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Why the ethnic pay gap figures are essential, even if they’re disappointing

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
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The Office for National Statistics has released ethnicity pay gap statistics.

Statistics showing the ethnicity pay gap in Britain have been released for the first time.

We know that women are, on average, paid less than men; the gender pay gap is around 17.9% in the UK.

And things get worse if you’re a woman from a working-class background, with a report showing they earn 36% less than men who grew up with parents in professional jobs.

We have long suspected that it’s even worse if you’re from an ethnic minority, though, and now we finally have statistics to prove it.

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The Office for National Statistics have just released its first analysis of ethnicity pay gaps, and it makes for mixed reading, with huge gaps between people of different ethnicities.

In 2018, on average, employees of Chinese ethnicity earned 30.9% more than white British employees. Those from Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic groups fared worst, earning 16.9% and 20.2% respectively less than white British employees on average.

The biggest difference in median hourly pay between people of a White ethnicity and all those who belong to an ethnic minority group is largest in London at 21.7%.

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The data is based on median gross hourly earnings between 2012 and 2018. In 2018 median hourly pay for those of Chinese ethnicity was £15.80, while for white British people it was £12 and for people of Bangladeshi origin it was £9.60.

The report also showed the difference in pay for men and women within each ethnic group. For white British people, the gender pay gap is 18.5% in favour of men (based on median hourly earnings), while Bangladeshi women earn 10.5% more per hour on average than their male counterparts. The biggest gender pay gap – 19.1% – was found among people of Chinese heritage.

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How do you solve a problem like the gender pay gap?

The government has already introduced mandatory gender pay reporting for firms with more than 250 staff, but there is nothing which requires companies to share their ethnicity pay gap figures.

The TUC has called for mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. Its general secretary Frances O’Grady, responding to the ONS figures, said: “The harsh reality is that even today race still plays a real role in determining pay.

“TUC research has shown that far too many black and minority ethnic workers are stuck in insecure and temporary work, which not only has a huge impact on their life chances but also widens the pay gap.

“This problem isn’t simply going to disappear over time. Ministers must take bold action to confront inequality and racism in the labour market. The obvious first step is to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting without delay.”

It can be depressing to constantly read about how marginalised groups, from women to working-class people to ethnic minorities, are undervalued. But there is a positive to all these statistics; when we know how bad the problem is, we can really begin to put things in motion to change the situation.

Image: Getty

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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.

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