Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights - anti-racist policy making: review

Findings of a research programme into Scottish race equality strategies since 2000. The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) was commissioned to support the implementation of this review, with a focus on exploring opportunities for better practice.

Employability, Employment and Income

Race Equality Framework for Scotland Vision

Minority ethnic people have equal, fair and proportionate access to employment and representation at all levels, grades and occupation types in Scotland's workforce and experience fewer labour market, workplace and income inequalities


20. Identify and promote practice that works in reducing employment inequalities, discrimination and barriers for minority ethnic people, including in career paths, recruitment, progression and retention

21. Ensure robust policy responses that support race equality in relation to income and poverty

22. Ensure access to appropriate early learning and childcare for minority ethnic families

23. Reduce barriers and provide support for minority ethnic people who are new to the labour market, including school leavers and new migrants

24. Minority ethnic entrepreneurs and business owners have equal access to business and enterprise support

25. Scotland's public sector workforce is representative of its communities

Key themes

Employability, employment and income is the area with by far the largest number of Scottish Government / Executive policy commitments on race equality over the past 20 years. In total, 240 commitments and actions related to employability and employment were recorded, with a further 16 related specifically to income-related issues. The lower amount of relative focus on income is possibly a result of the majority of the welfare rights system being reserved policy areas, under the responsibility of the UK Government.

A large number of the employment actions and commitments related to diversity within Scottish Government, the public sector and the wider workforce. These 84 actions and commitments related to themes including:

  • Measures to improve recruitment processes
  • Positive action
  • Retention and understanding the challenges in retaining minority ethnic staff (for example through exit interviews)
  • Diversity in senior management roles and other career progression focussed work
  • Diversity in specific sectors, such as early learning and childcare, nursing and social services
  • Diversity within the Modern Apprenticeship system
  • Initiatives to create organisational culture change around race equality in order to foster an environment which encourages diversity, including activity around anti-racism in the workplace

Gathering and using data and evidence related to race equality in employment was the focus of 33 actions and commitments, with the same number committing to address race equality in mainstream employment policy.

Capacity building related to race and employment accounted for 20 actions and commitments. These included:

  • Specific race equality in recruitment training for those with recruitment roles
  • Training for managers
  • Training and mentoring opportunities for minority ethnic staff to support career progression
  • Development of toolkits and guidance on race equality in employment

The remaining actions and commitments covered issues including:

  • Creation of additional action or delivery plans
  • Leadership, accountability and transparency on race equality in employment
  • Racial harassment and workplace bullying
  • Employability measures, particularly to support specific groups such as new migrants and minority ethnic women (sometimes through support for Voluntary Sector initiatives)
  • Work to meet the of the public sector equality duties within employment policy

In early 2021, a new Race Recruitment and Retention Plan was published by Scottish Government, adding a considerable number of new commitments. Some of these replicated approaches which had been used in the early days of Scottish devolution, but had since ceased, such as setting personal and business performance objectives on diversity. It has a considerable focus on tackling institutional racism and addressing the systems, processes and practices that can create barriers to increasing diversity. This is part of a wider shift over time towards developing organisational responses to employment inequalities (as opposed to the early policy focus on capacity building for minority ethnic individuals, which could only impact the small number of people genuinely requiring this and often reflected racial stereotypes).

The 16 income related commitments and actions were overwhelmingly focussed on considering race equality within mainstream policy, usually with little detail beyond this. 9 commitments were of this nature. Restrictions on devolved activity to improve incomes notwithstanding, given the disproportionately high rates of household and child poverty within minority ethnic communities, this is perhaps surprising.

The remaining commitments covered issues including:

  • Access to money advice and other support services for minority ethnic people on low incomes, and the use of procurement measures to ensure services become more accessible
  • Involving minority ethnic people in developing policy related to poverty and income inequality
  • Work to improve data and the evidence base relating to minority ethnic people on low incomes

In terms of progress relating to employability, employment and income, Scottish Government / Executive were able to demonstrate progress on workforce diversity at certain points, for example a doubling of the proportion of the workforce from minority ethnic backgrounds by 2004 (although this was not meeting ambitions to achieve levels of diversity representative of the population).

Considerable achievements were made in the proportion of minority ethnic people on Scottish Government's Graduate Development Programme following positive action measures in 2017, with minority ethnic people accounting for 11% of applications, 100% of which were successful. This was one of the clearest examples of action resulting in measurable positive change identified during this review.

Regarding income, some successes were reported in increasing access to money advice services, including a targeted service which secured more than £85,000 in welfare benefits for a particular minority ethnic community.

However, the reported proportion of increase in access to money advice services to a roughly representative level (in terms of the percentage of minority people in the population) could be regarded as not going far enough. As minority ethnic people are twice as likely to be in poverty in Scotland as those in the majority ethnic community, the expectation would be that minority ethnic people make up a larger proportion of those requiring money advice. Ensuring genuinely equal access to services requires an understanding of which groups need access the most, and sometimes means that a larger or smaller proportion of particular ethnic groups should be reflected in statistics on service use.

Evidence on inequalities and change over time

Key Issues:

  • High educational attainment does not translate to labour market advantage for minority ethnic people
  • Employment rates in Scotland are significantly lower for BME groups compared to white majority ethnic groups. Employment rates for BME people have consistently remained under the rates for white people and have improved very little since 2004
  • Access to employment is a particular issue for BME women. There has been little difference for employment rates for minority ethnic women since 2004, remaining substantially below BME men and white women
  • Access to modern apprenticeships reflects inequalities in the labour market and substantial progress is needed for this route to be open and accessible to people of all ethnicities
  • The rate of relative poverty in Scotland is consistently more than double for those from BME groups compared to the majority white Scottish/British group
  • Relative poverty rates amongst children in minority ethnic households have not altered significantly since 2010 and appear to have been rising recently

There continues to be a lack of data and research, for examples on benefits take up rates. There needs to be an improved evidence base on poverty and ethnicity, and in particular, further analysis of why the poverty risks are so high for certain BME groups.


Equality and Human Rights Commission research in 2014 found that less than 2% of all modern apprenticeships (MAs) in Scotland were taken by non-white minority ethnic individuals. Statistics published from 2015-2020 suggest that equal access to MAs continues to be an issue, despite an action plan to be implemented over five years being published by Skills Development Scotland in 2015.[66]

Despite some incremental progress, this has not been at the level to reach parity of participation, or indeed the 2021 target of 5.1%.[67] Between 2015 and 2020, minority ethnic representation within modern apprenticeships grew from 1.5% to 2.4%, far short of a representative level. Given the relatively young age profile of BME groups in Scotland, it might be expected that a much larger proportion of MAs would be from BME backgrounds.

Of relevance there have also been findings to suggest that non-white minority ethnic individuals are less likely to complete their MA and less likely to be kept on by employers if they do.[68]


Minority ethnic groups tend to be over-represented in small to medium-sized enterprises. From 2007 to 2012, around 3% of small to medium-sized enterprises in Scotland were run by a member or mostly by members of a minority ethnic group.[69] By 2014, the Scottish Government had reported that 6% of all small to medium-sized enterprise employers in Scotland were run by a member or mostly by members of minority ethnic groups, an increase of 3 percentage points from 2012.[70]

Accordingly, self-employment rates tend to be higher for non-white minority ethnic groups. In 2014, the self-employment rate for non-white minority ethnic groups was 17% compared to 12% for those from a white ethnic background. In 2014-15, the self-employment rate was highest for Pakistani (32%), Chinese (23%) and Indian (22%) groups, whilst Bangladeshi and other South Asian groups also had high rates of self-employment (20% for both groups).[71] In 2013, Gypsy/Travellers were twice as likely to be self-employed compared with the general population – 24% compared with 12%.[72]

UK wide research has suggested that much self-employment, particularly in the Pakistani group, is low paid in areas with few opportunities for progression.[73]

More recent data on self-employment in Scotland published by the Office for National Statistics has been disaggregated by nationality (UK or non-UK national) rather than ethnic group, and so cannot be used to determine trends for minority ethnic groups.[74]

Labour Market Participation

Data from NOMIS can show us employment rates for working age people in Scotland since 2004 (see Figure 11). The employment rates for minority ethnic people have consistently remained under the rates for white people and have improved very little since 2004, with no increase since reaching a rate of 60% in 2011.

For white groups, the employment rate has remained fairly constant at around 73% for the whole sixteen-year period, while the rate for minority ethnic groups has fluctuated a little, but generally within the range of 55-60%.

