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Why are Black People and Minority Ethnic Groups More Likely to Experience Poverty Than the White Population?


Poverty can take many forms they could be low levels of incomes or not being able to secure resources to have a sustained livelihood, hunger and malnutrition, ill health, low levels of access to education and the simple necessities like sanitation, high rates of morbidity and also mortality caused by illness, being homeless or inadequate housing, being in unsafe environments and finally social exclusion or discrimination. Poverty is a problem internationally and nationally. But what we see is that black people and other ethnic minorities are more likely to experience poverty. So for the purpose of this essay I will discuss the reasons behind this, the way in which I will approach this will be by firstly discussing Migration, settlement and social security. Then I will discuss the lack of employment as a cause of poverty, then low levels of education leads to poverty, poor housing and urban spaces living in poverty, racism and discrimination. Then finally I will draw all my findings together so that I can reach a detailed and comprehensive conclusion.

So to begin according to Millar (2009:80-81) The UK saw high levels of inward migration who came from the commonwealth now former commonwealth countries to offer their services i.e. labour. First to come were from the Caribbean then from India and Pakistan then from Bangladesh. The migration was mostly male but amongst Caribbean’s a large number of women came who took work in health the health service. Also expulsion made Vietnamese and East African Asian families about 1970. The main immigration for employment has been at idle, where family reunification and fertility were the main reasons for the group’s expansion. And also refugees have contributed range of minorities in the UK like also the new asylum seekers from within Europe and from further.

Millar (2009:81) explains how early migrants came for employment where they were mostly working in manufacture, and in industrial jobs like textile mills which deceased rapidly extensively due to deindustrialization. Then instead of being mostly in northern industrial towns started to populate the midlands and London where they were forced to settle in poor areas, you begin to see here signs of poverty beginning. This lead to low educational opportunities and also restricted opportunities for non migrants, this will be discussed further in detail later. The minorities found themselves in volatile employment sectors where discrimination was ripe, they were all concentrated in these poor areas where Pakistanis and mainly Bangladeshis and also Black Caribbean’s, it was difficult to get qualifications, there were high levels of unemployment amongst Black Caribbean’s, Pakistanis and mainly Bangladeshis what also could be seen was an increasing rate of self employment amongst the Indians, Chinese and Pakistanis.

Minority ethnic groups “are disproportionately represented among the Department for Work and pensions (DWPs) most disadvantaged customer group facing multiple complex barriers to work including employer attitudes, area based factors, human capital and negotiating identities in relation to family life, religious and cultural values and work. In the UK, poor welfare outcomes for migrant and minority ethnic groups have been identified in terms of poverty, housing, education, health, labour market participation and the criminal justice system” Millar (2009:81). What we also find when it comes to benefits is that professionals find and managers find it hard to respond to the requirements of other cultures due them being complex. According to Millar (2009:83) there are dangers of simple approaches to questions that are demonstrated in the discussion of ethnic managerialism in the benefits agency (Law, 1997) where a failed attempt to adequately identify minority’s needs this can lead to poor service. A National Evaluation of sure start, which was a cross departmental plan where the aims were to improve the life chances of children under the age of four who were growing up in poverty ridden areas, claimed that they had failed to tackle ethnicity, which in its execution was prejudiced or just completely lacking. So the outcomes for ethnic groups could not be even identified and failed in monitoring ethnic detail, also claims that this had been happening for decades.

Education according to Mason (2003:53) is an important predictor of poverty, but also between ethnic minorities is quite is quite diverse. Generally looking at ethnic minorities they can be split into 2 categories in terms of educational achievement, first Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups on average are have a lower qualification level than their white counterparts. But Indian, African Asian, Chinese and African ethnic groups on average are more likely to have higher levels of qualifications which are A levels and higher education. Policy studies Institute claimed in their fourth national survey of ethnic minorities in 1994 that starting with the migrant generation, that in the 6 groups covered which fall into again two categories the Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups had low levels of GCSEs or equivalent qualifications figures accounted to 60-75%. But only about 45-50% for Indian, African Asian and Chinese migrants who did not have this qualification. All groups have done better over the generations but for Bangladeshis it’s only the young generation where these figures have declined. It was the Caribbean men and women together that had made the most progress initially. So this means that the second generation are not in the same band as Pakistani and Bangladeshis and so had caught up with other minorities and also their white counterparts. What we also see is that Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups made the least progress. While it was of interest that some ethnic minority groups fared better than their white counterparts, the ones that did not were Pakistani and Bangladeshi and Caribbean males.

But this does not reveal all as this does not look at higher qualifications, three minorities stand out these are Chinese, Indian and African Indians and the ones that were not as qualified were Pakistani and Bangladeshi and Caribbean groups. In each group progress was seen in the second generation except the Bangladeshi group but also Pakistanis progress was not that substantial. The Caribbean group made the best progress but it was the African Asians that was the best qualified way further than their white counterparts. What this also showed was that all other minorities were represented in this level Black Caribbean had the fewest on average degrees 2% of the migrants and 7% of second generation. Which brings me to second and third generation who have all made progress even their white counterparts, it is claimed that 16-24 year olds have much higher numbers of qualifications than past generations. In Indians, Africans Asian, Chinese and African men and women is balanced with white people. But when it comes to degrees these groups are doing better.

Now moving onto employment according to Mason (2000:55) there are a many explanations to why ethnic minority groups are disadvantaged in the labour market some of the main reasons given are that the problem lies in the character of the minority group job seekers. Another reason given is that of the language, employers say that there is a communication barrier that accounts for low levels of employment; there is also evidence for this which explains that difficulties in the labour market can be a cause of poor English. But this cannot be the all totalising cause because the ethnic minorities that are born and educated here can speak the language. Also another cause given is that ethnic minorities do not have skills and qualifications that their white counterparts have or to the same level, this is said to be due to an underachievement in education. Also that when they do posses the same qualifications they are given lower level jobs, there is also a strong claim that ethnic minority people do not have the same networks and community knowledge needed in job seeking. These all lead to the premise that discrimination is involved.

