TIME FOR BRITISH PAKISTANIS TO
STEP UP IN
Issue Date 12 - 18 Aug, 2017 at 2:00 PM
Back in the sixties and seventies, there used to be a huge gap in the earnings of the white host community and the ethnic minority immigrant community. This was something which was accepted as being in the natural order of things, the way the universe had been ordained.
Outlooks, values and expectations have changed since then and the gap has narrowed over the years but still, ethnic minority families typically earn up to £8,900 less than white British families which means there is a lot of work to be done yet. A study by the think-tank Resolution Foundation found that Bangladesh and Pakistani households – income assessments in the UK usually being made on a household basis – earn about a third less than white households while black African families earn about a fifth less. One obvious reason for the fact that Pakistani and Bangladesh households are at the bottom of the income ladder is that in the majority of cases, Pakistani and Bangladesh households have only one earner, with the female usually staying home with the male head of the household being the only earner.
All that is changing now. While Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are still at the bottom of the ladder, the study found that among minority ethnic families, Bangladeshi households had managed to increase their incomes by 38 per cent during a period roughly covering the early 2000s to about 2015. During the same period, Pakistani households increased their income by 28 per cent, although that said, Pakistani households started from a higher base. So although the income of Bangladeshi households is £8,900 less than that of the median white British family, the average Pakistani household earns £8,700 less than their white British counterpart. And in terms of the growth itself, the increase in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households is the fastest, albeit this again is partly due the fact that they started from a lower base. Meanwhile, typical black African households earned less than £5,600 than white households. And while half of white British families own their own home, only a quarter of Pakistani and Bangladeshi families own their homes.
While the closing of the gap is good news, the extent of the gap between Pakistani households and their host British counterparts is disappointing to say the least. There are two major avenues through which this issue needs to be addressed, and these are education and political empowerment. Fifty years ago, because few employment opportunities were open to Asian immigrants, especially from the south Asian subcontinent, they became largely a community of small shop owners, leading to the joke that Asian could never play football because every time they would get a corner, they would open a shop on it. In those days children from such households were taken away from schools at 16, the age at which compulsory schooling ends, and made to work in the family shop. They have come a fair way since then, largely because they have realised the value of education in a merit-based society; but the other component, of political empowerment, still has a long way to go. There are, at the moment, 12 MPs of Pakistani origin and although that is encouraging, there is much scope for improvement here. After all, it is said there are over 40 constituencies in which the Pakistani vote can decide the ultimate outcome.One of the reasons for this is that generally speaking, Pakistanis are more concerned about politics in Pakistan than what is going on in the UK where they and their future generations are going to live. There are some Pakistani families that have relocated to Pakistan in the last couple of decades but again, quite a few have then relocated back to the UK.
Perhaps the PTI is the party with the largest political presence in the UK, but all Pakistani parties have their followers here, with people vying tooth and claw for the ‘honour’ of holding petty and meaningless offices. The utility of these so called political outposts is entirely in personal terms for political grandees from Pakistan visiting the UK who are treated as VIPs here, feted with much fanfare, with shopping bills taken care of. If half this energy was diverted towards politics in the UK, the results would have been much more tangible for the community.
Thus it is that while the future of Nawaz Sharif and the allegations levelled by Ms Ayesha Gulalai are fervently discussed, there is little awareness of the huge iceberg called Brexit towards which the UK seems to be heading and which will impact all, Asians included. There are not many Asians, especially of Pakistani origin, who are involved in the big build-up that has started to take place against Brexit, or at least a hard Brexit. As the party conference season approaches – all the major parties have their conferences usually in early autumn – pro-EU campaigners are preparing to make their voices heard quite unequivocally. One of the biggest ‘stop Brexit’ marches is being planned to be held in Manchester where the Tories will be holding their conference. The declared aim of these demos is to make the Tories ‘face up to the reality of Brexit’ and to realise the huge pitfalls involved. In a planned ‘autumn of discontent’ – the phrase being taken from what has come to be known as the ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978 which ultimately overthrew James Callaghan and brought in Margaret Thatcher – pro-EU groups hope to be organising huge rallies including The People’s March for Europe, scheduled to take place in central London on 9th September.
The Pakistani community is largely absent from all of this, many hardly realising the life changing impact that Brexit is going to have. In this matter, by far the most important and crucial issue since the end of the second World War more than seventy years ago, it is not that the Pakistani voice is not being heard; it is more the case that there is no Pakistani voice at all. •
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