'Mistrust and fear' of services fuelling Islington BAME employment gap, research finds

London Metropolitan University has done research, with Islington Council, into employment in the borough

London Metropolitan University has done research, with Islington Council, into employment in the borough - Credit: London Met

A mistrust and fear of national employment services is a major factor in the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employment gap in Islington, new research has found.

A study by London Metropolitan University and Islington Council has found that drivers contributing to the employment gap between the white and BAME populations of Islington include: a lack of digital literacy, language barriers, poor health and experience of poor, and worsening working conditions and pay.  

According to the study's findings, 48.4% of Bangladeshi and Pakistani adults in Islington are unemployed and 41% of Black/Black British residents.

The rate among the white population is 18.1%.

Dr Jane Lewis, lecturer in sociology and social policy at London Met, said: “Many of the people we interviewed had experienced threats of sanctions from the Job Centre, and some had their benefits cut.

"Many with chronic health conditions felt anxious and threatened by pressures imposed on them by the Job Centre to take unsuitable work.

“This was a factor in widespread suspicion, anxiety and fear about approaching council services, especially among Bangladeshi and Algerian participants." 

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She added: “In one of the focus groups, one participant in the study, a woman of Afro-Caribbean background said: 'When I was initially made redundant and then sick, I thought [the Job Centre] would help you to find a job. I didn’t find it so helpful. I think my finding work was through friends [applying for jobs] was more about ticking boxes. It’s all about that, even if you are not well.'”

A London Job Centre Plus 

A London Job Centre Plus - Credit: PA

Cllr Santiago Bell-Bradford, Islington Council’s executive member for inclusive economy and jobs, said: “We’re working to create a more equal Islington, where everyone who lives here has an equal chance to thrive.

“With the cost of living crisis, there is an urgent need to get local people into well-paid, secure jobs.  This research reveals some of the systemic barriers faced by our BAME residents.

“Working with trusted partners in the community is vital and our Islington Working Partnership plays an important role in helping people into good work, and helping families out of poverty. 

“This research will help us track our progress in supporting those who face the most challenges in getting back into work.  I look forward to working together with local employers and organisations to achieve our ambition of 5,000 people into work by 2026.”

Other barriers to unemployed ethnic minorities finding employment included lack of educational qualifications, lack of digital literacy, experience of poor and worsening working conditions and pay, low confidence, childcare requirements, and digital poverty – not having access to computers or the internet. 

The study recommends employment services targeted at specific communities to address the gap.

It recommends the council broadens its outreach programmes and develop links with further and higher education providers.

The research aimed to disaggregate existing employment data in order to identify the needs of each community and produce community-specific  targets.

The paper recommends building trust in services by increasing their visibility in communities. Research participants were enthusiastic about the concept of services being based in trusted community organisations and spaces such as schools, GPs, faith centres and community groups. 

A DWP Spokesperson said: “A record number of people from ethnic minority backgrounds are in employment. All of our Jobcentres offer tailored employment support including networking circles for ethnic minorities to build confidence and job search skills, whilst at the same time helping employers understand and revise the inclusivity of their recruitment practices.

“Sanctions are only ever applied when a someone fails to meet the conditions they themselves agreed to without good reason.”

According to the DWP, all work coaches undergo ethnic diversity training, informed by the expertise of Business in the Community.