingly segregated pattern, which we do not think is good for the women, for the employers, or indeed for the broader agenda of community cohesion, but we have got a bit more work going on at the moment to try to find out what is driving some of those not immediately obviously rational, explainable patterns.

  Q184  Michael Foster: Whether it is perception or reality, is it true, from what you are saying, that at least the public sector appears to be more successful in achieving a diverse workforce than the private sector; is that a generality which is true, or untrue?

  Ms Ariss: Broadly speaking, as far as ethnic minority women are concerned, it is true. It does not mean that everything is wonderful in the public sector; there are still issues about progression, who is getting to the top of organisations, where white men of a certain age are hugely overrepresented in comparison with the workforce as a whole.

  Q185  Michael Foster: That is not just an ethnic minority issue, is it?

  Ms Ariss: No, that is a broader issue, which is about who is running organisations as a whole. Broadly, the public sector is doing better than the private sector, but it is a very mixed picture.

  Q186  Michael Foster: I wonder if I can go back, looking down the other end of the tunnel, and assume for a moment that there may be some perceptions which are holding people back which are not real, because that seems to be at least a possibility. How would we be able to deal with those, and without being too contentious, issues like the veil, issues like dress; is that something which can be compromised, in any way, so as to create a better ability to deal with the perceived problems, or is it just too difficult to deal with?

  Ms Ariss: Obviously, these are complicated and sensitive issues, but we do think that there are ways of addressing them and that this question about is it perception or is it real is sometimes at the heart of it. If everybody believes that it is real, we have got a problem. What we are finding at the moment is that there are a lot of ethnic minority women who are reporting that they feel they have experienced racism at work, and in fact some ethnic minority women say they are more likely to report experiencing sexism at work than white women. Certainly they are reporting, telling us, that they think there is quite a significant problem, and we are finding things like ethnic minority women being much more likely than white women to be asked at job interviews about their plans for family and children, or to be asked what their partner thinks of them working, which tends not to happen anything like so much to white women. Certainly we are hearing about it.

  Q187  Michael Foster: Is that not perhaps because of the perception of the employer that it is a real question?

  Ms Ariss: It may well be. There are certainly a lot of stereotypes around about ethnic minority women, which frequently do not match the reality. We are finding particularly young women are telling us that they are very ambitious, that they worked hard at school, they have gone to university, they really want a career, they want a family too but they want to combine those; they are just as ambitious and aspirational as young white women. Employers tend to think, their expectation is, that here is a group of women who will not speak English very well and who will be very nervous, so there is a big gap between those perceptions. There are some quite simple things which could happen to address some of that. Some of it is about information, about employers knowing who is around in the local job market in their area, as basic as that. Lots of employers do not appear to be aware of who are the working-age population in their local area. Some of it is about outreach as well. It is about employers getting out there and making contact with schools, with community organisations and selling themselves as an employer, saying, "Look, we're a great place to come and work, we've got fantastic careers, we've got really interesting, good jobs," and convincing people that they are going to be a good place to work. Some of it is about fear, the apprehension that if you are working in an organisation where nobody else in your family or your community has worked before that you will have a rough time. If employers can get out there and really sell themselves and prove that is not the case, it is a kind of meeting in the middle really, is it not?

  Q188  Michael Foster: There is a new Code; the CRE have got a new Code, I think. Is that already in effect, or is there a commencement date, or something, and do you think it is going to make a difference?

  Mr Christie: This came into effect in April, but actually it has been in effect since 1984. This is a republication. It is a statutory Code; effectively, it is guidance to employers. "Follow this, make all your problems go away," would be our selling thing; maybe a slight exaggeration. Certainly what it aims to do is provide a comprehensive, easy to use guide to employers, to help them address the kinds of problems that we are talking about. To a large extent, one of the big problems, as Amanda was saying, is the potential of employees excluding themselves from work opportunities because they believe it is not going to be a welcoming place, because they will look at the organisation and see something which does not look like them. I think one of the big challenges that we would encourage employers to address would be how to present themselves to potential employees in a much more empathetic way than they do currently. One of my favourite top statistics from the 2004 Labour Force Survey is that by the end of this decade only 20% of the workforce will be composed of able-bodied white men under the age of 45. If you think about the way most companies present themselves to the outside world, you would think they were composed entirely of that minority cohort, and companies really have to be mindful of the way they are perceived by the potential labour pool. They all say that the wealth of talent is one of the biggest strategic challenges facing business today, but when you see the way they address that wealth of talent it tends not to be awfully strategic and that they are not paying attention to issues like how they sell themselves, present themselves, to potential employees, particularly those which do not fit perhaps the stereotypical norm.

  Q189  Michael Foster: A final statistical question. We know what the differential is, in terms of the employment rates. Do we know if that is reflected by job application rates; do we know if a greater number of minority ethnic applications are turned down, as compared with others? Is there any research on that so that we could work out whether that is a result of the applications or a result of the decisions on the applications?

