Plight of the young jobless

Source: David Cohen – 21 September 2012

‘If my failure to get a job is because of racial bias, it shouldn’t be ignored’

Teenager Melisha Kaur has applied for 2,500 jobs and been called for interview just six times. Could racial bias have something to do with it? On day three of our special report on London’s young jobless, we reveal that ethnic minority unemployment has reached Third World levels.

Melisha Kaur took out a piece of paper with her photo and a nametag that said: “Unemployed dead-ender — No future”. The east Londoner who left school with three A-levels (A-C) and eight good GCSEs was trying to distil “how it feels to be unemployed for over a year”. “That’s my self-portrait,” she said. “Nineteen years old, part of the generation destroyed by unemployment.”

There was a hint of anger in her voice. She sat down, composed herself, and launched into her story. “Since I left sixth form, I have applied for over 2,500 jobs. I apply every day. I wake up at 8am, get on my laptop and start making online applications, ringing employers, and taking my CV into stores. I am very methodical about it and aim for 10 a day, including weekends. So far, in 13 months, I’ve had six interviews but no jobs.”

Melisha comes across as an articulate, eminently employable young woman, but when she did get her first interview — for an office assistant in social media — she was told that she “had all the skills they wanted but wasn’t outgoing enough”. It seemed an odd reason, especially as Melisha is naturally outgoing.

“That interview was my first glimmer of success after six months of trying and it felt like a light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” she said. “I was hugely disappointed to lose out, especially for such a weird reason.”

Melisha, born in London to British parents of Indian descent, had never considered that racist attitudes might explain her risible lack of success in the job market until she heard a radio programme on the Asian Network reporting that young Asians suffered among the highest unemployment in London. “That’s when I began to think it may not just be me,” she said.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the unemployment rates among black and Pakistani Londoners aged 16-24 has reached Third World levels of 44 per cent, more than double the 19 per cent jobless rate of young whites. For black men the unemployment rate rises even higher, to 55.5 per cent, according to the Runnymede Trust, which reports this figure has almost doubled since 2008. “There does not seem to be a clear plan that seeks to address the particular problems that people from black and minority ethnic communities may be facing,” it says.

For these young Londoners, living in London is much like living in Greece or Spain, the basket cases of Europe, where youth unemployment is 53 per cent. Even former employment minister Chris Grayling has admitted that youth unemployment is “a social and economic timebomb”.

On day three of our exposé of youth unemployment in London, we ask: Is there evidence of racial bias in the job market?

A damning report by the Department for Work and Pensions sheds some light on the subject. It shows that people with white names are 74 per cent more likely to get called for an interview following a job application than candidates with an ethnic minority name, despite the two candidates having exactly the same qualifications. Their report, “A test for racial discrimination in recruitment practice in British cities”, involved submitting job applications from fictional white and ethnic minority applicants with equivalent qualifications for advertised vacancies across Britain in order to determine the extent of racial discrimination in the labour market.

It revealed that “a high level of racial discrimination” existed “across the board”, with ethnic minority candidates having to submit nearly twice as many job applications as white candidates to achieve the same level of success. Discrimination persisted across gender, though it was noticeably higher for males. “High numbers of candidates were denied access to a range of jobs in a range of sectors as a result of having a name associated with an ethnic minority background,” the 2009 report concluded.

Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms believes that we need to level the playing field and that the Government should lead on this by imposing blind sifting for job applications in all Civil Service, governmental departments and public sector organisations.

“We have submitted a parliamentary question to all government departments to ask which ones use blind sifting on CVs,” he said. “We do not yet have all the data, but the position that is emerging is very patchy with clear saints and sinners. Some departments — like Justice and Energy and Climate Change — do not use blind sifting, but the Home Office and departments for International Development, Transport and Women and Equalities do. We think it should be mandatory across the board.”

Mr Timms, the MP for East Ham, added: “What’s so tragic is that the talents of people from ethnic minority communities are being wasted and social cohesion is being undermined. The Olympics has not produced the transformation in youth unemployment we hoped for and need. The Government needs to act urgently for all our youth. Jobs are the key to their prosperity.”

A report this week by MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee concluded that “action is required to address disproportionately high youth unemployment rates among some minority ethnic groups, in particular young black men” and that the Government’s Youth Contract is “inadequate and insufficient” to address this. For Melisha, who lives on a Tower Hamlets council estate with her mother, a part-time midwife’s assistant, there are precious few allies to count on. “From time to time, Jobcentre Plus give me a list of vacancies, but lots of the time they’re useless,” she said. “I’d ring up and the job would be gone or frozen or require qualifications and experience I didn’t have.

“The jobcentre’s answer to everything is to just ‘keep applying’. They tell you that if you stop, all your hard work will be for nothing. So getting a job has become my full-time job. My dream job would be in journalism in digital media, but I am also a dancer and so I have applied for jobs like choreographer’s assistant, as well as sales assistant and office admin posts.

“At the jobcentre, you are surrounded by people living in poverty. It makes you feel like you will never escape. But it is hard too, sitting at home on your own day after day, sending off applications, and mostly getting auto-responses to say you’ve not been successful or worse, no response at all.

“I worked hard to get my A-levels because I thought the skills would benefit me and keep me out of this circumstance, really. To be honest, I thought I’d get a job within a month. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t got a job. In 99 per cent of cases, there is no reason given for your rejection. I know people with lesser qualifications than me that already have jobs. If my failure is because of racist bias, it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.

“My mum is in her fifties and still working — I feel guilty because I should be in a job earning money and taking care of her so she can ease back a bit. I want to make her proud of me. I never thought that one day I would become an unemployed dead-ender.”


Since our interview, Melisha has been given a short work placement, but she will be seeking another employer to take her on when that ends in a few months.

Source: David Cohen – 21 September 2012

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *