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40% of ethnic minority women in the UK live in poverty, according to a report out today by the Fawcett society (and more specifically written by zohra).

The current recession poses a major risk that the numbers of ethnic minority women in poverty will continue to rise even further and women will be “locked in” to poverty, the report says, especially given that the government’s policies don’t really address themselves to the specifics of what policies would help ethnic minority women to improve their financial situation.

So, for example, the report critiques the government’s reliance on getting people into work as the solution to poverty, pointing out that the reality is for many ethnic minority women – particularly mothers – it doesn’t make sense.

The report says:

The fact that caring for families is under-valued and largely unpaid, and that this work primarily falls to women, is not addressed. This has particular implications for some groups of ethnic minority women, such as Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who are very distant from the labour market and more likely to be caring for their families. Despite providing essential care for family members, these women are being treated as having made inappropriate choices because their caring work is unpaid. Mothering is being deemed unproductive in this policy paradigm.

  • Ethnic

    minority women are four times more likely than White women to have often taken a job

    for which they are over-qualied and are more likely to be in routine or semi-routine

    employment.

  • They are also disproportionately likely to be working in temporary jobs

    leading to patchy and insecure income.

  • Largely as a result of childcare needs, three

    quarters of all part-time workers are women, affecting not just their earnings but also the

    prospect of promotion.

And then you have to consider poverty in old age:

Yet having worked in paid employment does not eliminate the risk of living in poverty once retired. Of employed women of working age in the UK only 40% of White British/Irish women had an occupational or personal pension, and only a very small number of Pakistani (9%) and Bangladeshi (4%) women had such a scheme. The systematic disadvantage ethnic minority women experience throughout their lifetimes is

compounded in old age, extending their risk of poverty.

The report goes on to detail how financial abuse and the financial chaos caused by domestic violence all compound the risks.

Policy-makers are basing their assessment of whether someone is in poverty by looking at the whole household together:

Despite over thirty years of evidence on households consisting of heterosexual couples indicating that resources are not shared equally between women and men, policy makers continue to analyse and approach poverty alleviation using the household unit. For example, the benets and tax credit system is based on policy analysis which measures poverty at the household level, assuming that all household resources are pooled and decision making over, and access to, these resources is shared equitably amongst all adult household members.

Statistics on household poverty that are not broken down by gender mask what is

actually happening within households. Women’s individual poverty is therefore concealed, as they are more likely to make financial sacrices for the benefit of other

household members.

And, of course, the assumption of heterosexual nuclear family-dom is a problem in general. But it just doesn’t reflect the experiences of large proportions of women, particularly women of some ethnicities, for example: “43 percent of Black African mothers and 50 percent of Black Caribbean ones are lone parents”.

Without analysing the needs of ethnic minority women separately to those of all other women or all other ethnic minorities, the reality that they have distinct priorities does not become apparent. The needs of ethnic minority women are not intrinsically invisible – it is just that no one is looking at them.

Meanwhile, the report notes, ethnic minority women “lack voice in policy arenas”:

They are virtually absent in Parliament, with only two Black women out of 646 MPs in the House of Commons. There are no ethnic minority women in Cabinet, or in either of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. They are largely missing within government as well, constituting only about one percent of the senior civil service. And they make up less than one percent of local councillors in England and just over one percent of the House of Lords.

As a result of this relative absence, policy debates affecting ethnic minority women end up being conducted without them.