Brexit: social and equality impacts

This independent report focuses on some of the potential social and equality impacts of Brexit.

Case Study: Minority Ethnic People

Minority ethnic groups make up 4% of Scotland's population.[394] According to several charities, Brexit is likely to have a negative impact on minority ethnic communities – in particular, their household incomes, spending power, career prospects and legal rights.[395] Furthermore, since the EU referendum in June 2016, there has been evidence of rising levels of racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Though, as indicated earlier, the marked rise in recorded hate crime since the 2016 EU referendum in England and Wales has not been reported in Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism has identified a Brexit-related growth in "explicit racial, ethnic and religious intolerance" and a stark increase in hate crimes across the UK since the referendum.[396] A nationwide survey by Opinium in May 2019 reveals that 71% of people from ethnic minorities have experienced racial discrimination (an increase from 58% in January 2016) and that online racism has doubled since 2016.[397]

However, despite these real and potential impacts of Brexit on minority ethnic people, the Runnymede Trust has complained that "Britain's ethnic minorities have not featured much in the Brexit debate."[398] Minority ethnic organisations, such as Race on the Agenda, argue that "their voice and concerns have been missing from both the Brexit campaign and negotiations" and consultations or impact assessments have been lacking.[399]

The Runnymede Trust also analysed the implications of the UK Government's earlier Withdrawal Agreement (October 2019) for ethnic minorities. The deputy director of the trust argues that the deal 'harms' ethnic minorities by weakening equalities protections and worker's rights, and any negative economic impact of the proposed deal, which could reduce income per capita by 2.5%, would hit ethnic minorities, women and other people on lower and insecure incomes hardest, as they are "less able to buffer reductions in income.[400]

The potential impacts of Brexit on minority ethnic people (both the legal and the socio-economic impacts) are summarised in the infographic below:

summary of potential impacts of Brexit on black and minority ethnic people, both legal and socio-economic

Minority Ethnic communities: Legal Rights

People from a minority ethnic background currently enjoy – along with other equalities groups – extensive rights and protections under EU legislation. EU employment legislation that protects individuals from discrimination is especially important to minority ethnic communities, given their experiences of structural discrimination in the workplace. However, while the bulk of EU equalities laws are embedded in primary legislation in the UK – through the Equality Act – and will continue to offer protections to minority groups after the UK leaves the EU, a number of EU rights and protections are spread among secondary legislation, regulations and CJEU case law, which are more vulnerable to being repealed post-Brexit.

For instance, EU secondary legislation that is important to people from a minority ethnic background include flexible workers' provisions, including the Part-time Workers' Directive and the Agency Worker's Directive, which protect the rights of people on part-time, agency or zero-hours contracts. (Alongside women, people from minority ethnic communities are more likely to be on part-time, temporary or zero-hours contracts[401]). There is a concern that, without the binding force of EU law – provided through the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and overseen by the CJEU – a it may be possible that these protections could be amended and retracted after Brexit, given the antipathy of some UK officials to such Directives.[402]

The charity Race on the Agenda is particularly concerned that legislation protecting people with protected characteristics from workplace discrimination could be rolled back after Brexit. This would be especially concerning to people from a minority ethnic background, as:

"BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] Britons already face widespread discrimination and institutionalised racism in the work place. Without the protection of legislation, the situation could become significantly worse."[403]

The rights of minority ethnic people with other equalities characteristics – such as minority ethnic women and disabled minority ethnic people – could also lose other EU protections, as discussed above. The reduction of any workplace protections for minority ethnic communities could further exacerbate issues of employment security, poverty and financial insecurity, as we will discuss below.

Minority Ethnic communities: Public Services and Funding

People from minority ethnic backgrounds are amongst the highest users of public services and would therefore be disproportionately affected by any post-Brexit cuts to public spending.

"BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] people are more likely to earn less, own fewer assets and have lower household resources… it is local authorities in the most deprived areas, where BAME people are more likely to live, that have suffered the greatest cuts to spending."[404]

As discussed earlier, several economic forecasts predict a fall in GDP and an economic downturn following Brexit (which could be exacerbated under a no-trade deal Brexit scenario), which could lead to reductions in government spending. If this happens, minority ethnic people – who are disproportionately reliant on public services – including schools, hospitals, transport and education – will be negatively affected.

