New unemployment figures show jobless rates among Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are now double the rate for white people in what Labour called a widening “unequal economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
There are now 1.74 million people now out of work across the UK, as the post-Christmas lockdown saw unemployment hit 5.1 per cent. The Office for National Statistics statistics show a 454,000 rise over the same period in 2019 and the highest figures since 2016.
The impact on minority groups continues to be disproportionate, warned Labour’s shadow equalities secretary Marsha De Cordova, with the unemployment rate for black people sitting at 13 per cent compared to four per cent for white people.
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Joblessness was also higher among Indian people at seven per cent, just under 10 per cent among the Pakistani community and six per cent among Bangladeshi workers.
“These figures are deeply worrying and further evidence of the unequal economic impact of the pandemic,” said Battersea MP De Cordova.
“The Government cannot continue to deny the existence of structural racism and Chancellor must take action in the budget to tackle it.”
The Kickstart scheme, intended to create jobs for young people on Universal Credit, “has unequal consequences for Black, Asian and ethnic minority people”, she added, “who are more likely to be unemployed and more likely to be living in poverty”.
“The Government must also conduct and publish a full impact assessment of the Budget to ensure these inequalities do not widen,” de Cordova said.
Dr Halima Begum, chief executive of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, warned higher unemployment rates and a higher proportion of part-time working among minority groups is a driver of higher poverty among the communities.
Dr Begum said: “BME communities suffer a massive risk of homelessness as unemployment grows. This is entirely unacceptable, not least because frontline BME workers, whether in the NHS, our supermarkets or the logistics sector, have done so much to carry the nation through this Covid disaster, to the extent that we are now talking about an end being in sight. The end in sight needs to include BME communities, and not see them put out on the street.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he will lay out the Government’s plans for the next stage of support through the pandemic on March 3, as part of the annual Spring Budget.
In the last year, 726,000 employees have fallen off payrolls, according to ONS figures. Young people between 18 and 24 who have seen hospitality and retail jobs disappear due to the pandemic most adversely affected.
However, 83.000 more people moved on to payrolled employment between December and January, a second consecutive monthly increase described as “encouraging news” by ONS’s deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow.
There is some encouraging news: the number of employees on the payroll has stopped falling and grown in both December and January. This might suggest we are seeing the labour market begin to stabilise (though only two months’ data). (1/n) pic.twitter.com/EtvPtP4sWr
— Jonathan Athow (@jathers_ONS) February 23, 2021
Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, said: “These figures reveal the full scale of Rishi Sunak’s jobs crisis” and criticised the Chancellor Rishi Sunak for a “last-minute extension” to the furlough scheme in the autumn.
The Chancellor will set out his latest economic interventions at next week’s Budget and is expected to extend both the furlough scheme and the £20 Universal Credit increase as lockdown restrictions are due to be in place in England until June 12. Scottish and Welsh leaders are also due to set out their own roadmaps out of lockdown this week.
Sunak said: “I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy.
“That’s why throughout the crisis, my focus has been on doing everything we can to protect jobs and livelihoods.
“At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery.”
Rebecca McDonald, a senior economist at the anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has called on the chancellor to make the £20 Universal Credit increase permanent beyond the reported six-month extension set to be announced at the Budget.
McDonald said: “The end of lockdown may be in sight but today’s figures are a reminder that the journey to economic recovery will be long. Unemployment is high and millions of families are already relying on Universal Credit to keep their heads above water. That number will only grow as furlough is unwound and unemployment peaks later this year.
“The plan to extend the £20 lifeline for only six months risks undermining the road to recovery – the opposite of cautious – and we need the Chancellor to reflect on this ahead of the Budget.”
The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance is responding to the unemployment crisis with the RORA Jobs and Training programme, a one-stop shop to help people get back on their feet.
The Big Issue has teamed up with jobs board Adzuna and online training provider FutureLearn to create the RORA Toolkit and The Big Issue Jobs site to help people find the tips, advice and roles they need to get back into employment.