Work and pensions minister James Purnell pledges protection from discrimination in the downturn

People from ethnic minority groups could receive additional financial support as a result of government fears they will be hardest hit during the recession.

At Labour’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic annual general meeting in Leicester, work and pensions secretary James Purnell announced an initiative to ensure that no ethnic minority worker would be “left behind”.

Purnell warned that employment levels among people from ethnic minorities fell by 10% in the last recession, and said it was important to ensure such mistakes were not repeated.

“In the past too many were left behind in bad times. Ethnic minority workers suffered most in the Tory recessions,” he said.

Mr Purnell said the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had agreed to work with the government to assess whether any groups were suffering disproportionately in the recession, and to advise ministers about corrective measures.

An spokesman told Personnel Today that EHRC was working in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensons (DWP) to look at the impact of the recession on all groups, not just those from a minority ethnic background, and would provide perspective and recommendations based on research conducted by the government.

“If we know that some people are being disadvantaged in a particular sector, we can work with those employers to make sure they think about retaining talent through flexible approaches like reduced hours and that they follow redundancy processes that are fair to all their employees,” he said.

“By developing a clear understanding of what is happening on the ground we can make a difference this time round.”

The move was criticised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign group. “At a time when so many people are feeling the pinch, the government should be allocating help on the basis of need,” a spokesman said.

“Lots of people are suffering hard times in the recession. The last thing they need is for the government to play politics with different ethnic minority and gender groups.”

Last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation about the threat to equal opportunities in the downturn.

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