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‘Black Lives Matter’ One Year On: Mind The Gap

In Black History Month, Lydia O’Connor-Butler discusses the race pay gap and the changes needed to make reporting compulsory.

Posted on 25 October 2021

Last year the UK grappled with race and racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. A wider international movement to fight for racial equality ensued, and there was a real sense of social cohesion as the call for ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) came from people from all backgrounds.

A year on from the height of the resurged BLM we can question and explore what has changed. Many institutions and corporations pledged their allegiance to the Black Lives Matter cause, but to what avail?  One course of action would be mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting as a means to effect meaningful change.

The momentum to achieve this was slowed as the dynamicity of the UK BLM movement was stifled by the disappointing findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ (CRED) report. It acknowledged that racism and racial injustice still exist, but concluded “we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”.

The CRED report attracted significant criticism with comments such as Kehinde Andrews’ that the study was "not a genuine effort to understand racism in Britain".

It made little commitment to put in place measures that will promote sustainable racial equality, and as the urgency for the BLM movement then lost momentum, critical issues have been deprioritised and have faded back into the fabric of British society.

The politicisation of the rights of ethnic minorities in the UK has enabled a familiar pattern to be established in reaction to race and equality crises; promises for meaningful change are made but not followed through with the necessary actions.

The need for mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting was underlined by the Runnymede Trust report on the state of race and racism in England to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

It highlighted that disparities facing BME groups in England are sustained across the areas of health, housing, the criminal justice system, education, employment, immigration, and political participation.

The ethnicity pay gap shows the difference between the average (mean and median) earnings of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) employees and non-BAME employees.

In 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that most members of minority ethnic groups were earning less on average than white British people.

The growing movement to introduce mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting began in the McGregor-Smith Review in 2017 and was followed by a Government consultation in 2018. 

There has been widespread public support to introduce the measure, a petition last year registered over 130,000 signatures and led to a recent debate in Parliament, which has frustratingly not provided any further clarity on the matter.

Speaking on behalf of the Government, Paul Scully MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “The government are now considering in detail what we have learned from the consultation on ethnicity and pay, our further work and the commission’s report. We are assessing the next steps for future government policy, and we will set out a response in due course.”

The CRED report describes ethnicity pay gap reporting as “potentially useful” but recommended the practice remain voluntary due to a lack of diversity in some parts of the country.

Unfortunately, this approach has led to slow and inconsistent progress, as just 13 out of 100 FTSE employers have reported their ethnicity pay gap so far.

The lack of transparency and accountability in this area has engendered “ethnic pay penalties”  for example the pay gap between Black and White male graduates is 17 per cent, or £7,000 per year if working full time.

The pay penalty for Black female graduates relative to White female graduates is nine per cent, or more than £3,000 per year if working full time. These ‘raw’ pay gaps are significant and demonstrate that the findings of discrimination in the workplace from the McGregor-Smith Review continue to apply today.

There is certainly a compelling case that mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting will be a significant step in tackling race inequality in the workplace.

The Runnymede Trust (CERD) report recommends that the UK Government should use its powers under Section 153 of the Equality Act 2010 to impose a specific duty on all English local authorities and national public authorities to gather data on their workforce by ethnicity and by pay and grade.

They also recommend that this data is used to address any wage gaps and discrepancies between experience and qualifications on the one hand and salary and seniority on the other, publishing this data and details of the measures taken every two years.

The official theme of the UK’s Black History Month is ‘Proud To Be’. As I reflect back over the past year, I feel incredibly inspired by the recent and historical campaigning work for better race relations.

The enormous contributions of those campaigners, particularly those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, to challenge institutional racism over the past seven decades is not adequately documented but remain a crucial part of British history.

There is still a long way to go in terms of achieving racial equality in the UK. I am proud of what has been achieved and hopeful for more progress in racial justice, in which mandatory ethnic pay gap reporting would be a significant change.