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How Inclusive will the Private Sector Led Recovery be?

Brhmie Balaram

01 December 2011

At the tail end of the recession in 2009, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that the impact of the crisis would be felt more acutely by black and minority ethnic (BME) groups once cuts to the public sector begin to take effect. Those whose disadvantage is compounded by intersecting identities, such as BME women, will be amongst the hardest hit.  As the Coalition government now prepares to slash 710,000 jobs over the next five years from the public sector, a domain that disproportionately employs BME groups, it would appear this demographic will soon be struck immensely by austerity measures as the EHRC predicted.
Previous studies probing the reasons for BME reliance on public sector employment have identified that many BME groups are at a disadvantage in respect to recruitment, retention and advancement in the private sector when compared with whites, although the degree varies by ethnicity. Existing evidence indicates that larger employers are less likely to discriminate than small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which also have a poor track record of promoting equality and diversity within the workplace. Heath and Cheung (2006) have determined that there are higher levels of discrimination in the private sector than in the public, and that this picture has scarcely changed over the past 20 years.
Considering this history, it is worrying that the government would press ahead in its plans to scale down the public sector without first addressing the barriers faced by BME groups to penetrating the private sector. Even if the government does succeed in rising to the challenge of creating 1.7 million new jobs in the private sector by 2017 to compensate, this does not necessarily mean that the same people losing out, namely women and BME groups, will be the ones to recoup the gain. Strategies for fairly integrating these groups into the private sector and ensuring greater inclusivity need to be pursued alongside the shift in sector employment. As it stands, private sector led recovery will marginalize BME groups unless there is simultaneously a private sector led revolution in workplace practices.

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