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Employment

Institutional racism to blame for South Asian workers missing out on sick pay, report finds

The IPPR think tank found South Asian workers are 40 per cent more likely to miss out on sick pay they are entitled to than white people. The figures have been labelled "extremely alarming".

Image: Thirdman from Pexels

Institutional racism is to blame for South Asian workers being the most likely to miss out on sick pay they are entitled to, researchers say.

White British workers are more likely to receive sick pay than every ethnic minority group, a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found. Analysis showed South Asian workers were the 40 per cent more likely to lack access to sick pay they are legally entitled to.

“We’re relatively confident in saying this is labour market discrimination,” Parth Patel, lead author of the report told the Big Issue. “There’s unfair practice by employers in terms of who they’re giving access to sick pay to and who they’re not.”

The researchers said they were surprised to find the ethnic disparities in access to sick pay in the new analysis conducted by the Virus Watch study at University College London.

Even considering factors that could explain the disparity such as lower income levels, greater participation in the gig economy or zero-hours contract work, and higher levels of self-employment in South Asian communities, the researchers still found a disparity, and suggested “institutional racism plays a part.”

“We see every single ethnic group actually has an elevated odds of lacking access to sick pay compared to white British people,” Patel continued. He added that due to small sample sizes the research could only conclude that this was statistically significant for South Asian workers. 

Responding to the findings, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, an area with a large Bangladeshi population, told the Big Issue they were “extremely alarming.”

She said: “We have already seen the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has had on minority communities and it is very worrying to see that this now extends to access to sick pay. The government must take decisive action that ensures sick pay is available to all workers.”

Patel described the dicrimination as a “particularly cruel injustice,” because those most likely to lack access to sick pay are simultaneously the “most vulnerable to Covid-19 mortality and the cost of living crisis.”

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The IPPR is calling on the government to improve access to sick pay by abolishing the lower earnings limit, which sees those earning below an average of £120 a week disqualified, and increase the rate to 80 per cent of earnings.

However, Patel highlights even if access to sick pay was universal, “they would still be inequalities” due to the institutional racism highlighted in the report, meaning better law enforcement is needed to catch employers who deny staff what they’re entitled to.

Responding to the research, a spokesperson for The London Chamber of Commerce’s Asian Business Association committee said they were “surprised and concerned” by the findings. They added: “Clearly more needs to be done by businesses and the government to ensure that everyone, including members of the South Asian community, have equal access to sick pay.”

The committee called for more research to “to understand the circumstances surrounding sick pay, which are often dependent on the nature and the size of the organisation in which an individual works.”

It said: “Access to sick pay can have a significant impact on employees and businesses should understand and appreciate that they have a duty to protect the health and wellbeing of anyone employed by them.”

“Discrimination in the workplace and society more generally is not acceptable, whether overt or not, and all organisations must be encouraged to consider the issue of sick pay and its non-discriminatory implementation.”

If you’re concerned that you are not receiving the sick pay you are entitled to, or are a victim of racial discrimination at work, you can contact your nearest Citizens Advice to discuss your options.

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