Justice Matters for young black men: the data

Matt Ford
Tuesday, 3 February 2015

When I first joined CCJS I was asked to find some data on the ethnic penalty, building on my colleagues’ 2008 paper Ethnicity, harm and crime. Some of you might have read that paper and the blogs I wrote using the data I found. Today I’m going to give you a brief run through of some of these statistics substantiating the idea of an ethnic penalty.

I’m just going to explain what I mean by an ethnic penalty. I mean a penalty, or inequality, in certain aspects of life (say in earnings) that exists even if a person from an ethnic minority has the same background as a white person. It is a penalty conferred on people purely because of their ethnic background.

Where it’s not possible to show an actual ethnic penalty I will just highlight inequalities between ethnic groups, because ultimately I think these inequalities are the product of the same underlying processes.

It will probably become apparent that lots of these things are interrelated and more complex than I make it seem here. The point is that this data is just supposed to give a snapshot of the many penalties and inequalities that exist which are based on ethnicity.


The first graph I want to show you is of income poverty. Income poverty is basically a measure of the proportion of people whose income falls below a certain threshold. This threshold is based on the average income of the whole population.

Theoretically this is supposed to mean that the people who fall below the threshold don’t have enough money to achieve the minimally acceptable standard of living in a given a society. For example they won’t be able to have a balanced diet, have suitable clothing, or have enough to save for a rainy day. The recent rise in food-bank use is an example of what happens when lots of people are in income poverty for any length of time.

The data I use here is from the Government’s own publication, Households Below Average Income (HBAI). HBAI is an annual data release which tracks the income and living standards of UK households. It breaks the information down into quite a lot of detail so you can see what the incomes and living standards of certain groups are like.

As you can see all of the ethnic groups I’ve included in figure 1 have much higher rates of poverty than white people, about double the rate. About 40 per cent of all black people in the UK are in poverty. That’s roughly between 660,000 and 750,000 black people, depending on which population figures you use.

I’m using grouped data here but there is actually a lot of variation within these groups. In an older HBAI publication from 2008/9 where they use a more nuanced categorisation of black ethnicity, we found that about 30 per cent of black Caribbean people were in poverty and about 50 per cent of black African people were in poverty.


I have selected a few aspects of education to illustrate the ethnic penalty. I’ve again mostly used the Government’s own data from the Department for Education.

Figure 2 shows the proportion of pupils from different black ethnic groups achieving five GCSEs grade A* to C including English and maths in 2008/9 and 2012/13.

There has been huge progress in this measure of attainment across the board over a very short period of time. Greater proportions of children from each group are getting these results.

You can see that in 2008/9 as a group white British children outperformed all the groups of black children in this measure of attainment. In 2012/13 black African children actually outperformed white British children and did better than the national average.

Although pupils from other black backgrounds still don’t do as well as white British children overall, the gap is getting narrower and narrower.


Teachers place children at age 14 into different tiers of maths and science exams, and the tier you go into affects what mark you can get in the end. The decision is supposed to be based on prior attainment and ability.

Figure 3 shows the proportions of pupils from different ethnic groups who are placed in the lower tier maths and science exams at age 14. You can see that higher proportions of most minority ethnic groups are put into the lower tier exams compared to white British pupils.

We know that attainment can be influenced by other things like socio-economic background, poverty, parent’s level of education and things like that. So the fact that these ethnic minority groups have, for example, higher levels of poverty could mean that a greater proportion of the children have lower attainment and so greater proportions are placed into lower tiers.* (a clarification to this point has been added at the bottom of this text)

The study that this graph is from, by Steve Strand, tried to eliminate the effects of these background factors using certain statistical methods to see if there was a more direct ethnic penalty occurring in the tiering process. It sought to find how much of the inequalities between ethnic groups could be explained by things like socio-economic background, and how much of the inequality was down to an ethnic penalty.

When he ran this analysis he found that the inequalities between most of the ethnic groups could be explained by these background factors. This means that other factors have an effect on overall levels of attainment so teachers place ethnic minority children in lower tiers. It’s a rational decision by the teachers, basically.

This wasn’t the case, however, for Black Caribbean children. There wasn’t much of a link between the prior attainment of Black Caribbean children and what tier teachers placed them in. The conclusion the authors draw is that teachers stereotype Black Caribbean children as more behaviourally problematic and this distorts teachers’ perceptions of academic ability.


This is borne out in the government data on school exclusions. You can see in figure 4 that greater proportions of children from most black backgrounds get permanently excluded compared to other ethnic groups. About 0.22 per cent of black Caribbean children get permanently excluded compared to only 0.07 per cent of white children.

Being excluded isn’t just an unpleasant and unjust experience for the child and their family at the time. It also affects attainment whereby children who are excluded are four times as likely to leave school with no qualifications. Even a government report from 2006 called Getting it, getting it right found that black pupils were punished more severely, more often, and for less serious transgressions than white pupils.

