I took a walk along Kilburn High Road yesterday. It’s like many inner city areas of London: it has a multicolored And multicultural population; many languages can be heard as one walks past shops; a mix of men and women are always visible. It’s not an area that is predominantly black. Many people with voices suggestiing Irish extraction can be heard; also Turks; some Lebanese; some Africans, especially Somalis; some Nigerians. I noticed few who seemed of Caribbean origin. I was a little puzzled. This was not the heart of a place where mass migration from the Caribbean landed. It was not Peckham, Lewisham, Harslesden, Brixton, or a number of other innder urban parts of London. But, black Caribbean people did live here. It’s interesting to look at the racial and ethnic concentration of groups in London. They settled and stayed central to east in London, consistent with traditional patterns of poverty in the city.
I noticed on the high road also a strong trail of what sounded like East Euroepean voices; that was for a reason: they are prevalent. Almost every time I go into a pub, I’m served by someone with that central or eastern European accent. I also noted a good batch of French or other westEuropean accents. The 2011 Census showed over 37 percent of London’s population was foreign-born.
What’s happened to the Britain I knew? It’s been overrun by Europeans. The data from the Office of National Statistics last November showed this, clearly. As it shows, over the past two decades, the UK has seen more immigrations than emigration, peaking in 2005. Financial crisis curbed that flow and government measures to restrict entry from outside Europe in 2011 also put a brake on. But, the upturn is on again. More EU migrants are coming to the UK, a trend clear over the previous 10 years, triggered by the then-Labour government allowing in Eastern Euroepean workers while other EU countries kept restrictions. EU recession has now seen western Europeans coming to the UK in search of work.
Immigration from outside the EU has been on a downward trend, though it has turned up in the past two yeaers.
Most of the EU migrants are workers, so add to the prodcutive base, but also put job pressure on those already in the UK. This is where the story about Caribbean migrants and their offspring is interesting.
The recession has affected harshly working class people. Many immigrants, especially those from the Caribbean are solidly in that class, so will have been hit hard. Past studies showed that ethnic minorities suffered worse during previous economic downturns. That appears to have been the same during the recent period.
So, the likely situation is that black workers have been squeezed out of the job market.
What I noticed is that a range of jobs that seem to have few skill needs, such as waiting tables, tending bars, cashing tills, and so on are not being done by black people. I noticed that bus drivers are not often black people either, with women featuring in that role now. I saw a few labourers on municipal or governmental dutires, like road repairs. I saw black people assisting passengers in train stations. But, generally, the people one sees working in the public are not black. Funnily, in a store I visited yesteday that had black workers, most were of west African descent.
I had a drink and chat with another economist who is a long-time friend. He’s also lived and worked in the USA. He travels aroung the UK a lot in his current jobs. We agreed on the squeeze. We tried to figure out what has happene to the black population.
Anecdotal evidence suggests they have filtered into a range of regular jobs and may be less visible because they have truly become integrated into the broader workforce as teh second and later later generations got more qualifications and chose differnt job options. They have in the process drifted away from the inner city. They have not necessarily moved far away. Take cousins of mine, for instance. They were born in inner London, in the 1960s-70s. Their mother moved from inner west to south London; she had come to England in the last 1950s to work as a nurse. Her children were schooled fully in London. They have gone to work in various sectors. They have children, who’re also going through school or have finished secondary education. They have moved to outer London suburbs in south London. I will go to visit some of them this weekend, in an area that used to be solid white middle class in the 1960s-70s. I know that Asian immigrants moved there ahead of of others from the Caribbean. They all have good access to the city because London’s transport system has expanded and improved greatly. That makes certain areas more attractive because they are no longer ‘in the back of beyond’.
In the process, though, a certain lack of visibility is happening. Blacks were never a large proportion of Britain’s immigrants, even though areas like Brixton had high conentrations of them, all starting from the estimated 492 passengers on the SS Empire Windrush. These migrants had come in response to Britain’s needs for workers in public sector posts–hospitals and public transport, notably. They helped rebuild post-war London.
Black Londoners are estimated to be around 800,000, increasingly local or British-born. that’s about 11 percent of the area’s total. About 4 1/2 percent of Londoners are ‘Caribbean’; 5 1/2 percent are ‘African’; the rest are ‘other black backgrounds’. About 120,00 people are mixed black and white.
I asked my friend to try to visualize where lack faces were seen most. ‘Entertainment’ (including fashion) and ‘sport’, we agreed were the main areas. I’m watching an ITV morning show and there’s a group in the studio, with three white performers and a black one.
We know that the face of football has changed dramatically since the days of Regis, Batson, and Cunningham, breaking barriers as the ‘Three Degrees’ in English football. We know the England team has many black faces. But, we also know that it was just a few days ago that a black manager took charge of an English Premier League team. Ironically, it’s teh team I support, Queens Park Rangers, who now have Paul Ramsey as Takecarer Manger till the end of the season. But, they also have black football legend, Les Ferdinand as Direcctor of Football–a sort of front-office post that is rare in most British clubs. I know that black British footballers are working in the background, especailly developing young talent, as Ramsey had been doing.
But, breaking to the next level? We can look at the US experience and wonder if special measures are needed.
We still have to search hard to find black executives in front of us, and rarely do they have Caribbean origins. We noted Tidjane Thiam as the first black person to head a FTSE 100-listed company, Prudential plc; he’s French-Ivorian. We have a handful of politicians, like Diane Abbott, David Lammy, and formerly Lord Pitt.
So, we’ve seen a sort of slow ‘mainlining’ into British life and with that a certain melting away, or dissolving as other Europeans fill our vision.
Rising to the top is never easy. If you have a critical mass lower down, you should see some of them float to the top. That’s what we see in sport and entertainment. It’ll be harder in other sectors.
London Transport, now Transport for London, wants its workforce to reflect London’s diverse population, which is about 30 percent. It has about 11 percent of senior managers who are ‘black, Asian, or minoity ethnic’; women are 27 percent. Notably, those ethnic minorities feature well in finance (over a quarter) and marketing & communications (over 1/3 in the latter). But, when minorities apply for jobs, they have a very low rate of success in getting hired. That could mean that the best are really few, or like Paul Ramsey noted, minorities have to ‘work twice as hard’ (or be ‘twice as good’). But, TfL may also reflect what is going on. The generation of the 1950s-60s, who were driving and working on the busees and trains, and filling the cricket teams, has largeley moved on. Somne of their offspring went into the sector but also other entrants came in, and wanted abd deserved jobs in management. So, we’d see fewer black faces as drivers, for instance, becasuse they are now in offices and behind desks. For sure, we see more of them in stations, inspeccting and managing people. So, the tangible change shows itself and as fewer blacks in the lower grade jobs, and more higher up the ladder.
Even if that is a widespread trend, it’s a tough world out there, and being black in Britain wont get easier.