In addition to being amongst the highest users of public health and social services[405], people from a minority ethnic background are also more likely to work in these areas.[406] For instance, minority ethnic people have a high representation in healthcare, education, and social care services.[407] Minority ethnic people are therefore more vulnerable to any job losses in these sectors.

Minority ethnic communities are also likely to lose out from the UK's withdrawal from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) programme. Minority ethnic people are included as a specific target group for funding, especially under the ESF rules[408], and ESIF support for minority ethnic organisations has led to the creation of "inventions and infrastructure that supported BAME men and women to get work, helped families make ends meet, protected those who were suffering from domestic violence, and provided young people with supplementary education and training."[409] It is currently uncertain if the UK Government's proposed Shared Prosperity Fund would match the same level of funding to organisations to support the social inclusion of minority ethnic communities, owing to a lack of detail about the operation of the proposed fund.[410]

Minority Ethnic communities: Employment, Housing and Spending

It is possible that Brexit could have an adverse impact on the employment, housing situation and consumer spending power of minority ethnic people.[411]

According to the Deputy Director of the Runnymede Trust, a large number of minority ethnic individuals and families are "in low paid and insecure work, spend a greater proportion of income on rent and have very little disposable income for food."[412] Research by the Trades Union Congress and Resolution Foundation has found that black men and women are more likely to be in precarious employment than white people, including agency and seasonal work.[413] Furthermore, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are twice as likely to be unemployed than white people in the UK (as the chart below shows). These factors make the welfare and living standards of minority ethnic communities far more susceptible to any economic downturn or austerity measures.

Unemployment rate by ethnic background: UK, 2008-19

Research has also revealed that minority ethnic workers are clustered in particular industries and sectors, which may be vulnerable to Brexit due to their reliance on EU trade. These include the clothing industry, the health and social work sector, and plant and machine operators. For instance, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people are most likely to work in distribution, hotels and restaurants.[414] Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are furthermore twice as likely as white British men to work as plant and machine operators, which are vulnerable to Brexit job losses, "and are less likely to have skills which are transferable to other sectors."[415]

Black people are more likely to work in the public sector, especially black women.[416] This makes them more vulnerable to any cuts in the public sector that may lead to job losses. There is also a predominance of women, especially Black African and Caribbean women, working in health and social work, which "has made them more vulnerable to being engaged on zero-hours contracts and in other forms of temporary work, with such arrangements common in this industry grouping."[417] Across these sectors, minority ethnic women predominate in lower-paid/lower-skilled occupations and are under-represented in senior management.

A recent study revealed that a majority of minority ethnic people fear that Brexit will have a negative impact on their career progression.[418] The research, which surveyed over 2000 adults across the UK, was commissioned by the Equality Group. It found that over half (52%) of minority ethnic respondents believe that Brexit will negatively impact their career progression, compared to 16% of non-minority ethnic respondents. Furthermore, the study found that 62% of minority ethnic respondents are concerned about the impact of Brexit on professional and societal culture, compared to 35% of non-minority ethnic respondents.

These concerns reflect a climate of increased racism and xenophobia in the UK, where there are increased tensions surrounding the notion of 'Britishness' and who is considered to belong to this identity in the wake of Brexit. Increased racism is unlikely to help the job prospects of minority ethnic people, who already experience historical structural discrimination in the workplace, and it will likely lead to further discrimination against minority ethnic communities. The Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the House of Commons has, for instance, has been reported as stating that the bullying and harassment of minority ethnic people in the workforce has increased by 23% since the EU referendum in 2016, as a direct result of the Leave vote.[419]

Brexit-related discrimination against minority ethnic people is already happening to some extent under the UK's increasingly restrictive immigration regime. Some evidence suggests that under recent changes to immigration measures in the UK, landlords have been racially discriminating against minority ethnic Britons through the 'Right to Rent' scheme. This law requires landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, and it was found that landlords had been discriminating against minority ethnic Britons and foreign-born residents, in contravention to equalities and human rights legislation that protects people from discrimination.[420]

EU nationals of colour face additional potential forms of discrimination, as they experience the "further challenge of looking visibly different. As a result, they are more likely to be asked for identification to access employment, housing and healthcare."[421]

Minority ethnic people are also more vulnerable to any restrictions to housing availability following a potential post-Brexit economic downturn. The Race Disparity Audit revealed that minority ethnic groups are less likely to own their homes, and more likely to rent social housing, than average.[422] Furthermore, the study found that overcrowding disproportionately affects minority ethnic households, and the number of minority ethnic households registering as homeless has increased.