Data is available over the same time period with more detailed ethnicity data (see Figure 12), this shows us that employment rates vary significantly by ethnicity.

Employment rates for the mixed ethnic group category have fluctuated massively over the time period, which makes a conclusion about this groups' progress difficult to reach. Rates have improved from 2004-05 when the employment rate was 70%, to the most recent year of data in 2019-20, when rates reached a peak of 81%.

Employment rates for the Indian group, previously high from 2004-05 – 2014-15, with a peak of 84% in 2014-15, have fallen in the most recent five-year period to a low of 65% in 2019-2020. This represents a clear regression in employment rates for the group over the time period with 72% employment rates in 2004-05 falling to 65% by 2019-20.

Employment rates for the Pakistani/Bangladeshi group have generally been the lowest with no clear upwards trajectory over the full time period. Employment rates have not improved with a rate of 50% in 2004-05 compared to 49% in 2019-20. The data suggests this group in particular face additional barriers in accessing employment.

Employment rates for the Black or Black British group have been more constant than for other groups, generally remaining between 55-65%. Since the beginning of the time period the group have seen little improvement overall for employment rates with a rate of 62% in 2004-05 compared to 61% in 2019-20.

Employment rates for the group for 'all other' ethnicities have seen some fluctuations. Over the sixteen-year period there was a rise from 43% (the lowest of all groups) to 56%, however this is still a relatively low rate in comparison to other groups suggesting particular barriers to employment may be faced.

Women and labour market participation

BME women are more likely than both white women and BME men to not be in employment, and this has been a consistent trend over time (see Figure 13).

Overall, both white women and minority ethnic women have an employment gap with men, however the gap for minority ethnic women is much larger. Further, in recent years employment rates for white women have been on a slight upwards trajectory whilst employment rates for minority ethnic men have fallen meaning that white women now have higher, or comparable employment rates with minority ethnic men.

For minority ethnic women there has also been a slight increase in the last five years in employment rates. However due to a decline in rates prior to this increase, this means that over the sixteen-year time period there has been little difference for employment rates for minority ethnic women with a minimal rise of 3% (47% in 2004-05 to 50% in 2019-20). Employment rates overall have changed very little, generally staying around 50%.

Employment rates are also available broken down by gender and more specific ethnicities over the same time period (see Figure 14).

Indian women have one of the biggest gaps compared to men in their ethnic group throughout the time period. Indian men generally have particularly strong employment rates whilst Indian women have lower rates. Over the sixteen-year period rates for Indian women have fallen from 62% to 53%.

Pakistani/Bangladeshi women have the lowest employment rates. From 2004-05 the rate stayed fairly consistently around 40%, before falling to a low of 21% in 2013-14. Despite beginning at such a low base rate, more recently the employment rates for this group had fallen by 5% (36% in 2004-05 to 31% in 2019-20).

Employment rates for Black British women were at their lowest in 2008-09 at 42% (the lowest for all ethnicities and genders), since then employment rates have generally risen to reach one percent above Black British men in 2019-20 at 61%. This is, however, not an overly significant rise since 2004-05 when rates were 55%.

Women in the 'other' ethnic group have generally had lower employment rates through the time series. Despite rises in the employment rate since 2004-05, rising from 38% to 48% in 2019-20, this is still a comparatively low employment rate.

Workplace learning and job-related training

The percentage of employees who reported receiving job-related training in the last 3 months has been generally decreasing recently. Since 2016, BME employees have been less likely to receive job related training than their white counterparts (see Figure 15). In 2019 the gap was 6.5% (17.5% vs 24%), an increase from previous years, suggesting that inequalities in access to job training for BME people may be increasing.

A lack of job-related training can have negative consequences for skills development, performance, salary negotiation and career development. This is critical for BME people, and in particular BME women, who face structural racism and barriers in their entry and navigation of the workplace such as being overlooked for promotions and being less likely to be hired in the first place.

Poverty Rates

In Scotland, research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation using the Households Below Average Income dataset has shown that, in the three years to 2013, poverty was twice as high for non-white minority ethnic groups, with racial inequality cited as one of the contributors to the widening gap between the richest and poorest in society.[75]

From 2013-20, relative poverty rates (after housing costs) amongst BME groups in Scotland have consistently been above rates for white groups, at around double the rate (see Figure 16).

