Health and Employment barriers

Health and Employment barriers

Health and Employment barriers

Black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people face significant barriers in accessing health and employment, and, once in employment, can continue to face disadvantage.

The disadvantages that ethnic minorities experience in the labour market, compared with British whites of the same age and qualifications/experience, are called ‘ethnic penalties’. Ethnic penalties are distinct from the concept of discrimination, although discrimination is likely to be a major component of the ethnic penalty. Both BAME men and women experience considerable disadvantages in the British labour market. This includes higher unemployment rates, greater concentrations in routine and semi-routine work and lower hourly earnings than White groups. These differentials cannot be explained by the age, education or foreign qualifications and foreign work experience of ethnic minority groups.

These ethnic penalties also extend to second generation immigrants, born and educated in Britain. Aside from discrimination, there are a number of other plausible explanations for the presence of significant ethnic penalties, which explain the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the workplace and in leadership positions. BAME people are more likely to lack information about possible job opportunities, live in areas where there are relatively few openings with poor public transportation, or may lack the work experience or training necessary for the available jobs.

Educational disadvantage – including living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods with poor schooling – is also a significant factor. A lack of social capital and subsequent access to people who can offer advice, mentoring, intelligence about vacancies, recruitment processes, internships and work experience is also a significant factor. Nevertheless, discrimination has been found to be a major factor in explaining these occupational disadvantages.

A study by the Department for Work and Pensions reported that ethnic minority applicants had to send 74% more applications to receive a response than white applicants – when these applications were completely identical, apart from having an ethnic minority or a white sounding name (Wood, 2009). BAME applicants received a response for every 16 applications submitted, compared to white applicants who only had to submit 9 applications for a response. Candidates are denied access to a range of jobs in a range of sectors across British cities as a result of having a name associated with an ethnic minority background. There are no plausible explanations for the difference in treatment between applications, other than racial discrimination.

Black employees hold just 1.5 per cent of top management roles in the UK private sector, research has found; a figure that has increased just 0.1 percentage points since 2014.

 A Business in the Community (BITC) report, Race at the Top: Revisited, found just 54,900 of the 3.9 million managers, directors and senior officials in the UK are black.  According to the report, there has been even less progress on black representation in the public sector, where the number of black employees in leadership roles remained static at 1 per cent over the same period.

There highlights a significant lack of racial diversity at the top of UK organisations across all sectors, particularly at senior levels. Black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals in the UK are both less likely to get in and get on in the workplace compared with their white counterparts. One in eight of the working-age population is from a BME background, yet they occupy only one in sixteen of top management positions.

  • 30.2% of workers in the UK worked in the public administration, education and health sector in 2018 – the highest percentage out of all sectors
  • the public administration, education and health sector employed the highest percentage of workers in almost every ethnic group
  • the combined Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic group had a higher percentage of workers in the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector than any other ethnic group (30.7%)

In Scotland, minority ethnically diverse people continue to experience greater labour market inequalities. They continue to have unequal and disproportionate access to employment and representation at all levels, grades and occupation types in Scotland’s workforce. Both quantitative and qualitative evidence suggests there is consistent disparity between labour outcomes for white and minority ethnic populations. The latest minority ethnic unemployment rate in Scotland is more than double the white unemployment rate.

Some key considerations for employers to address key structural and cultural barriers based on these findings are

  • Understand what is happening in your organisation
  • Be aware of intersectionality and examine progression barriers through multiple lenses
  • Critically appraise your organisation culture
  • Actively encourage employee voice to inform change
  • Address unconscious bias, macroaggressions and white privilege issues. (see sections here)

Tips for practitoners

  • Provide practical support for race pay gap, recruitment etc. reporting
  • Develop guidance for employer action
  • Advocate and support better quality people management practice

For more info: benefits/employment/employment-by-sector/latest


This discrimination is consistent with the high levels of discrimination found in comparable studies in other countries over recent years. However, racial discrimination in the labour market extends beyond just the recruitment and selection stage. A YouGov survey of almost 25,000 UK workers (2015) revealed that more than a quarter (28%) of all BAME employees reported witnessing or experiencing racial harassment or bullying from managers in the last 5 years. This figure rises to 32% of BAME employees who have witnessed/experienced racial harassment or bullying from a colleague in the last 5 years. Another Open Survey poll (2015) reports that the scale of racial harassment or bullying from managers may be even worse – with nearly half (45%) of all BAME employees and a fifth (20%) of white employees stating they have experienced or witnessed racial harassment from managers in the last five years. Worryingly, workplace discrimination appears to be on rise. Furthermore, religion, which often intersects with ethnicity, has also been found to impact on workplace penalties.

Heath and Martin (2013) reported a consistent pattern for Muslim men and women to experience greater labour market penalties than workers from similar ethnic groups who belong to other or no religions. Indeed, a recent report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee (2016) reported that Muslim people suffer the greatest economic disadvantages of any group in society, with reasons for this including discrimination and Islamophobia – as well as insufficient role models across education and employment. Racial discrimination is certainly prevalent in the UK workplace, and acts as a significant barrier for BAME populations. Ethnic minorities face difficulties in gaining employment, regardless of their level of education, and then if appointed, almost half will face racial discrimination in the workplace. Barriers faced by people from low socio-economic groups, who by definition lack in economic and social capital, overlap significantly with those faced by many BAME people – who are disproportionality drawn from these groups, indeed, it is estimated that up to 45% of Black children are growing up in poverty, (Office for National Statistics, 2016).

If you require more information on any aspect of the above please get in touch

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