Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

South Asian Women and the Labour Market in the Uk: Attitudes, Barriers, Solutions

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

South Asian Women and the Labour Market in the Uk: Attitudes, Barriers, Solutions

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper draws on research carried out in the UK which examined the views of South Asian women towards employment, looking in particular at why the participation rate of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in the labour market is very low. The focus of the paper is on non-working women. The research was aimed at informing policy design, so that policies intended to assist certain groups of people enter, or get closer to entering, the labour market might be more effective. The research involved carrying interviews with 212 Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in West Yorkshire, a sub-region of the UK with a relatively high Asian population. 26 focus groups were also carried out. It is argued that there are three broad groups of South Asian women in relation to employment: women who are some distance from the labour market; women who wish to enter paid work; and women who do currently work but require support. There are different policy implications for each of these groups. The paper concludes that the barriers to labour market entry are deep-seated, complex, and rooted in cultural, familial, and societal norms. It provides a case study of an innovative programme which was piloted in a nearby sub-region of the UK, South Yorkshire, which was tailor-made to meet the specific needs of South Asian women and was very successful. The paper argues that this could provide a template for programmes in the future aimed at assisting groups facing challenges in relation to labour market entry, such as minority ethnic women.

Key words: ethnicity; gender; work; aspirations; attitudes; employability policy.

1. Introduction

Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are more likely to be unemployed or economically inactive than any other group in the labour market in the UK (Nandi and Platt, 2010, p.6). Orthodox economic regeneration policies have largely failed to reach such groups of people in any meaningful or lasting way thus provoking a need for a reevaluation of strategies aimed at boosting local economies and getting people into paid work, and this paper outlines a potential way forward in assisting minority ethnic groups to enter the labour market.

Participation rates in the labour market in the UK among certain groups of people have traditionally been very low. The participation rate of South Asian women, in particular, has been low, especially women of Bangladeshi or Pakistani origin. Figures published in 2010 show that non-employment, both unemployment and economic inactivity was 80 per cent among Bangladeshi and Pakistani women, compared to 30 to 50 per cent for other women (Nandi and Platt, 2010, p.6). This is a potential loss for the individual concerned and for the economy in general. This paper draws on primary research carried out in a sub-region of the UK, West Yorkshire, with a relatively high Asian population - over 10 per cent for the sub-region as a whole, and over 20 per cent for one of the larger cities within it, Bradford, - compared to less than 6 per cent for England and Wales (The Guardian, 2011). The paper examines the potential explanations for this low level of labour market participation, examining: the attitudes and aspirations of Pakistani and Bangladeshi non-working women; the ways in which they can be supported to enter the labour market; and provides a case study of one specific attempt at micro-intervention, implemented in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK, in 2006, which did achieve considerable success in relation to assisting South Asian women into, or at least closer to, the labour market. This novel approach was pioneered in three multi-ethnic, relatively deprived, areas of the city. Known as the Ethnic Minority Women's Employability Project, it was an innovative package designed to be culturally-sensitive and also to deploy new tools in assisting South Asian women. The project is worth recording and critically appraising because, with high unemployment across Europe, often concentrated among particular groups of people, and with higher numbers of people from minority ethnic groups than ever before in the UK and in other parts of Europe, new and innovative policies will be needed to bring about effective economic regeneration that can help individuals find paid work. …

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