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What Are Some of the Major Factors That Form Persistent Ethnic Inequalities in Britain Today?



One of the major factors that form persistent ethnic inequalities in contemporary British society is inequalities within the education system. Gillborn (2008) suggested that the achievement gap is a permanent issue in the British education system. He argues that Black pupils are disadvantaged because of educational practices, such as setting, coaching and examination tiering (Gillborn, 2008). When Black pupils are allocated to lower sets in their classes, they are more likely to be entered into Foundation tiers for maths and English in comparison to White pupils. This restricts their academic progress, as taking foundation tier exams prevents pupils from achieving higher grades. In turn, this influences the pupil’s future as higher grades are needed to gain access to higher education and careers. Furthermore, there is evidence that schools are failing black pupils. Black pupils have started school getting an average of 20 points above average in school starter attainment tests. Yet, when leaving school, they received 21 points below the average. ‘This shows that schools may neglect and add considerably less value for their Black students ‘ (Gillborn & Rollock, 2010).

Furthermore, an ethnocentric curriculum in schools assists in the formation of ethnic inequalities. When students study British history, it is from a European perspective, historical events are sometimes glorified rather than taking a critical view. The education system also fails to tackle Britain’s legacy of colonisation through education. In addition, the history of British Black and minority ethnic (BME) students is often erased or ignored. There are the historical BME figures that have been hidden from history and forgotten in the education system. For example, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh had a significant role in the suffragette movement, but her achievements are rarely recognised. The ethnocentric curriculum is an example of institutional racism, as it builds ethnic inequalities through subtle everyday racial bias. Teaching, assessments and out of date textbooks filled with racist stereotypes can fuel prejudices towards different races.

The workplace

Equally important, are the consistent ethnic inequalities in the workplace. People with Asian or African names will have to apply to twice as many jobs to get an interview (Wood et al., 2009). This could be due to deep rooted racism that may sometimes be unconscious. Barriers for BME groups in the workplace are ingrained into the system, unconscious and conscious bias is one aspect of this. There is also a lack of role models, mentors and sponsors in the workplace for BME groups (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2017, p.61). This can lead to BME groups perceiving the workplace as a hostile environment and in many cases this is true. As BME groups are less likely to be ‘given promotions and they are more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly’ (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2017, p.5). Additionally, BME have a higher unemployment rate than White people. However, they are more likely to be overqualified than White people (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2017, p.45). This suggests a persistent inequality exists in the workplace as BME groups are still being treated unfairly and little progress has been made to improve this. On the other hand, there are ‘now more Indian workers who are in the top earnings decile (top 10%) compared to White workers’ (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2017, p.10). This suggests that positive change is possible for some BME groups.


BME groups in Britain experience worse health than that of others. Surveys have shown that ‘Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black-Caribbean people report the poorest health, with Indian, East African Asian and Black African people reporting the same health as White British, and Chinese people reporting better health’ (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2007, p.1). This suggest that health inequalities are diverse and vary within ethnic groups. These inequalities can be caused by high rates of poverty and area deprivation experienced by many BME groups. In the example of health, persistent ethnic inequalities intersect with social class as BME groups are more likely to live in poverty and in areas suffering from deprivation, which increases their health risks. Other factors that contribute to continual ethnic inequalities are the ‘long-term impact of migration, racism and discrimination, poor delivery and take-up of health care, differences in culture and lifestyles, and biological susceptibility’ (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2007, p.2). As a result of these differences, policy responses and structural reform have tried to improve ethnic inequalities. For example, the Spearhead programme was introduced in areas with the lowest health and deprivation. This included smoking clinics, health trainers, local projects like early cancer detection and prevention of cardiovascular disease (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2007, p.4). More recently, ethical inequalities have been present during the coronavirus pandemic. Although research on the area is limited, analysis has found that BME groups have a statistically higher risk of dying from the coronavirus than White groups. One possible explanation for this difference is socio-economic disadvantages (Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by ethnic group, England and Wales - Office for National Statistics, 2020).


Furthermore, policing is another major factor that aids in the formation of ethnic inequalities in Britain. BME groups are disproportionately subjected to stop and search procedures and are overrepresented in the prison system (El-Enany and Bruce-Jones, 2015). Over-policing is present in many BME communities. For Muslim and Asian communities, post 9/11 counter terrorism measures have led to racial and religious profiling. This has drawn out an increase in islamophobia which contributes to the number of hate crimes and racially motivated violence. One way that racial and religious profiling can function is at UK border controls, schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (El-Enany and Bruce-Jones, 2015) permits police and the border control to stop, search and detain people without any reasonable suspicion. Government data found that Black and Asian people are stopped and detained at higher rates than White people (El-Enany and Bruce-Jones, 2015).

Equally important, the lack of accountability taken for police brutally and deaths in police custody suggests little progress has been made. In the case of the death of Christopher Alder, an inquest found that he was unlawfully killed. He died in police custody from choking to death while lying face down and handcuffed in a police station. The police officers present were captured on CCTV footage ignoring signs that he was dying and making monkey noises, a common racist insult used against Black people. However, no one has been held responsible for his death. Rather, the police officers were given an early retirement with ‘payouts between £44,000 and £66,000’ (Tomlinson, 2020). The lack of police accountability, abuse of power and brutality, contributes to the persistent ethnic inequalities that still exist today.