'Employers ignore you if they can't pronounce your surname'

By Daniel Thomas
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Mary Ibiyemi from Glasgow,Image source, Mary Ibiyemi

Twenty-one-year-old Mary Ibiyemi from Glasgow lost her job in a takeaway last year because her employer "just couldn't keep me on anymore" in the pandemic.

She then spent fruitless months looking for jobs, a time when her self-esteem "just went down".

She thinks it's hard for any young person finding work at the moment, but particularly if you are black.

"My surname isn't one a lot of people can pronounce, and I feel employers are more likely to skip over it," she said,

"I feel if you're from the black or Asian communities, if you have a hard-sounding name then they are less likely to take the time to get to know the person, the pronunciation and try to work with you as a person."

Over the past year, the UK jobless rate for young black people rose by more than a third to 35%, according to the Resolution Foundation think tank.

That compared with a rate of 24% for young people of Asian descent and a rate of 13% for young white people, both up three percentage points.

The foundation said Covid had widened existing gaps between ethnic groups.

Lester Holloway, anti-racism policy officer at the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said all young people needed opportunities but black and minority ethnic (BME) young workers faced "additional obstacles because of their race".

"That's an example of racial injustice," he said. "Ministers must stop delaying and challenge the structural racism and inequality that holds back BME people from such an early age."

Analysis by Priya Patel, BBC business journalist

The employment gap between young ethnic workers and white workers has been with us a long time, but this data, gathered during the pandemic, shows it's getting worse.

This research also makes clear that the problem is not just due to a lack of access to education among ethnic people. More than one-in-three young black graduates were unemployed in the second half of 2020 - an unemployment rate almost three times that of young white graduates.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities' recent report on race concluded there was no evidence of institutional racism in the UK, but the findings have been fiercely contested.

They also come after the unequal health outcomes of Covid sufferers from BME backgrounds have been laid bare.

Mary finally found a part time role, but many others won't be so lucky. According to the Resolution Foundation, young people in general have borne the brunt of job losses in lockdown, because they disproportionately worked in sectors hit by the crisis, such as hospitality and leisure.

At the height of the pandemic last year, between the second and third quarters of 2020, the unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds rose from 11.5% to 13.6%, the foundation said.

This was the largest quarter-on-quarter rise among this age group since 1992.

Kickstart call

"The rise in youth unemployment is not just about those losing their jobs, but also about young people not finding work in the first place," the foundation added.

"Those who left education just before or during the crisis - the so-called class of 2020 - have faced particular difficulties, with unemployment rising fastest among those who recently left education.

"Having a degree has not protected recent graduates from this effect."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Resolution Foundation wants the Kickstart scheme to protect young people from the impact of long-term unemployment

But here too, there is a big disparity between ethnic groups. By the end of last year, unemployment among young black graduates had risen to 34%, up from 22% before the pandemic.

That was a rate almost three times that of young white graduates during the same period (13%). The unemployment rate for young Asian graduates during this period was 24%.

The Foundation called for the government's £2bn Kickstart youth jobs scheme to be expanded and extended to protect young people from the impact of long-term unemployment.

It also urged special efforts to ensure that young people from hard-hit ethnic backgrounds had access to the scheme, alongside access to quality education and training options, and, where needed, financial support for full-time study.

Kathleen Henehan, a senior research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "The furlough scheme has done a fantastic job of minimising job losses amidst unprecedented shutdowns of our economy.

"But young people have still experienced a sharp rise in unemployment during the Covid-19 crisis - with recent education-leavers and young black people being hardest hit.

"This pandemic has created a highly generationally unequal unemployment surge and widened pre-existing gaps between different ethnic groups.

"Young people have sacrificed their livelihoods in order to save the lives of others from Covid-19, and putting their careers back on track must be a priority for government in the months and years ahead."

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