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Black and minority youth left on fringes

Jyoti Bhojani explains how BME youth face a double hit in jobs market.

Over the last two and half years, we have heard about the impact of the Conservative-led Government on women. Yvette Cooper has repeatedly highlighted how the Government's cuts are hitting women hardest, most recently putting research into the public domain within 24 hours of the Chancellor's autumn statement. Cuts to the disabled have also had a higher public profile in recent months with the media focusing on splits between the Tories and LibDems over cuts to welfare spending. Much less prevalent has been the impact of the cuts on Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.

Today's young BME individuals are paying the price for the Coalition Government's economic failures. Every decision that the Conservative-led Government has taken has affected young people has disproportionately affected young BME individuals more. Young BME people were more likely to be in receipt of Education Maintenance Allowance or benefitting from the opportunities presented by the Future Jobs Fund and other similar schemes. The Government's response to this inequality was to announce the removal of Equality Impact Assessments which means that future Government decisions hitting BME communities will not be subject to the same levels of scrutiny.

Probably the most pressing issue facing BME young people is unemployment. While youth unemployment has hit record levels under the current Government nearly half of those young unemployed people aged 16-24 are from a BME background. Whilst being unemployed at any age is difficult, all the statistics show that for young men and women up and down the country who are not able to get a job after leaving college or university their prospects become increasingly bleaker. As the Government slashes the public sector and the private sector struggles to fill the gap BME young people are being left to the fringes of our job market and their long term future looks equally bleak. Recent research from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community show that 20.5% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, 17.7% of Black women are unemployed, while only 6.8% of their white counterparts are unemployed. If something isn't done soon the Government's ‘colour blind' approach to tackling employment equality will amount to a real betrayal to the BME next generation.

In the short term we need to take steps to invest in our young people, from being able to provide the training they need to make sure that apprenticeships and mentoring are readily available to them. The Labour Party has already put forward the youth jobs guarantee which is one step towards tackling long term youth unemployment. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that any step taken to improve the situation for young people will automatically benefit BME young people. Equality Impact Assessments must be maintained and a future progressive Government must be prepared to target resources into BME communities and introduce tougher equality laws should the racial employment gap fail to close.

In the long-term, the best prospects for future BME individuals is for higher number of BME people to be in positions where they can be involved in the decision-making process. In the early part of the twentieth century working class people formed the Labour Party so they could have a voice in the decisions affecting them; the welfare state was the result. More recently we have seen women pursuing the feminist agenda in the House of Commons strengthening maternity rights and sex discrimination laws. While we have some fantastic BME MPs currently in Parliament they are still far too few in number and the next generation need to take this on. Having these people playing a positive role in society and campaigning for their communities will mean that we are able to ensure that the issues that affect us are being heard. This will result in better policy ideas which can be focused at improving the lives of young BME people. In addition to Parliament we need more young BME individuals in local authorities, in senior levels in industry and crucially joining and influencing trade unions.

My personal experiences suggest that the future can be bright. I recently spent the day at a Young Labour BAME Day of Action, and the young people who spent their Sunday talking about the things that matter to them were a real inspiration. They demonstrated that young BME people are willing to step up and play a role in shaping their future. It is essential they are supported.