Finally, any economic downturn resulting from Brexit is likely to impact the socioeconomic position, spending power and wellbeing of minority ethnic people. As we discussed earlier, minority ethnic people are likely to be lower-paid, have less disposable income, and spend more of their income on daily essentials than non-minority ethnic people. Furthermore, they are more likely to receive 'top-ups' to their wages from Working Tax Credits and help with housing costs.[423] Any rise in food and energy prices, cuts to benefits and public services, and restriction to flexible employment protections, are therefore likely to have a disproportionately negative effect on minority ethnic people.

Minority Ethnic communities: Resilience

Minority ethnic people are represented by a dispersed network of groups in Scotland/the UK. Some of these groups have been active in developing research, analysis and recommendations for how to mitigate potential adverse effects of Brexit on minority ethnic communities. In particular, the Runnymede Trust has made important contributions to the Brexit debate as a vocal advocate of the rights of minority ethnic communities, the charity Race on the Agenda have produced an important analysis on Brexit impacts, and the Institute of Race Relations have been tracking increases in racism and hate crimes against minority ethnic communities since Brexit. As the category 'minority ethnic' tends to comprise a number of different groups – such as black, Muslim, migrant, refugee, Gypsy/Traveller and visible minorities – there is more of a challenge to capture diverse voices and potential impacts. This is aided by the activities of organisations that focus on particular minority ethnic groups, such as the Muslim Council of Scotland, the Scottish Refugee Council and Sikh Sanjog, for instance.

In the UK Parliament, 10% of MPs are from non-white ethnic backgrounds (since December 2019) and they make up 5.8% of the members of the House of Lords, while minority ethnic people comprise 13.8% of the UK population.[424] No Scottish MPs are from minority ethnic backgrounds. In the Scottish Parliament, two MSPs (1.6% of all MSPs) are from minority ethnic backgrounds, while minority ethnic people make up 4% of the Scottish population.[425]

Minority ethnic organisations also provide important sources of information and support to minority ethnic groups, including legal advice and representation,[426] employability support,[427] advice on moving towards and into work,[428] and mental health and wellbeing support for minority ethnic women and girls.[429] Minority ethnic groups in Scotland including BEMIS – national umbrella body supporting the development of the ethnic minorities voluntary sector in Scotland, CEMVO Scotland, Saheliya, Amina WMRC, Ethnic Minorities Law Centre, Amina, Shakti Women's Aid, Andescot, and REACH Community Health Project.[430]

There are also generic advice services available to everyone, including minority ethnic people, for instance on debt management, social security benefits and legal rights and protections. These vital publicly funded advice services are offered by local councils, statutory bodies such as the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), and third-sector providers, such as the network of Citizens Advice Bureaux.

However, the extent to which minority ethnic people are connected to these groups, able to access support networks, or are resilient to the impact of Brexit, is mixed. While some minority ethnic people are active in community networks and engaged in/aware of political campaigns, those minority ethnic communities who lack literacy, economic resources and time to dedicate to self-education – in particular, people on precarious employment contracts, single mothers, refugees and asylum seekers – may not have the resources to access this support/information.

Out of the three case studies analysed, people from minority ethnic communities are less likely to be financially resilient to any adverse economic impacts of Brexit. This is because, out of all ethnic groups in the UK, people from Asian, Black or other non-white ethnic groups were most likely to be in persistent low-income positions.[431] We can also assume that minority ethnic people facing multiple disadvantages – for instance, women, people on precarious employment contracts, migrants, and disabled people from minority ethnic backgrounds – will face multiple legal and economic impacts of Brexit, reducing their overall resilience to these.

Impacts under different Brexit scenarios

The following table provides a general indication of which of the impacts on minority ethnic people analysed in this section are most likely to occur under each of the Brexit scenarios discussed in the report – a hard Brexit (withdrawal under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, with no binding commitment to comprehensive level playing-field provisions), a softer Brexit (UK-EU negotiations to include strengthened level playing-field commitments and closer alignment with EU law) and a no-trade deal Brexit (the UK fails to obtain an EU trade deal and reverts back to trading on WTO rules).

Impact on ethnic minority people of the three Brexit scenarios discussed in the report – hard Brexit, softer Brexit and No trade deal

* 'higher risk' implies that there is a higher risk that this impact is likely to happen compared to the status quo of the UK being a full member of the EU, given the UK Government's economic forecasts[432]



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