This third post to mark Black History Month, by Josh McLennon of Kilburn & Strode, explains why Black Pound Day is so important and how all of us can get involved. It’s an eye-opening and worrying insight into the economic inequalities that persist in the UK. The article can also be found on Josh’s LinkedIn page here. You can read his first article – exploring the meaning of Black History Month – here, and his second – which discussed the history of afro-textured hair – here.
As a member of Kilburn & Strode’s Diversity Forum, I will be writing five articles that will launch throughout October to celebrate Black History Month. The articles form part of the educational sharing series, with the aim of insight and education. This is article number three.
I absolutely love shopping at small businesses. Yes, some things might be slightly more expensive than in the supermarket, but what keeps me coming back for more are the things not possible to buy anywhere else. I know I am not alone in this.
Consciously shopping at small businesses can change our relationship with whatever it is that we choose to buy, with our local area, or even with the communities we choose to support. I have found that when doing so, my basket tends to include a lot of what I need to buy, some of what I want to buy, and very little of what I tend to automatically buy without thought, as I might in a supermarket. Make no mistake – being able to afford shopping at small businesses can be a privilege, but it can also go a long way to reducing the inequalities we have in the UK today.
Businesses owned by Black people (also known as “Black-owned businesses”) are often small businesses. While many of the reasons we might choose to shop at small businesses also apply to Black-owned businesses, I think that there are a few more reasons for us to choose to spend our money specifically with the small businesses that are Black-owned. There are several initiatives in the UK today in agreement with this sentiment, one of which is “Black Pound Day”.
Black Pound Day is a monthly event which seeks to encourage British people of all ethnicities to consciously choose to shop at Black-owned businesses. These Black-owned businesses may be in your local area, or they may be online.
It is perfectly legitimate to wonder why Black Pound Day is necessary, and whether it might actually be discriminatory to deliberately shop at businesses based on the ethnicity of their owners. This article explores these ideas and offers resources for those wanting to contribute economically to the Black community.
Wealth inequality in the UK
A recent report from Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading race equality think-tank, highlights the economic differences between ethnic groups in Britain today (link here). It uncovered stark economic disparities between these groups, in terms of wealth and pay, which you may find surprising, if not shocking.
Of course, wealth matters, but it particularly matters when economic uncertainty is high. Wealth can insulate households, providing much-needed security, and wealth can also contribute towards unexpected purchases that are required in light of new circumstances. This is hugely apparent in the current Covid-19 crisis.
The report found that for every £1 of wealth each average White British household has, Black British households have either 10p or 20p (depending on whether they are of African or Afro-Caribbean descent). How would your household be affected if your house lost 90% of its value, and your savings were reduced by the same amount? Please see the image below for how other ethnic groups stack up in comparison.
Relative wealth by ethnic group, source: Runnymede Trust, The Colour of Money (link here)
With schoolchildren now often needing to do schoolwork from home, it is easy to see how households without reliable internet devices are restricted from accessing online lesson plans and learning tools. To put this into perspective, Black African and Bangladeshi households are “ten times less able to cover these new costs, or to make up for lost income.”
The report is also keen to stress that economic inequality between different racial and ethnic groups cannot be explained away by reasons unrelated to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, by reasons such as class, age, and educational attainment. As Dr Omar Khan, the author of the report, states, “the fact that people with Asian or African sounding surnames have to send in twice as many CVs to get an interview is not an arbitrary or random inequality but is based on deep-seated, sometimes subconscious, views about their competencies and skills.”
Pay inequality in the UK
The Resolution Foundation conducted a nuanced analysis of pay in the UK (link here), which differentiated between pay gaps (the average difference in pay between groups) and pay penalties (“the average difference in pay that persists after personal and work-related characteristics are accounted for”, such as “occupation, contract type, industry and qualifications”).
The findings of this study are mortifying. Black graduate men were found, on average, to be being paid 17% less when compared with White graduate men doing exactly the same work, in exactly the same industry, with exactly the same qualifications. This is equivalent to needing to pay an extra 20% for every single product you buy; every single service you pay for; every single thing you exchange money for, simply due to your ethnicity. The analysis also found that the biggest pay penalty of female graduates is borne by Black women, who are being paid 9% less when compared with White graduate women doing exactly the same work, in exactly the same industry, with exactly the same qualifications.