Post-16 education

Post-16 education is quite a complex area. There are lots of interrelating factors which have an effect on outcomes so I’ve just picked out a few things to illustrate some of what is happening.

Figure 5 shows the proportions of different ethnic groups achieving AAB or above at A level. Lower proportions of Black students achieve this level of attainment compared to other ethnic groups.

Black people are also more likely to pursue vocational qualifications rather than A levels, with 65% of black students pursuing qualifications other than A levels compared to 35% across all ethnic groups. Both of these things are related to the type of further education institution black students tend to go to, with black people more likely to attend further education colleges rather than school sixth forms.

Having lower A level results, pursuing vocational qualifications and attending further education colleges affects your higher education career in two ways:

  1. Higher tariff universities are biased towards students applying with A levels directly from school and so black students tend to get concentrated in newer, post-1992 universities. So we have inequalities appearing in higher education and black students’ choice of higher education institution being curtailed.
  2. People with A levels tend to gain higher degree classifications than people with vocational qualifications, so black people end up with lower overall attainment at university as well. As you can see in figure 6 greater proportions of Black Caribbean and Black African students get 2.2s and thirds than get 2.1s and firsts.

As you can see in figure 7 Black people also have the highest university dropout rates of all the ethnic groups.

The point is that the education system as a whole seems to reproduce and exacerbate ethnic inequalities.


Figure 8 shows the unemployment rate for males aged 16-24 from different ethnic groups from 2002 to 2013. You can see that young black men consistently have the highest rate of unemployment of any ethnic group, except for in 2013 when we have this massive increase in unemployment for young Pakistani and Bangladeshi men.

Figure 9 shows unemployment rates for people six months after graduation. New Black African graduates have the highest rates at about 16 per cent and black Caribbean graduates are a bit better at 10 per cent. But all ethnic minorities are more likely than white people to be unemployed six months after graduation by quite a long way.

But, as in the case of the teacher tiering system, some of these differences in unemployment rates will be down to other factors, like lower overall attainment at university for black people.

Research by Anthony Rafferty tried to eliminate the effects of a range of background factors like degree class, gender and socio-economic background to see if there was an ethnic penalty. He matches people from different ethnic backgrounds with graduate level qualifications according to their background characteristics. So say he matches all graduates that are men, have a similar degree class in a similar subject, have similar class background etc., so that the only difference between them is their ethnicity. Given the similarities between the people in the matched groups, you would expect that, if there is no ethnic penalty, the black group to have similar employment outcomes to the white group.

But this doesn’t happen. What we instead see is that groups of ethnic minority people who are exactly the same as the groups of white people have higher levels of unemployment, greater proportions of graduates in non-graduate occupations, and lower hourly wage rates.

You can this in figure 10. The way to read it is that 10% of Black African men and 8% of Black African women with graduate level qualifications are unemployed who wouldn’t be if they were white. And so on for the other ethnic groups.

Similarly, from figure 11 you can see that 12% of black African men and 18% of Black African women with graduate level qualifications are in non-graduate occupations who would be in graduate level occupations if they were white.

And when it comes to wages, Black men with graduate level qualifications earn £3.86 an hour less than their white counterparts, and Black women with graduate qualifications earn £2.08 an hour less than their white counterparts.


So the conclusion we can draw from all this, very simply, is that Black people, and people from ethnic minorities in general, face penalties across a huge range of areas. The penalty is also cumulative, so not only do people from ethnic minorities experience penalties directly at specific points in time, but earlier penalties have an influence at that point as well. It’s a bit like a snowballing effect.

So the question is: why do these penalties occur in so many areas of life?

You can read Will McMahon's introductory presentation explaining the aims of 'Justice Matters for young black men: tackling the ethnic penalty'. Also take a look at Anthony Gunter's slides on young black men and fragmented communities.

CLARIFICATION, 15/04/2015: The tier a child is entered in to is not entirely dependent on prior attainment and ability. It is a matter for the professional judgment of the teacher, based on how well they think the child can cope with the demands of the content and structure of the different tests. You would expect this perception to mainly be based on the child's prior attainment, but other things can influence the decision as well, such as how motivated the child is, their attitude to work, and some socio-economic factors may have an effect too. Steve Strand's study looked at the effect a range of these background factors, as well as prior attainment, had on the tier a child is placed in. But importantly, and this is where this explanation diverges from the original piece I wrote, he tested whether these factors had independent effects on which tier the child was placed on. So there is no doubt that many of these background factors (like motivation and receipt of free school meals) influence attainment, but his analysis separated out the amount they influenced attainment and the amount they influenced teachers' tiering decisions independent of attainment. Even so, he found that attainment was the biggest explanatory factor out of all the variables he tested, apart from the ethnic groups where ethnic bias was identified.