Minority Ethnic Groups in the UK and the Labor Market

The United Kingdom is one of the countries in the world where ethnic diversity continues to increase. In recent years, London has become the most ethnic-diversified city in the whole world, with more ethnic languages spoken in that city than anywhere else around the world (Environments for All 2005). Many other urban areas and major cities around the country has become home to large deep-rooted minority ethic groupings. Some of these smaller ethnic communities residing in UK are not well organized and may not even be averse to the local issues. A census conducted in 2001/2 revealed that the minority ethnic population in the UK was around 4.5 million, or 7.6 percent of the total population (National Statistics 2002).

The number has sharply risen over the years as individuals from other countries seek refuge in the UK to escape economic hardships and political spillovers affecting their home countries. Indians were the largest minority group according to the census, followed by Pakistanis, Black Caribbean, Black Africans, and people of mixed ethnic groups in that order (National Statistics). But are these people always absorbed in the labor market once they are in the country? This essay aims at looking at their position in relation to the labor market in UK.

The UK labor market was headed for recession towards the end of 2008. Available data revealed that the number of individuals seeking employment opportunities was growing by the day, with estimates revealing that the figure of the unemployed will stand at 2.8 million by the beginning of this year. This heat of unemployment would certainly be felt most by members of the minority ethnic groups (Labour Market 2008).

In the 2001/2 census, individuals from the minority ethnic groupings had higher unemployment rates than the whites in the UK, with Bangladeshi women and men leading the way with 24 percent and 20 percent unemployment levels respectively (Giddens & Griffiths 2006; National Statistics, 2002). Eight years down the line, the picture is still the same around the country. It is plain true that the UK labor market is not receptive to members of certain minority groups.

Not only do discrepancies in employment exist between members of minority groups and whites, but there also exists huge discrepancies in employment among the members of the different ethnic groups found in the UK. The unemployment discrepancies are so huge that they became a campaign strategy for the Labour Party during the 2004 campaigns. During the campaigns, Labour strategists said that a crackdown on the high unemployment levels among the ethnic minority communities residing in the country would be a goal once the party won a third term in office (Wolf 2004).

This shows how pathetic the situation is regarding the plight of the minority groups in relation to the labor market in the UK. In her own words, the then employment minister Jane Kennedy argued that it was “unacceptable that efforts to get more ethnic minorities into jobs since 1997 had failed” (Wolf). According to Wolf, only 58 percent of individuals from minority groups had jobs compared to 75 percent of individuals in the whole population.

Huge discrepancies exist between the different ethnic minority groups in the labor market. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have the highest unemployment level compared to any other ethnic minority group (Wolf, 2004). Among the minority groups likely to get jobs, Indians lead the pack followed by individuals of the mixed race and Afro-Caribbean in that order. Black males are less likely to find employment than women of the Afro-Caribbean origin. First generation women immigrants are also far more likely to miss employment opportunities according to Wolf. Consequently, some minority groups in the UK have prospered more than others.

A Family Resources Survey carried out by Richard Berthound of the University of Essex revealed that the earnings of Chinese and Indian people in the UK is almost at par with the earnings of the white workers despite their overall poverty rates being higher than those of the white households (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1998). This shows that these ethnic minority groups are accommodated in the UK’s labor market more than other ethnic groups. As expected, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis are the poorest ethnic minority groups in the whole country.

According to Giddens and Griffiths (2006, p783), whites are more likely to find employment in the UK than members of ethnic minorities residing there. Consequently, members from these groups stay out of employment longer than the rest of the population. To understand this issue better, it is imperative that statistics of unemployment within the whole population are compared. According to the two authors, the rate of unemployment among the whites in the UK fell to under 5 percent, with the lowest unemployment level of 3.8 percent being reported south of the country in 2003/4. Indians were second, with about 7 percent unemployment rate.

This reinforces the above named assertion that Indians are near equals to the white population as far as socio-economic parity is concerned. Unemployment levels for the other minority groups were “between 2 to 3 times higher than those for white population” (Giddens & Griffiths, p783). It can therefore be said that members of the ethnic minority groups in Britain are faced with a daunting and uphill task of securing employment if these statistics are anything to go by.

An interesting observation in relation to minority groups and labor relations in the UK is that unemployment cuts across different age categories. According to Giddens & Griffiths (2006 p783.), young people from these minority groups are particularly affected by unemployment. According to the 2001/2 census, Bangladeshi men under the age of 25 led the list, with 40 percent of them being unemployed in the UK. This is a sad scenario as the situation has almost relegated them to abject poverty. Unemployment levels among other ethnic minority groups ranged from 25 percent to 31 percent. By any standards, this is still a high figure as it means that almost a third of them are unemployed. The huge disparity becomes vivid when you compare that figure with only 12 percent unemployed white men of the same age (Giddens & Griffiths p 783).

This discussion cannot be closed without mentioning about how high unemployment rates have necessitated majority of the members of the ethnic minority groups to live a life of abject poverty. Due to lack of gainful employment, these categories of people are more vulnerable to injury, disability, disease, and death than the white population. The unbalanced labor market in the UK has driven majority of these innocent citizens from the minority groups to inadequate and unsanitary housing, high alcohol dependency which has often led to family breakdowns, poor health, and a general state of hopelessness. According to a study published in the online edition of HIV Medicine, many of these individuals are living with HIV, contracted due to the situation that they live in – unemployment and poverty (Carter 2008).

In conclusion, it is imperative to stress what the good employment minister said in 2004 that it is plain unacceptable that all the concerted efforts being made to get the members of minority groups out of unemployment quagmire have so far failed to bear fruit. All stakeholders, including the government must therefore come together and formulate policies, work plans, and rescue plans that will see this category of people get some form of financial independence through the provision of jobs.

The discrepancies between the ethnic minority groups and the other members of the population in relation to employment opportunities are so huge that they do not deserve any legal or moral justification. Nothing can justify the suffering and frustration that these people undergo in the face of an unbalanced labor market. To this effect, the government needs to act expeditiously to come up with mechanisms and frameworks through which members of minority groups in the UK will be able to access jobs in the market.


Carter, M 2008. Poverty and Unemployment common amongst HIV-Positive Londoners. Web.

Environments for All 2005. Working with Minority Ethnic Groups. Web.

Giddens, A., & Grifiths, S 2006. Sociology. Polity. Web.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1998. The Incomes of Ethnic Minorities. Web.

Wolf, M 2004. Cutting Ethnic-Minority Unemployment to be Key Labour Goal in a Third Term. Web.

Labour Market Statistics 2008. UK Unemployment. Web.

National Statistics 2002. Minority Ethnic Groups in the UK. Web.

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