  Ms Ariss: Some individual organisations will know that. My own organisation, for example, at every stage of the selection process, monitors who is applying, how that matches the labour force in the areas where we operate, who gets through the short-listing, who gets through the whole process and who comes out at the other end, so to speak. Individual organisations look at that. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any research where that has been looked at across the economy as a whole. There is quite a lot of anecdotal evidence which suggests that if you change your name to one which sounds English, whatever that means, because I do not think mine does particularly, you are more likely to get through the system. As far as I know, that is predominantly anecdotal, or the sort of small-scale example that is probably not strong enough to support national policy.

  Q190  Justine Greening: A question to try to home in on the difficult areas, following on from Michael's questioning. It is interesting, when you look at the statistics, within the BME groups themselves, for example, 67% of Pakistani men are working, employed, 56% of Bangladeshi men, 70% of Black Caribbean, 69% of Black African, 79% of Indian men, aged between 16 and 64 are employed. There is some dissimilarity between the groups but they are within quite a narrow range, arguably. When you come to the female groups, there is an amazing range; so, for example, 63% of Indian women are working, 64% of Black Caribbean women are working, 57% of Black African women are employed, and yet Pakistani women the rate is just 26% and Bangladeshi women the rate is 22%. It does seem to me that there is a particular issue with that ethnic minority group especially, because clearly women in other ethnic minority groups seem to be comparatively successful at getting employment. Why do you think that is?

  Ms Ariss: There are a lot of reasons why we think that is; part of it is about, I do not like the word `cohort' but it is a cohort effect, in that you have got a generation of older Pakistani and Bangladeshi women who tend to have fewer qualifications than other people in the labour market, who have fewer employable skills. That is not what you find with younger women, at all. Part of it is a generational effect, but part of it is also about the way in which people have felt able to engage with the job market; so even with younger Pakistani and Bangladeshi women being increasingly well qualified, in terms of their having a degree or similar qualification, they are still finding it harder to get into work than other similarly qualified women. There appear to be higher obstacles for that group still in place, even when they are women who were born here, speak English as well as everybody else in this room, who are just as well qualified, so there is something else going on as well.

  Q191  Justine Greening: Are you saying that, on the face of it, it would seem that, setting other things aside, employers, although they seem happy to employ Black Caribbean women, Black African women and Indian women, for some reason they are unhappy or less likely to employ Pakistani or Bangladeshi women; is that what you are saying?

  Ms Ariss: That seems to be part of what is going on.

  Mr Christie: Part of it, again, is a perception thing, the employers' perception of particular groupings. It is a difficult thing to discuss. Let us not totally avoid the cultural dimension to all of this. The fact of the matter is, in certain communities there is less expectation within the community that women will work outside the home than in others. It does not necessarily neatly pigeon-hole as Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or anything else, but there are cultural pressures that we have to acknowledge. Again, it comes back to this idea that, if we are going to address questions like that, the only way we will do it successfully is from inside the community itself, by having the community discuss the solution, I use the term very loosely, to that kind of continuing issue.

  Justine Greening: Thank you. That is very helpful.

  Q192  John Penrose: Can I pick up on those last comments, because I have been listening with great interest to the contrasting approaches of the second half of this meeting to the first half, when we were listening to Cay Stratton and co. I am intrigued by the fact that she was saying the most important thing is the local employment market and if you get that right you do not look at people in terms of particular groups, racial or sexual or otherwise. Would you say, instead, that people from particular groups may have been more likely, statistically, to have a particular collection of groupings, of disadvantages? At that point, that becomes a much easier way to explain, for example, some of the local differentials which you were having trouble explaining yourselves earlier on. I think actually you started tending towards her answer when you started saying, "Well, I suspect it may have something to do with the structure of the local employment market," but you have not quite got that proven yet. I guess the question I have got for you is quite a large one, but it is the point about discrimination, as in negative attitudes by employers, not perception by potential employees, but, negative attitudes by employers aside, which of you is right? These are two fundamentally different approaches and it strikes me that she has got a bit more data on her side, because she said "I'm expecting there to be differences in local employment markets and here is the reason why," and you are saying, "Ooh-er, there's a difference, and we don't quite know why, within specific ethnic groups."

  Ms Ariss: One of the things we are finding is that in the same locality the experience of different groups of people, who in terms of their qualifications and experience are otherwise similar, varies. It is not just that everybody who comes from a particular area is in the same position; the data simply does not bear that out.

  Q193  John Penrose: I am sorry, she would not have said that either, would she; she would have said they will have different sets of deprivations and different mixes of deprivations, and therefore you need to come up with a solution to each individual's mixture, even if they live next-door to each other?

  Ms Ariss: Yes. I take your point that there are different ways of thinking about it, but I think probably there is quite a lot of common ground between what we are saying, what we are concerned about, and where the NEP is coming from. We are enthusiasts for the recommendations they have made and support a lot of the work that they are doing. What we are finding, when we are looking at the patterns to see where gender and ethnicity interact, to see what seems to be different and what seems to be the same, is that white women and ethnic minority women living in the same area do not have the same experience, in terms of being able to get a job, and when they have got a job being able to get promoted. White women, by and large, are finding life easier than certainly some groups of ethnic minority women, even in the same neighbourhood, so there is something very specific there which I think policy needs to address.