Poverty rates amongst the Asian or Asian British people in Scotland have increased since 2013, rising by 7% points over the seven years to 41% in 2020. There may also be an indication that relative poverty rates amongst the group comprised of 'Mixed, Black or Black British and Other' people have recently been increasing. In 2013, 38% of this group were in relative poverty, by 2020 this had risen by 5 percentage points to 43%. In contrast to these groups, the white British and white other groups saw both lower poverty levels overall and rates remaining the same or dropping very slightly.

It should be noted, however, that the statistical practice of clustering ethnic groups can disguise the extent of inequality. Outcomes often differ significantly between individual ethnicities within the broader categories used for statistical purposes.

Statistics are available on the percentage of adults in relative and absolute poverty (after housing costs) by ethnicity over a 10-year average from 2007-17 (see Figure 17). These show every BME group has higher relative and severe poverty rates than the white British group.

Those from the Indian group are the less likely than other BME groups over the ten-year average to be in relative poverty, however this rate is still slightly higher than for white British people. Significantly, similar rates of severe and relative poverty (22% and 18%) suggests that the degree of income polarisation may be high for this group.

The data shows Chinese, Pakistani, Asian-other and Black/African/ Caribbean/Black British groups have particularly high relative and severe poverty rates. Notably almost half (45%) of the Pakistani group, the biggest BME group in Scotland, and more than half (51%) of the Chinese group, the second biggest BME group, were in relative poverty. For both these groups more than a third were in severe poverty.

Child Poverty

Although there is considerable diversity between and within different minority ethnic groups, on average, children from minority ethnic communities in Scotland are more likely to be in poverty.

Relative poverty rates in Scotland are much higher amongst BME families (see Figure 18). Relative poverty rates amongst children in minority ethnic households have not altered significantly since 2010. Rates also appear to have been rising since 2014, by 2016-2019, almost half (44%) of children in minority ethnic families were living in relative poverty. This is in contrast to all children for whom poverty rates have been steady at 25% since 2014.

Looking at the statistics for absolute poverty between 2010-2019, similar higher poverty rates are persistently shown amongst children in minority ethnic households (see Figure 19). In 2016-19, 41% of children in minority ethnic families were in absolute poverty after housing costs, compared to 21% of all children. The recent rise in rates has wiped out any progress made since 2010, with the absolute poverty rate of children in minority ethnic families only improving 1% since 2010. This means that rising prices may be putting additional pressures specifically on BME families.

Minority ethnic children in Scotland are also significantly more likely to be living in disadvantaged circumstances, such as in material deprivation (see Figure 20). Minority ethnic children have a consistently higher than average risk of combined material deprivation and low income, and rates have improved very little (1%) since 2010. From 2010-2016 there was a fall in rates, however since then rates have risen – in 2016-19 almost a quarter (23%) of minority ethnic children were living in combined material deprivation and low-income poverty. This compares to 12% of all children.

Many minority ethnic children therefore may not have access to resources or experiences considered normal parts of childhood in Scotland. They may miss out on holidays, school trips and developing hobbies and interests. This can impact on their development, experience of school and ability to enjoy time with their friends.

It is known that BME children in Scotland are more at risk of persistent poverty,[76] however statistics are not currently available on the extent of this or which BME groups it impacts most. UK wide statistics indicate that in 2018, 1 in 4 children in Asian households and 1 in 5 children in Black households were in persistent poverty.[77] This compares to 1 in 10 children in white households. Children in persistent poverty are at greater risk of mental and physical health problems, including obesity and longstanding illness.

Transport Poverty

Transport poverty is where people do not have access to essential services or work due to a lack of affordable transport options. Travel-to-work patterns have showed that people from minority ethnic groups are less mobile and were more reliant on public transport, suggesting transport poverty could be more likely.[78] Travel-to-work data from the 2011 Census showed that people from the African group were the least likely to drive to work and the most likely to take the bus.[79]

According to the combined results of the Scottish Household Survey between 2001 and 2005, adults from ethnic minority groups are markedly less likely to hold a driving license - 48% compared to 66% for White ethnic groups.[80] In line with this, analysis from the 2011 Census showed that all BME groups (aside from the Pakistani group) had lower than average levels of car ownership.[81] The African group had the lowest level of car or van access, with the majority (53 per cent) of people having no access to a car or van.