Housing is a key issue and according to Mason (2003:107) there are considerable differences between all the different minority ethnic communities in housing, there are various tenure patterns, different dwelling types, settlement geographies and density of occupation. Also population age and changing household sizes and structures are important. Different groups have different population growths and also the potential for developing new household formation, with implications for future patterns of local housing requirements. It hard to meet the needs where growth is happening groups with low incomes who live in tight housing markets where there is no chance for affordable housing in highly densely populated areas is basically nonexistent. Communities in the north of England in the cities are living in poor quality housing and have various problems like overcrowding, low incomes, limited housing choices, poor health and limited outward movement. When it comes to tenure, we see that in studies conducted that a fifth of Indian heads of households own their house outright, this is only 20 of those from Black and Bangladeshi groups. Also 55% of Indian owns their houses with mortgages. But Black and Bangladeshi groups are the likeliest to be renting property from social rented housing sectors. Disadvantage is persistent among the different groups, where Black and other ethnic minorities still are poorly housed. Also that minority ethnic groups are still more likely than others to be living in deprived areas, being poor, to have ill health and being in overcrowded houses. Costs play a big part in these groups lives as can be seen the use of central heating is not used due to the costs. This is seen allot in urban areas where people have low incomes and hardly any choice of housing. With some of the highest numbers in Black Caribbean/other and Pakistani groups, where also a calculation of 56% Bangladeshi children below the age of 16 are living in poverty. Some of the reasons given are said to be because of the ghetto which is surrounded with problems and is hard to leave but also find that it is hard to be integrated into wider societal networks even if they did move. Also for Black minority people would like to move to better housing but also would like to live in existing settlements where they can avoid being harassed and isolated.

Racism in the UK plays a significant part in the lives of Black and ethnic minorities and states that there is “evidence that Black and other ethnic minority communities experience discrimination and disadvantage on a disproportional basis and cannot be explained merely as a result of chance or misfortune” Alcock, P. (2006:147). And goes further in explaining that race is means skin colour, and mainly the difference between black and white skin. There are a variety of different communities that have different ethnic backgrounds and all of them experience discrimination and disadvantages because of their skin colour, culture and religion. Analysis of how minorities experience racism and its links to poverty and social exclusion is different for each minority due to their own experiences and different circumstances but are all discriminated. Some find that they are subjected to more than other groups and some less than other groups. The Black population have a long history of racism as long as the population themselves. But can be traced to the early times of overseas trade and involvement from Britain in the slave trade. Early immigrants were mainly associated with trading in seafaring jobs so settled in ports like Cardiff, Liverpool and London. These cities then saw later migrations to these areas. And it was the because of discrimination in poor housing and employment markets that made these peoples move to poor inner cities which were not favoured by the white people, this helped to confirm the racism because it appeared to lessen the more wider integration into white society and so contributed to the problem of poverty.

Over the decades many other minorities have come to Britain for a range of reasons white people have seen areas overtaken by minorities, seen that minorities take jobs and believe that they are a burden on resources like benefits that they could be receiving. With more migration from within Europe and ever increasing population from migration. But as Alcock (2006:151) suggests that discrimination is also due to the high levels of crime committed by African Caribbean’s, where 12% of male prisoners in prison are African Caribbean and one quarter of the female population. The ever increasing population is also down to minorities having larger families, and that because child poverty in the UK is high means that families are at higher risks as it is the largest families that suffer the most from poverty.

To conclude I have found that there are various reasons for experiences of poverty for Blacks and other ethnic minorities, in the beginning early migrants were impoverished due to their sources of work ending due to deindustrialisation and then settling in poor areas in inner cities and facing discrimination in the social security system. Then low levels of education which can lead poverty as jobs are not made available on the grounds of qualification attainment, which differs amongst ethnic minorities but coincides with figures showing that the groups that suffer that most from poverty are also the ones with the least qualifications. The lack of employment has played a major part In the reasons for poverty due to the attitudes of employers and the lack of understanding of other cultures but also due to language barriers which does not stand up when explained for second generations and so again comes down to discrimination which is now hidden but still exists. Then poor housing can result in poverty too as overcrowding, low incomes, limited housing choices, poor health and limited outward movement is key determinant of poverty. Then finally racism which all minorities face this discrimination can be found to influence all other reasons that I have given it is the underlying cause that I believe to be the problem, it is the discrimination that plays a part amongst others in making minorities live together in communities and in poor housing because they would be subjected to discrimination If they lived near them. It is also in my opinion that discrimination makes certain ethnic minority groups such as Caribbean males underachieve in education but you could say that it is the male’s quest for their masculinity that causes this but I believe that this too is rooted in discrimination in their histories. Also it is discrimination that is the reason for the proportion of jobs that are not given to minorities even though they pose the right levels of qualification. In the modern day discrimination is not openly seen but it is felt by minorities so making it hard to address, there has been work done by governments and agencies but much more is to be done. If the root of poverty stems from discrimination then it is plausible to say an end to discrimination is the key to alleviating poverty.


Mason, D. (2000), Race and Ethnicity in Modern Britain, 2nd edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Mason, D. (2003), Explaining Ethnic Differences; Changing patterns of disadvantage in Britain, Bristol, The policy Press

Alcock. (2006), Understanding Poverty, 3rd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan

Millar, J. (2009), Understanding Social Security; Issues for policy and practice, Bristol, The Policy Press