Long hours and hard work give Britain's Asian business people status and respect

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British Asian entrepreneurs measure their success in cultural as well as commercial terms, according to a study published today by the Policy Studies Institute.

Four out of five respondents said that running a business gave them increased standing within their family, while around two in three reported increased status in their community and wider British society.

However, the image of the hard-working Asian entrepreneur running a successful business, masks big disparities be- tween different ethnic and religious sub-groups, according to the study of 129 individuals.

Pakistani businesses tend to be the least successful - more than a third reported a decline in turnover since they were established. One of the reasons was thought to be Muslims' rejection of usury. Rather than seek credit on which interest is charged, Muslims were dependent for capital on their own resources or that of their families.

More than nine out of 10 respondents cited independence as a reason for being self-employed. Two out of three Pakistanis said their work made it easier for them to perform their religious duties.

Many self-employed British Asians are working more than 70 hours a week. Like all self-employed people, they are exempt from the European directive limiting working time to 48 hours a week, which is due to come into force on 23 November. While nearly a quarter are putting in an average 10-hour day, seven days a week, nearly two-thirds are working in excess of 50 hours.

The report, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that some 27 per cent of the businesses were grocery shops-cum off-licences or newsagents. More than one in ten of the enterprises were restaurants - a proportion spread evenly throughout ethnic and religious groupings. More than half the Indian businesses were in the retail sector, while African Asians tended to base their endeavours on a particular skill. Some 35 per cent of their firms were "artisan-based businesses" offering building services or car repair.

The authors point out that all Asians suffer some form of racism, but Indians gave more positive reasons for going into self-employment. Some 56 per cent of Pakistanis set up their companies to escape racism in the labour market, but only 8 per cent of Indians mentioned discrimination.

Some Pakistanis argued that discrimination had as much to with their religion as their ethnicity. It was also thought they may have been attempting to secure employment in more competitive labour markets and therefore encountered more discrimination.

Hilary Metcalf, one of the authors, argues that Asians are not pre-disposed to self-employment. "If job prospects improve and racism subsides, the circumstances which encouraged greater levels of self-employment among Asians are likely to wane, a development which we can expect to affect future patterns of employment."