Skip to main content

The numbers don't lie: black and Asian workers hit hardest

The country has been plunged into the worst cost-of-living crisis in living memory and pre-existing racial inequality only magnifies the impact, explains ROGER McKENZIE

THE Chancellor’s recent Spring Statement could have put in place measures to help people to put food on the table and to heat their homes but instead the Tories chose to prioritise the ideology that being in work is the way out of poverty and until then it’s everyone for themself.

As always, black people are at the sharpest end of poverty. Same as it ever was, as the song goes.

The statistics show that poverty rates for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities are already higher than other ethnic groups and are clearly set to get worse as the cost-of-living crisis bites.

The 2019-20 poverty rate for the Bangladeshi community was 53 per cent while it was 48 per cent for the Pakistani community. This is in sharp contrast to the 19 per cent rate for whites.

The fact, which barely needs saying, is that poverty rates for black groups have been higher than for whites for a long time.

For a period between 1997 and 2014, poverty rates were declining for Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, while the rates for the white community have stayed around 20 per cent.

Poverty rates for the black community (British, African and Caribbean) have stayed just over a staggering 40 per cent for the last 25 years.

The latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show the highest in-work poverty rates are still found for people from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds — more than three times the rate than found for white people.

In-work poverty rates are also higher for people from other Asian backgrounds and black communities.

Falling pay has also contributed to higher poverty rates for black workers, with many from these groups having significantly lower wages than white British workers.

This is particularly the case for black women workers. Black workers across all groups are also likely to see their wages hit the hardest as inflation levels in Britain continue to soar to their highest levels for around 30 years.

Inflation is predicted to hit just south of 8 per cent in the coming months at the same time as fuel and food prices also rocket to levels most people have not seen before. Plus a hike in National Insurance contributions will hit the already struggling really hard.

Black workers are likely to be severely hit by the inflation peak as we only earn 84 per cent of what our white counterparts are paid.

All things considered, black workers are clearly going to be severely hit by the full force of the cost-of-living crisis.

By making the comparisons between black and white workers’ levels of poverty and pay, I am not for a moment suggesting things are great for the white community. Far from it. The white community is also clearly in a very perilous position.

My point is that we should never understate the never ending impact of racism when we talk about the vicious impact of poverty in society.

The impact of poverty is not uniform. Everyone does not feel the impact in the same way.

This merely serves to underline the opportunity and importance of building black and white unity to challenge the continued decline in living standards of working-class people at a time when the rich continue to get richer.

In 2016 a leak of millions of documents, the so-called Panama Papers, from secretive law firm Mossack Fonseca, revealed that many rich individuals had benefited by putting some of their money in tax havens, including the former Tory prime minister David Cameron.

Last year’s Pandora Papers, a leak detailing offshore financial services, showed how former Labour prime minister Tony Blair squirrelled away his wealth.

As right-wing Labour guru Peter Mandelson once indicated, the Labour Party is as comfortable around immense wealth as the Tories are.

This wealth-stashing means it is unlikely that we will ever really know just how much richer the rich are getting.

However, we know from Office for National Statistics figures that the biggest earners in Britain saw their monthly salaries increase by 24 per cent from £10,891 per calendar month in 2014 to £13,770 per calendar month in December 2021.

In contrast those on the lowest incomes saw their pay increase by only £167 per month in the same period.

In the end these disparities in pay as well and the persistence of poverty are inevitable under capitalism — and so should be our resistance.

A renewal of the trade union movement into much more of a radical force for change than it is must be a priority.

It’s the only real way of bringing about substantial immediate in-work change and to politically influence social policies being adopted by politicians that impact the out of work.

We can choose to believe that inequality and poverty are merely systemic hiccups that can be managed by a few measures to alleviate immediate suffering.

Alternatively we can understand that this is no blip. It is in fact the way capitalism works and no amount of tinkering about with the system will make any difference.

I saw an interview recently where Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the people he was talking to on his visits around the country didn’t want a revolution. Well I do!

Roger Mckenzie is a journalist and general secretary of Liberation (


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 8,011
We need:£ 9,989
15 Days remaining
Donate today