Unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to rise even higher in the period April to June 2021. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people have already been disproportionately impacted by job losses during the pandemic and data about job security has raised fears that minority ethnic people will again be more likely to be impacted.
Sectors which have been shut down during the pandemic have already seen high levels of job losses and as the furlough scheme draws to a close it is predicted that thousands more jobs will be lost. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has predicted that unemployment will rise to 7.5% in the period April to June. As many of these job losses are likely to come from the ‘shut down’ sectors, the impact on people from minority ethnic communities is likely to be greater due to the fact they represent a higher number of workers in these sectors.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began minority ethnic communities have experienced higher levels of unemployment. In the year to September 2020, the employment rate fell by 5.2% for minority ethnic people compared to 0.2% for white people.
This evidence of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on employment for minority ethnic communities is concerning due to the negative health outcomes associated with job and income insecurity. Being out of work or being in low-paid employment has a significant and long-term negative impact on your health and your wellbeing.
Income instability can lead to poor psychological wellbeing and living in prolonged poverty can lead to long term negative physical and mental health outcomes. The healthy life expectancy gap between the most and least disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the UK is 19 years. Some negative health outcomes are more immediate for example, it was recently revealed that one in six Universal Credit claimants have been forced to skip meals and 60% have been unable to save £10 a month.
The greater job insecurity impacting minority ethnic communities during COVID-19 is especially significant due to the economic instability that is already disproportionately impacting some ethnic groups. In April 2020 over a quarter (27%) of those from Black, African, Caribbean or Black British ethnic groups reported finding it very or quite difficult to get by financially, significantly more than those from White Irish (6%) of Other White (7%) backgrounds.
There are many ways in which job and income security must be improved for communities experiencing high levels of disadvantage, such as ensuring workers earn the real living wage. It is also important that the social security system works effectively for those who cannot work or are currently out of work.
It has been announced that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit will be extended for six months. However, as COVID-19 has had a profound impact on people’s economic wellbeing, it is important that this uplift is retained for at least a year whilst routes back into secure work are developed.
The disproportionate health outcomes on groups experiencing disadvantage have been highlighted and exacerbated during COVID-19. By allowing the disproportionate effects to go unchallenged we are contributing to worsening health outcomes and a more unequal society moving forward.