Black men three times more likely to be jobless

New study finds big disparities in relative successes of ethnic minorities amid fierce debate over minister's comments on black underclass
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The Independent Online

Large disparities have emerged in the relative success of Britain's ethnic communities, with some groups performing better than most in school and the workplace while others are in danger of being left behind.

Large disparities have emerged in the relative success of Britain's ethnic communities, with some groups performing better than most in school and the workplace while others are in danger of being left behind.

Research for the Department for Education and Employment shows that the traditional view of ethnic minority groups being at a disadvantage is becoming less valid.

Indian children now achieve the best school exam results of all ethnic groups. The Chinese have the highest proportion of students at the so-called Old Universities, and the Africans are over-represented in terms of students in higher education.

Yet the study by the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, based at the University of Warwick, provides worrying evidence of the development of the kind of ethnic minority underclass identified by Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister.

While some leading black people accepted the validity of what Mr Hain was saying, others rejected his comments as being appropriate to America but not to Britain.

Bob Purkiss, a black trade unionist who is now vice-chairman of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, said there had long been divisions between the black communities in South Africa and America, but that black people in Britain were more united. "In America they have had black-only universities for 100 years. A black middle-class intelligentsia has distanced themselves from the rest of black society and created those barriers for themselves in the need to be recognised," he said. "I don't think that happens here."

Claude Moraes, an Asian Labour MEP, said he could see evidence of a gulf between the successes of the Indian and Chinese communities and the relative disadvantage of the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

But he said that, unlike South Africa, ethnic minority people had no real power base in Britain and that even successful people from ethnic minorities suffer discrimination in police stop and search and in applying for financial services.

Inspector Leroy Logan, chairman of the London Black Police Association, challenged the idea of a gulf between "haves and have-nots" in the black community. "The black community want to see that their children are assisted out of the downward cycle of lack of education leading into crime."

Despite the presence in the Government of black ministers, such as Paul Boateng and Baroness Scotland of Asthal, and the appointment of Trevor Phillips to chair the Greater London Authority, there remains a paucity of business success stories from Britons of Afro-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds.

In the DfEE report, the Afro-Caribbean, African, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups consistently come out worst in the fields of education, further education and the labour market.

The report's lead author, Dr David Owen, a senior research fellow, said the study demonstrated a "changing situation" in Britain's ethnic minorities. He said: "It's not a simple pattern of white advantage and minority disadvantage anymore."

Dr Owen said black boys had been found to be "lagging behind" in educational achievement. "That seems to be shown not just in national but in local statistics.

In Birmingham, the most disadvantaged educationally are Afro-Caribbean boys and the most advantaged are Indians, both boys and girls." Disproportionately high numbers of black girls achieve good grades at GCSE, however.

In higher education, 13 per cent of students are from ethnic minority groups, although they make up only 8 per cent of the population aged 19-24. But ethnic minority students are concentrated heavily in the new post-1992 universities and generally achieve poorer results, particularly African students, who show high rates of graduate unemployment.

Generally, unemployment among ethnic minority men is up to three times higher than for white men. For ethnic minority women, it is four times higher than white women.

But Mr Hain's vision of a black underclass is far from inevitable. As the minister points out, Britain's efforts to tackle racial discrimination are far in advance of any comparable country in Europe. Many race campaigners accept that the laws have helped to make racism publicly unacceptable, helping to create one of the world's most tolerant societies.