How social workers can help unpick the ethnicity pay gap

A survey is looking to identify the extent of pay inequality faced by black and ethnic minority women, and social workers are strongly encouraged to participate, says practitioner and survey author Susan Baker

Team manager leading meeting
Photo: fizkes/Adobe Stock

By Susan Baker

The ethnicity pay gap campaign was founded in 2018 with two expressed aims: to make it a legal requirement for companies to both report on and address pay disparity based on race, and to highlight and encourage companies to eradicate the cultural and systematic practices that both generate and maintain pay inequality.

Together with the founder of the campaign, Dianne Greyson, I have developed an online questionnaire that aims to explore the extent and impact of pay inequality on black and brown women living in the UK.

I suspect that this is a live issue for the social work profession, and I appeal to all social work women of colour to take part.”

We have chosen to focus on women because of the paucity of research available. The TUC has commissioned a number of reports exploring the working experiences of black and minority ethnic women and note the role of intersectionality in pay disparity, concluding that gender pay disparity cannot be addressed without addressing pay disparity for women of colour and women living with a disability.

The Fawcett Society, in its 2017 briefing, The Gender Pay Gap by Ethnicity in Britain, observed that up- to-date evidence of income disparity for minority ethnic women was not available, and its conclusions were based on an analysis of Labour Force Survey data from the 1990s to 2017.

Lived experience 

The briefing noted that Black African and Black Caribbean women face higher levels of unemployment than white women. The report was illuminating, but the lived experiences of black and brown women, in their own words, were absent. We would like to further explore the lived experience of women from a Black Caribbean, Black African or mixed heritage background, as our literature review suggests that research has seldom focused on these specific groups.

The extent of the ethnicity pay gap is staggering and stands at an estimated £3.2bn a year, according to think-tank the Resolution Foundation. Despite this, there has been a distinct lack of impetus from central government to bring about change.

Last year, a petition to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting gained well over 100,000 signatures, which is the threshold needed to justify a parliamentary debate, though no date has been set for that debate.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) report in April this year did not endorse mandatory reporting, instead recommending that those employers who chose to do so should also lay out the reasons for the gap and a strategy to address it. I would argue that these additional responsibilities – though commendable – would act as a disincentive for employers to report. So any change will need to come from the bottom up.

The ethnicity pay gap survey is part of that grassroots campaign. The survey will take less than 10 minutes to complete, and is anonymous, with the option to leave your contact details. It is hoped, however, that some participants will be willing to engage in some follow-up interviews because it is in the telling of our stories that the nuances of the pay gap will become clear.

Policies that generate inequality

For social workers employed by the local authority, it should not be possible to be paid less for the same work as our pay is automatically increased by increments until we reach the top of our grade. However, this would not take into account policies and practices that could contribute to income disparity, for example, less experienced social workers taking on complex cases on par with more senior staff.

I was recently offered a promotion in the NHS, but had to withdraw my acceptance due to pay. My previous relevant experience was discounted as it was gained from outside of the organisation, and I was consequently offered a salary at the bottom of the pay scale. I wondered how widespread this practice was, as it would be potentially disadvantageous for professionals who had gained their experience from abroad.

My hypothesis is that the most pertinent causal factors of pay equality that will come through from this research is a lack of career progression and the deleterious impact of fitness to practise and disciplinary procedures, which disproportionately impact on social workers from a black and minority ethnic background.

What is actually needed, however, is an evidence base, which this survey will provide, with your support. Even if you do not consider yourself to have been affected by disparity in pay, we would still like to hear from you; your employer may be an example of excellent practice, or you could have some insights into navigating pay discrimination that could help others.

Once completed, the campaign will formulate a report of the findings that will also contain a list of recommendations for remedial action.

You can complete the Ethnicity Pay Gap – Experience of Black Women In The UK survey here.

Susan Baker is a senior social worker, approved mental health professional, best interests assessor and practice educator/researcher

More from Community Care

3 Responses to How social workers can help unpick the ethnicity pay gap

  1. Olu July 16, 2021 at 6:51 am #

    Pay disparities in the private sector are inbuilt and result in discriminatory wages for women and to women of cour. However, thus particular survey conflates a number of disparate issues under the unberalla of ethnicity pay gap. As acknowledged the nationally agreed pay awards and the national pay and career scales are a guard against women of colour being paid less. None of this takes away from women of colour being denied promotion or career progression but that is not a pay disparity issue. Being put on the bottom of the pay scale while changing jobs between sectors is not in itself discrimination nor is discounting experience that has no direct relevance to that new job. I am afraid I find this survey somewhat confused.

  2. Claire Ormond July 17, 2021 at 10:52 am #

    Meanwhile the women who clean our offices while we pat each other on the back about our “activism” get the minimum wage minus deductions for uniform costs and no paid breaks. Middle class entitlement angst versus real working class poverty wages. So comforting to lean in though.

  3. Carrie July 29, 2021 at 7:18 am #

    A survey. That should do it.