Why we shouldn't think about ethnicity when we think about poverty

A blog from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation offers us ten reasons why we should think about ethnicity when we think about poverty.  Here are three reasons why we shouldn’t.

The first is that most people in minority ethnic groups are not poor.  Take one of the JRF’s killer facts:  “The poverty rate among ethnic minority families with disabled children is 44 per cent compared to 17 per cent of all disabled children.”  That’s terrible.  It’s unfair.  It shows that such families are disadvantaged.  But it also tells us that 56 per cent of minority ethnic families with disabled children are not poor.   Saying that people are more likely to be poor is saying something quite different from the idea that they are poor.


The second reason is that it’s a negative stereotype.   Identifying poverty with ‘race’ is used to reinforce prejudices about culture and the way people choose to live.  It feeds the idea that people come from other countries to be dependent in Britain.  This is wicked nonsense, used to fuel xenophobic sentiment.

Third, it’s a way of ‘othering’ poor people – making it seem that poverty is something that happens to other people.  The bad news about poverty  is this: it could be you.  All you need is to be ill, divorced, disabled, unemployed, victimised or otherwise caught by circumstances.  Most people in the country have had a spell in poverty in the last ten years; most of us will probably have a spell in the next ten.

The principal issue is not that people in minority groups are poor, but that they are disadvantaged – a sign of prejudice, discrimination and exclusion.  When we about the reasons why that happens, it’s not necessarily true that ethnicity is the key factor.  Tariq Modood has suggested that the groups which seem to be most often excluded – people from Pakistani and Bangladeshi origins – are distinguished not by their ethnicity, but by their religion.


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