Do politicians still need to know about ethnicity?

Authors Stephen Jivraj and Ludi Simpson’s edited book Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain: the dynamics of diversity publishes early next month. In this guest post Stephen Jivraj asks whether ethnic and race statistics are necessary for social inquiry and why politicians should take note of them.

Jivraj

Stephen Jivraj

It has been more than 20 years since national statisticians in the UK decided to record ethnic group identification in the census.

In that time, a question on ethnicity has become standard on most national and local surveys. But why do we collect these data? This is pertinent given that so many people, 4 million, did not find a category on the 2011 Census form that they felt described their ethnic group and ticked Other White, Other Asian, Other Black, or, simply, Other.

The categories that people have been asked to identify with at each census (1991, 2001 and 2011) have changed to reflect the dynamic nature of how people see their ethnic identity. But it is fair to say, they have not changed fast enough. So why do we continue to collect these data and how do they help us direct social policy?

Community relations

The ethnic group data from the census allows researchers to challenge misconceptions and misrepresentations that Britain is pulling apart along ethnic divides whether that be where we live or how we feel about our national identity.

Britain’s ethnic minority groups are not evenly distributed across communities. However, the census paints a picture of a steady increase in residential ethnic mixing in all parts of Britain, and at a faster rate in those suburban and rural communities where ethnic minorities are least present.

“It is also true that you are more likely to share a home with a person from a different ethnic group”

It is not only the case that you are more likely to live next door to someone from a different ethnic group than ever before, whether you live in London or the Lake District. It is also true that you are more likely to share a home with a person from a different ethnic group. Perhaps the clearest sign that people are not divided ethnically is the growth of the Mixed groups who now account for more than one million people in England and Wales.

The speed at which ethnic minorities have assimilated to a British national identity is remarkable and has been common despite an absence of any formal requirements of new citizens to express their Britishness, for example, in ceremonies, until very recently.

Those ethnic minorities that are most often singled out as not having British values, by those least comfortable with the growth of ethnic diversity, are those who are most willing to describe themselves as British. This raises the question as to whether integration policies would be better focused at challenging those who hold prejudice against ethnic minorities rather than laying the emphasis on immigrants and their descendants to meet unclear requirements for what it means to be considered British.

Inequality and discrimination

The main motivation that encouraged the official collection of ethnic group data was to uncover inequalities brought about by racial discrimination. This motivation remains, unfortunately, valid because disadvantages persist in the spheres of health, employment, education, housing and neighbourhood deprivation for many ethnic minority groups compared with the White British majority.

“Men in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are six and twelve times more likely to be working part time than White British men”

The evidence is clear that ethnic minority groups have suffered disproportionately during the past 20 years’ restructuring of the labour and housing markets. For example, the rise of part-time work. Men in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups are six and twelve times more likely to be working part time than White British men. In the housing market, ethnic minorities have been hit the hardest by the rise in insecure private rented tenancies. Chinese and Black African households have more than twice the proportion renting privately than the White British groups.

This suggests structural discrimination remains widespread and should be combatted with social policies that embody cultural and institutional encouragement of non-discriminatory practices. The fact that disadvantage persists in spite of existing legislation and social policy begs the question of what is systemic about disadvantage, and how can systemic faults be remedied?

Where next?

It is almost certain that more ethnic group categories will be added to the census in 2021. This might ensure the question is more meaningful, but it runs the risk of fragmented analysis that policymakers will find of diminishing use. New census questions on religion, language proficiency and national identity have enabled policymakers to measure diverse preferences and needs directly.

To address direct race discrimination, information that relates to appearance is still necessary. Consideration of other countries practice of separating ‘colour’ or ‘race’ from ‘origin’ might be the way forward. For the time being, the Census remains crucial to highlighting what is happening to race and ethnic integration and inequality in Britain and what is likely to happen in the future. Key results on the future direction of diversity and the degree of inequality in different parts of Britain are still emerging.

@StephenJivraj
@EthnicityUK

If you liked this post you might also be interested in reading….

How can we be smarter in talking about race by Ludi Simpson

Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain [FC]Ethnic identity and inequalities in Britain: the dynamics of diversity is available from the Policy Press website – here. A launch event will be held at Manchester Central Library on 21st May. Tickets are free but booking is required. You can reserve your place here.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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