Post-COVID Recession: Disproportionate Impact On BAME Communities

Coronavirus continues to highlight and exaggerate social inequalities felt by BAME communities, leaving many financially unstable.

As the UK enters its second-lockdown, businesses up and down the country are once again forced to close their doors with many left concerned for their futures and their financial security. With millions of employees placed on furlough and the post-COVID labour market shaping up to be desperately competitive, it’s no surprise that the UK is now facing its deepest recession ever, faring worse than any other G7 country. 

During the UK’s previous recessions, the immediate and long-term effects on different communities were staggering and pre-existing social inequalities were exaggerated. According to the Runnymede trust, the 2008 financial crash hit Black and ethnic minority workers harder than others. Research by Yaojun Li and Anthony Heath studied the experiences of Black and minority ethnic men in the labour market between 1972-2005 and discovered that BME employment can be labelled as ‘hypercyclical’ meaning that although these individuals are more likely to obtain jobs and benefit from economic growth, they are also more likely to be left unemployed during economic contraction. This pattern can be observed widely throughout society and the disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities never fails to occur in each recession, as evidenced in research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which discovered that ethnic minorities suffered worse than the white majority through both austerity and the 2008 financial crisis. 

In the UK today it’s estimated that around 14.3 million people are living in poverty. As the current recession continues to unfold, bringing with it a desperately competitive labour market and financial insecurity for millions of British families, the patterns of recession induced poverty and its impacts on disadvantaged people paints a particularly bleak picture. Those living in poverty are typically working-class families, many of which have endured an unprecedented rate of unemployment since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. A recent Guardian article discussed the shift in job demand from the perspective of employer Emily Pringle who advertised a job opening at her fragrance firm. A position that would typically attract around 40 applications received over 600 and she also stated that many applicants were vastly overqualified for such a role, with a number even educated to PhD level. 

Since the virus reached the UK in March, research has documented its already disproportionate impacts on BAME communities and migrants. Of the 3,883 critical patients registered in the UK on March 10th 2020, 33.6% were from BAME communities despite only 14% of the UK population being from a Black or ethnic minority background. Government figures also state that individuals who identify as Black, mixed, and Pakistani or Bangladeshi are more likely to work in caring, leisure or other “low-skilled” positions. These sectors were amongst those hit the hardest by the first UK lockdown and most do not offer the opportunity to work from home. As a result, employees in these sectors were not only faced financial hardship thanks to business closures, but those still working were forced to travel to work and mix with others at the height of the pandemic leaving them more susceptible to exposure. 

The issues with exposure and disproportionate impact also spread beyond the workplace, impacting BAME children in schools. During the first UK lockdown the Government cancelled all examinations in response to the pandemic. Instead of sitting their exams, students were graded in accordance with a formula where teachers predicted a grade based on a student’s past performance and then ranked them in accordance with how confident they were that each student could achieve this grade. As GCSE and A-Level results day showed, this formula proved detrimental to the futures of thousands of British students. Results day analysis from Ofqual showed that pupils from private schools, institutions where BAME students are significantly underrepresented, benefited most from the algorithm. Students from disadvantaged areas, where BAME people are over-represented, were marked harshly and failed by the model. These students, marked unfairly by an algorithm that overlooked their own competence and talents, will soon enter a labour-market battered by another recession, many without the grades they deserved, putting them at significant disadvantage in their search for stable employment. 

The effects of the UK Government’s response to the pandemic continue to ripple, creating shockwaves that may take generations to heal. In these uncertain times, it is those that already face the greatest level of social and economic disadvantage that will be left to pick up the pieces whilst also facing the challenge of every-day survival in a system that undermines their skills, livelihoods and rights. With England now in its second national lockdown, the Government must assess its current policy and reform it accordingly to protect the jobs and health of BAME communities up and down the UK, many of which have fought on the frontline of the virus only to fare the worst from its impacts. Economic contraction is looming, the labour market is suffering and time is of the essence. 


Reported by Bethany Morris

Bethany Morris is a content writer for the UK’s Immigration Advice Service - an organisation of OISC-accredited immigration lawyers assisting with Spouse Visas, settlement and more.