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Pandemic is exacerbating economic structural inequality

By ellie pipe, Wednesday May 20, 2020

Many business owners and self-employed people are crying out for help as the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 crisis is laid bare in a new report.

The study by Black South West Network (BSWN) assesses the effect on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) companies, organisations and individuals, revealing how pre-existing dynamics of socio-economic structural inequality are exacerbated by the pandemic and social distancing rules.

The research, conducted in the weeks after lockdown measures came into play on March 23, identifies cashflow and liquidity as being the key challenge for all sectors surveyed; with 90 per cent of the businesses and self-employed people surveyed reporting “significant financial loss”.

The report examines how BAME entrepreneurs, staff and self-employed individuals are over-represented in the sectors that have been hit the hardest by the impact of Covid-19, including food, retail and arts industries, as well as taxi drivers and barbers, among others.

The aim of the research is to inform policymakers and highlight the need for tailored support – photo of a networking event prior to lockdown, courtesy of Black South West Network

A food shop owner responding to the survey, said: “We need a grant to keep us going, to pay staff, pay the bills and pay suppliers over the odds to supply. Our utility bills are the same as before, but the turnover is 50 per cent of normal. It’s not a sustainable model – we need help.”

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt throughout the business community and while Government grants and support are available, the report’s authors found existing structural barriers are limiting access to such resources for many BAME business owners and workers.

The report states “the lack of access to equitable funding and investment, the exclusionary nature of mainstream networks in the city region and the consequent lack of access to information and opportunities have been hindering minority ethnic organisations, enterprises and social enterprises’ development capacity previous to Covid-19.

“These barriers are now being exacerbated by the virus and the crippling economic environment it has created.”

BSWN stresses the need to act is more urgent than ever. The organisation is seeking to provide immediate support to BAME-led businesses, organisations and communities to ensure they are equipped to overcome the crisis, while also identifying gaps and lobbying authorities for better support.

Sado Jirde says she hopes the research will help shape the response to the pandemic and recovery – photo by Ellie Pipe

Sado Jirde, the director of BSWN, says access to information is a key issue and the Government’s ‘one size fits all’ approach is failing many businesses and communities in Bristol and beyond.

“I hope the data will really push the case that we really need a different kind of intervention that is targeted, that understands diverse businesses and can support them,” she tells Bristol24/7.

“We need to make sure we are not leaving people behind and not entrenching inequalities.”

Afzal Shah says he has been contacted by hundreds of business owners who are struggling – photo by Ellie Pipe

Afzal Shah, a Labour councillor for Easton, says he has received hundreds of emails from business owners and self-employed people who are really struggling.

He says taxi drivers in particular are struggling through loss of vital income and lack of any safety net and, on top of this, Government guidance is lacking on how taxi drivers can operate safely with regards to the use of personal protective equipment and social distancing.

The BSWN report findings state 83 per cent of voluntary and community organisations are currently unable to deliver services to their communities. At the same time, 92 per cent of them expect the community needs to increase due to Covid-19, painting “a severely worrying picture of discrepancy between supply and demand”.

Jirde adds: “Covid-19’s impact on loss of income is commonplace but it has hit family-run BAME businesses particularly hard, rippling out into whole supply chains. Hardest hit sectors have more BAME staff, and whilst furloughing has helped big business, small business owners and self-employed BAME people are struggling to apply narrow national support criteria.

“As we emerge from the crisis, we must ensure that our economic response reaches everyone equally and equitably. We look forward to working with policy-makers, funders and decision-makers to ensure that the support is directed where it is most needed.”

Main photo from a BSWN event prior to lockdown – courtesy of BSWN 

Read more: Debunking the myth that coronavirus is a great leveller

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