Rebecca Marek, policy and parliamentary officer at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, looks at how anti-poverty and anti-racism agendas could be better aligned
In the 2016 report “Shifting the Curve” from the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality, it was noted that minority ethnic communities are among the most disadvantaged groups and may have additional barriers to face in escaping poverty. Despite this, the report said there was not to be “detailed work on these groups at this stage.”
It is CRER’s hope with the upcoming Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and Social Security Bill – alongside several other anti-poverty initiatives – that the time for detailed work to eradicate poverty for BME communities has finally arrived.
BME individuals are twice as likely to be in poverty in Scotland as their white British counterparts, with racial inequality cited as one of the contributors to the widening gap between the richest and poorest in society. Despite school leavers from BME backgrounds having better qualifications than white ethnic groups, the employment rate in Scotland is considerably higher for white ethnic groups (72.0%) than for BME groups (55.2%) aged 25-49. Clustering in low-paid work is another significant factor in explaining greater in-work poverty among some BME groups, with BME individuals with good qualification levels facing greater barriers to finding work which matches their qualifications than their white counterparts.  Research demonstrates that BME groups have fared worse during the economic recession (since 2008) due to a range of labour market disadvantages.
Despite all of this, BME groups have a lower rate of benefit take-up than white groups, whether due to lack of awareness of entitlement, stigma, discrimination, or other factors.
This was the motivation behind a Scottish Government commitment in the Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030: “Work to fill the gaps in current knowledge on how and to what extent minority ethnic people are accessing the benefits they are entitled to and work to ensure that relevant policies developed to address benefits take up and provide access to advice services are equality impact assessed.”  This commitment underpins a key goal in the Framework in relation to racial equality in income and poverty.
Given this, CRER believes that a one-size-fits-all approach to anti-poverty work and social security work will not serve BME communities. This approach, while it may lower poverty rates overall, will not address the poverty gap between BME and white communities, leaving BME groups all the more disadvantaged.
We have seen this whitewashed approach reflected in the Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) for the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill and the Partial EqIA for the Consultation on Social Security in Scotland. The EqIA for the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, while it acknowledges specific issues raised in response to the consultation, simply states that the evidence collected satisfied the Scottish Government that there was clear support for establishing the Bill. There is a significant lack of detail and consideration paid to the ways child poverty may manifest different in BME communities. The partial EqIA on Social Security – while not finalised – also has a concerning lack of detail about issues facing BME groups in particular and would benefit from the inclusion of quantitative information specific to the devolved benefits.
Equality must be embedded throughout the Scottish social security system, with processes built in from the beginning to ensure robust equality monitoring which informs policy and initiatives. The experiences of BME communities must be taken into account to ensure a Scottish-specific approach is free of the discrimination and stigma experienced currently.
For too long, anti-racism and anti-poverty agendas have been resigned to separate silos, with the particular causes, experiences, and routes out of poverty for BME groups often ignored in favour of policies that suit only the white majority. To deliver a social security system truly focused on dignity, fairness, and respect, racial equality must be a key consideration. If the time to undertake work on this is not now, when will it be?
 Kenway, P., Bushe, S., & Tinson, A. (2015) Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland.
 The Scottish Government. Summary statistics for attainment, leaver destination and healthy living.
 Fisher, P. and Nandi, A. (2015) Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Poverty Across Ethnic Groups Through Recession and Austerity.