  Q194  John Penrose: I do not think she was saying, or anyone else was saying, that there is not something specific going on, but what I am trying to unpick is how much of that is due to the fact that ethnic minority women, from whichever ethnic group we are talking about, are suffering from a different set, and perhaps a larger set, of a mixture of disadvantages, compared to white women, and how much of it is employers saying "I don't want to employ you because you've got a different colour of skin from me"?

  Mr Christie: I think you touch on it when you talk about a larger set of deprivations. Unbundling them so that we could ascribe a particular percentage factor to each of those individual deprivations would be hugely difficult, and we would argue, certainly anecdotally and I think on the basis of some evidence, that people who are from an ethnic minority, male and female, are at some disadvantage in the labour market and the numbers bear that out. People who live in particular areas of particular cities, a kind of post-code lottery, are at some disadvantage. People with educational deficiencies are at some disadvantage. Put them all together and you have got a fairly miserable picture, but trying then to disaggregate them so that we can ascribe particular significance to ethnicity, gender, physical ability, where they live, is hugely difficult.

  Q195  John Penrose: Again, can I come back to you, because I am trying to get through the fact that we have got a fundamental difference of opinion here, and, if you follow the Cay Stratton model, she says that is precisely what you have got to do; you have not got to do it on some grand statistical national basis, you have got to do it on an individual basis at the point of individual interviews. You have got to say, "Look, somebody may be sitting in front of me looking for a job and who will have a particular mix of disadvantages, and just because they happen to be a Bangladeshi woman does not tell me in advance precisely what that mix is going to be." It gives me an indication that they are more likely to have this particular mixture, but, as you say, there are huge differential levels of employment amongst Bangladeshi women in particular parts of the country. You cannot say that just because someone is a Bangladeshi woman she is going to have the following eight groups of disadvantage, and therefore you have got to do what you are saying is impossible on an individual basis, have you not?

  Mr Christie: No, and, in actual fact, we would be horrified at the thought that an employer would see a Bangladeshi woman and leap to all of those conclusions simply because she was a Bangladeshi woman. That is the polar opposite of what we are trying to get at. I think the difficulty I am having is I agree with you but I do not see what you are positing and what we are saying as particularly distinct, it is all part of the same continuum.

  Q196  John Penrose: I guess the difference that I think I am hearing between the first set of evidence and this one is, if the only tool you have got in your box is a hammer then pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail. It just sounds to me as though, if you look at it all through the prism of discrimination, and I was quite concerned to hear you saying that discrimination is not just attitudes by employers, it is also attitudes by potential employees, surely that is conflating two quite different things. One is discrimination in the traditional, clean sense, and the other one is someone saying "I'm feeling different. I'm feeling like a victim." The policy outcomes and the policy things that you need to do to treat those two different approaches are very, very different things indeed, are they not?

  Mr Christie: That may be, but the core issue is the same, that we have a society in which the colour of your skin determines attitude, it has some impact on determining your life chances, just as your gender has some impact on determining your life chances. The challenge, surely, if we are interested in promoting equality, is to address any attitude, whether it is imposed by others or self-imposed by the individual as a result of their upbringing, conditioning, or whatever.

  Q197  John Penrose: I am completely with you on that. I am sorry, I am still butting up against this. You cannot change the colour of someone's skin and you have just told me that it is wrong to assume that just because someone has got a particular colour of skin and they are a particular gender that they are all going to be the same, rightly. The thing you can do is say, "Well, here's what the local labour market requires, here's your particular mixture of disadvantages and I can do something about most of those, and what I need to do for your mixture of disadvantages will be different from someone else's"?

  Mr Christie: We are all agreed. One of the big problems is, at some point, if we all had individual counsellors that were able to work with us, to address our particular set of disadvantages and relate those to the local job market and guide us through the maze and get us to employment, that would be great, but my guess is that ain't going to happen any time soon. It is just a question of resources, so you have to aggregate at some level and you have to come up with some policy, do other policy initiatives, and the question is, how do you get the balance right?

  Q198  John Penrose: I think what Cay Stratton and co. were saying was you do not want to incur this huge dead-weight cost of dealing with everybody who is already going to be finding jobs through the normal route. Therefore, you can afford perhaps to do what you are describing for the people who have been round New Deal two or three times because of the incredibly complicated and large number of deprivations that they are suffering from?

  Mr Christie: Absolutely; and our interpretation of that is the need for targeted resources.

  Q199  John Penrose: Can I ask one follow-up question which might perhaps illustrate that point. I just want to take you back to some of the questions which Justine was asking you earlier on about public procurement, you said it is one of the most important methods of creating equality. Can you give some examples of how the public sector might be more aggressive, I think was the phrase both of you were using, in how it does this, compared with what it does at the moment?

  Mr Christie: The Olympics is a very good example. If you look at the ODA's policy document on this, first of all, you would have to say that their procurement policy is subjective but it is weak, it is not particularly well developed at a policy level. If then you look in the same document, for example, on the issue of ethnicity, it merits a single paragraph in about a 20- or 30-page document. That seems to me a public sector initiative which is not really taking—


 
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