Kathleen Henehan, a Senior Research and Policy Analyst at Resolution Foundation, explains that while some uncertainty exists surrounding the causes of ethnic pay penalties, there is a “strong suggestion” that discrimination is the chief culprit (link here).
These figures absolutely terrify me, and what they suggest about how our society works should terrify us all. So, what can we do about it?
Parallels between the gender pay gap and the ethnicity pay gap
Interestingly, Henehan believes that the legal requirement for companies to publish their gender pay gaps, which came into effect in April 2018, could provide a template for how we deal with the ethnicity pay gap in the UK. Several large firms have voluntarily begun publishing information on their ethnicity pay gap, with the findings very much in line with the research summarised above. The idea is that greater transparency gives us insight into the scale of the problem, and its subtleties, allowing us to generate effective solutions for combatting it.
As Henehan sees it, the gender gap legislation “sparked a wider push, both within firms and across business, to identify the causes of – and possible solutions to – Britain’s ongoing gender pay gaps,” and it appears that the UK Government agrees. Recently, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy held an open consultation with employers on how best to implement ethnicity pay reporting in practice (link here).
Ultimately, what these economic and racial inequalities mean is that the Black community in Britain today is unfairly shut out of economic activity, and as a result is far poorer than it ought to be. This is due, in large part, to bog-standard discrimination.
Black Pound Day
Black Pound Day was founded earlier this year by “Swiss”, former member of the Brit and three-time MOBO award-winning music group So Solid Crew, (link here), to “support the growth of the UK Black economy” and build on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement (link here). As he explained to BBC News (link here), “We do the marching, we express ourselves, we go back home. We know that emotions only last so long, and then people go back to their normal routine.” Black Pound Day is all about changing our spending habits to ensure that we shop from Black-owned businesses on a regular basis and contribute to the Black community in a sustained manner.
Khalia Ismain, founder of discount card and marketplace Jamii for Black-owned businesses in the UK (link here), explains that “Buying from Black-owned businesses is a way to empower the Black community, because there is a problem with access to capital when it comes to Black-owned businesses. They’re heavily dependent upon customer-funded growth, aka sales, for their success.” She is right on the money. This article here outlines how Black British business owners in the UK are more likely to be rejected for loans, and even when accepted for loans they pay significantly higher interest rates.
Swiss compares the conscious, ethical choice of deciding to buy from Black-owned businesses to the way we might decide to change our spending habits for environmental reasons. I like this analogy as it reminds us that not only choosing what we buy but also choosing who we shop from can have a positive impact on the society in which we live.
Black Pound Day occurs on the first Saturday of each month. This means that, at the time of writing, the next Black Pound Day is Saturday 7 November 2020.
Is it discriminatory to deliberately shop at Black-owned businesses?
I want to tackle the issue of whether Black Pound Day is an example of “reverse-racism” head-on. Whilst this is an understandable question to have, I do not believe it to be an open one. I believe that the various studies and reports cited in this article so far have shown, beyond question, that initiatives such as Black Pound Day are absolutely necessary to ensure economic equality, not superiority, of the Black community in Britain today.
This line of reasoning also applies to the Black Lives Matter movement, as this movement is also for ensuring equality, not superiority, of Black people in the communities in which they live. You may have heard what I am about to say before, but I think it is worth repeating: Black Lives Matter has never meant that other lives do not matter – it is simply a statement for reminding all members of our society that Black Lives also Matter. Black Pound Day is just one example of how we can effectively contribute to ethnic equality in the UK.
Resources: Black-owned businesses you can support
Bustle spoils us for choice here with its list of 62 Black-owned businesses to support in the UK. I really like this list as each business has been independently selected by Bustle’s editorial team, and a short description of each business accompanies each link.
Etsy, the well-known online marketplace for handmade and vintage items, has an entire section dedicated to Black-owned shops here. From clocks to cards and clay plates, this collection has you covered.
Time Out magazine includes a fantastic list of online resources for connecting Londoners to Black-owned businesses here. Consider this a list of lists, with links provided to business directories and marketplaces.
If you have a favourite Black-owned business, I would love to hear about it. I’m sure others would too, so please share in the comments below!
- Consider how your household would be affected if your house and savings lost 90% of their value. This is the economic reality many people from minority ethnic groups face in the UK today.
- Choosing to buy from Black-owned businesses can be an ethical decision just like buying environmentally friendly products.
- Black Lives Matter is a reminder that Black Lives also Matter.