New research from CRER: Ethnicity and Poverty in Scotland 2020

CRER’s latest research report shows that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, minority ethnic people in Scotland were suffering disproportionate levels of poverty. Particularly worrying is the lack of progress on employment gaps and the recent stark rise in poverty levels for children in minority ethnic families. Policy and Research Officer Kirsty McNeil explores our findings.

In Scotland, someone from a Black and minority ethnic (BME) background is around twice as likely to experience poverty as someone from a white Scottish/British background. There is a danger that, in 2020 and for years to come, the wide-ranging impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic will contribute to a rising tide of poverty amongst those on low incomes, including a disproportionate number of BME people.

Our report, Ethnicity and Poverty in Scotland 2020: Analysis and reflection on the impact of Covid-19, investigates key themes and puts the most recently available statistics on poverty for BME people in Scotland into context. It also begins to explore the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on poverty for people from a minority ethnic background.

Key findings from the report

  • The rate of relative poverty in Scotland is more than double for those from BME groups compared to the majority white Scottish/British group

  • Poverty levels appear to be rising, particularly within Asian or Asian British ethnic groups. In 2013-18, 34% of the Asian or Asian British statistical category were in relative poverty, and by 2014-19 this had risen by 5 percentage points to 39%

  • Children from minority ethnic families in Scotland are the only ‘priority group’ within child poverty policy still seeing rising levels of poverty. Almost half of all children in minority ethnic families were living in relative poverty in Scotland over 2016-19

  • In employment, BME people continue to be more likely to work in low paid sectors with little chance of career progression

  • Unemployment rates are higher for minority ethnic people in Scotland; in 2019, the gap in employment rates between minority ethnic people and white people in Scotland was over 16%

  • This gap is much wider for minority ethnic women at 22% compared to 9.5% for men. BME women in Scotland continue to face serious barriers in access to work, including racist and sexist attitudes and discrimination

  • The employment gap is also much wider for younger people. For 16-24-year-olds, there is a 26.1% gap between minority ethnic and white employment rates. Figures are similar for 25-34-year-olds, at 25.3%

  • Only 2.3% of Scotland’s Modern Apprentice starts in 2018/19 were from BME backgrounds, despite a target of 5.1% by 2021

  • Graduate unemployment (and under-employment in part time jobs) is affecting BME graduates in Scotland, who are up to three times more likely to be unemployed compared to white graduates

  • BME people in Scotland are particularly affected by poverty linked to the cost of housing. BME groups are often more likely to be living in expensive private rented housing

  • Homelessness may be becoming a significant problem; in Scotland, 7.4% of homelessness applications in 2018/19 were from BME people

These figures are just the tip of the iceberg. BME people face significant issues across Scottish society which impact risks and experiences of poverty. However, despite being far ranging, these figures do not tell the whole story.

In some areas such as benefit take up, there are still gaps in the data for individual ethnic groups, which are combined together into headline figures. This makes it impossible to see the real picture for these groups, and can hide the true extent of poverty by mixing data for worse off and better off groups. We’ve long called for an improved evidence base on poverty and ethnicity, and in particular, further analysis of why the poverty risks are so high for certain BME groups.

Over the years, calls for action on poverty for BME groups in Scotland have been plentiful. This report is the latest in a long line that have made concrete recommendations, but despite this, there is a history of both insufficient and inefficient action.

Quite simply, our findings show that current measures to tackle poverty (which tend to take a race blind approach) are not working for minority ethnic people in Scotland.

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to be a major catalyst for a rise in poverty rates, it is also a time to push harder for Scottish Government to tackle inequalities and set out targeted actions that focus on the specific barriers faced by BME groups. It is only then that we might achieve the meaningful change that is badly needed.

Read the full report here: Ethnicity and Poverty in Scotland 2020: Analysis and reflection on the impact of Covid-19