A Critical Overview of Inequality and Social Injustice Faced by Black and Minority Ethnic Groups in the UK
To gain an understanding of the inequality and social injustice experienced by black and minority ethnic groups in the UK, one may begin by examining the data provided by the government itself. It is evident from this data that major ethnic and racial disparities persist in employment, housing, and the justice system. Black and Muslim minorities, for instance, have twice the unemployment rate of their white British peers and are twice as likely to live in overcrowded housing. Additionally, they are more prone to being stopped and searched by the police, and there exist alarming ethnic discrepancies in COVID-19 death rates.
The government’s pioneering ethnicity facts and figures website, established in 2016 by former prime minister Theresa May, provides a comprehensive collection of hard evidence on ethnic disparities that government departments have collected in a single accessible format. It is the world’s first website of its kind, and May pledged to address “burning injustices” through it.
Critics may argue that the disparities illustrated by the website do not by themselves demonstrate that racism and discrimination are the driving forces behind these inequalities. However, when combined with other direct evidence, it becomes difficult to avoid concluding that these factors play a role.
One type of direct evidence that demonstrates racism and racial injustice in the UK consists of surveys that investigate the beliefs of the British public and field experiments that test whether minorities receive equal treatment in practice. Examining racist beliefs first, in the European Social Survey, a representative sample of the British public was asked two questions about “biological racism,” which refers to the belief that innate differences exist between racial or ethnic groups. The idea that innate differences make some groups inherently superior to others is typically regarded as the core concept of racism.
Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement “some races or ethnic groups are born less intelligent than others,” and it was discovered that 18% of the British public concurred. Respondents were also asked whether they agreed with the statement “some races or ethnic groups are born harder working than others,” to which a considerably larger percentage – 44% – concurred.
It is possible that the discrepancy between these two percentages is due to political correctness. Stating that there are innate group differences in intelligence is widely accepted as a racist statement, whereas claiming innate differences in work ethic may not have the same blatant connotations. However, whether we accept the lower or higher figure, a significant minority of the British public appears to subscribe to some form of racist belief based on this evidence.
In a more recent (2019) nationally representative online survey, we repeated these questions about biological racism. The findings were very similar, with 19% agreeing that some groups were born less intelligent, and 38% agreeing that some groups were born less hard working. We also discovered that individuals who adhered to these racist beliefs were more inclined to oppose immigration and express other “nativist” views, such as the belief that one must have English ancestry to be truly English.
Individuals who express agreement with these racist statements in interviews may not necessarily act on them in practice. However, this finding is consistent with minorities’ own reports that they encounter racial hostility and harassment in their daily lives.
Field experiments can provide more direct evidence about what occurs in practice. Researchers typically submit matched written applications from fictitious minority and majority-group applicants to advertised vacancies to investigate discrimination in the job market. The applications are identical in all respects, except for the names of the applicants, which are chosen to be typical British or minority names. Field experiments like these are generally regarded as the “gold standard” for determining whether minorities are at risk of discrimination.