Income from benefits

Recent data from Social Security Scotland shows that minority ethnic people made up 8% of applications in 2020.[82] Within this the largest group is 'Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British' accounting for 4% of total applications. In 2019, minority ethnic people made up 7% of applications.[83]

There continues to be lack of data and research around access to other benefits for BME groups in Scotland. It is unclear whether, and to what extent, minority ethnic groups are under-claiming benefits. Further, the impact of Universal Credit on minority ethnic groups in Scotland is unknown.

At a UK wide level, research has suggested that the introduction of Universal Credit has disadvantaged particular groups. The Women's Budget Group and Runnymede Trust found that several demographic factors make BME women more likely to be affected by the introduction of Universal Credit, namely:[84]

Family composition – Large families and single-parent households are the most affected by changes to Universal Credit (alongside changes to Child Tax Credits and Child Benefit), and these are more common among individuals from a BME background than from a white background

Single-Parent families – Black groups in the UK are more likely to have a lone parent family structure, with 91% of lone parent households with dependents headed by the mother; this makes Black mothers vulnerable to real-term cuts to Universal Credit, which leave lone mothers worse off

Dependent children – Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Black African households in the UK are more likely to have dependent children living in the household than other groups, reflecting the younger age profile of BME groups; benefits and public service cuts disproportionately impact households with children, meaning that BME families with dependent children have experienced a much larger impact

The Scottish Government, in the Race Equality Framework 2016-30, committed to make all possible efforts to assess, understand and where it can, mitigate the impact of any UK policies outwith their control which have a financial impact on minority ethnic people with low incomes. One immediate action for the Scottish Government could therefore be the commission of research on the impact of Universal Credit on BME groups in Scotland.

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)

Statistics on minority ethnic individuals living in areas of multiple deprivation are mixed, with some ethnic groups faring better than others. Although it should be noted that living in an area of multiple deprivation does not automatically correlate to household poverty, it can worsen opportunities due to the 'double disadvantage' effect where individual and neighbourhood factors combine (for example, being unemployed in an area of high unemployment).

Data from the 2011 Census shows that Asian groups tended to be underrepresented in the most deprived areas, with the Indian group the least likely to live in such areas at 11% (see Figure 21). The most over-represented group by some distance is the African group with over one third of African people living in one of Scotland's 15 percent most deprived areas. The Polish group is also considerably over-represented, with almost a third of Polish people living in the most deprived areas. Further, almost a quarter of Caribbean or Black people lived in the most deprived areas.

Looking specifically at Glasgow, research by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) found that the proportion of minority ethnic groups living in SIMD areas had worsened for minority ethnic communities between the 2001 Census and 2011 Census.[85] This was particularly the case for people from African, Caribbean, 'other' white and Chinese ethnic groups. There had been little change in the proportion of white Scottish and white other British people in the 10% most deprived areas in Glasgow, whilst for white Irish and mixed ethnic groups the situation had improved.

The CoDE research found that people in certain minority ethnic communities were more likely to live in SIMD areas which had poor results under the housing domain, which measures overcrowding and lack of central heating. Only 8% of white Scottish groups lived in the most deprived neighbourhoods on the housing domain, compared to 20% of Pakistani, 11% of Caribbean and 11% of 'other' white groups.

Considerations for future policy

Scottish Government's Race Recruitment and Retention Plan sets out the direction of travel for internal workforce diversity, so its implementation will be of fundamental importance to race equality work going forward.

However, wider inequalities in the labour market are an important underlying cause of many racial inequalities in other areas such as health and housing. Under its Fair Work agenda, Scottish Government now have a dedicated Race Employment Team. This targeted investment in capacity and resource for race equality in employment creates opportunity for additional action.

Scottish Government has a vital role to play in addressing employment and income inequalities, and may wish to consider the following areas in developing targeted approaches to address these:

  • Levers for increasing workforce diversity in the public, private and voluntary sectors (including reviewing the effectiveness of past initiatives such as the Workplace Equality Fund, which initially attracted few applications focussing on race equality)
  • Commissioning research on the impact of Universal Credit on BME people in Scotland
  • Ensuring that child poverty and poverty strategies include action specifically focussed on minority ethnic communities
  • Maximising the number of Scottish Government vacancies advertised externally in order to widen the diversity of potential applicants



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