Black History Month 2023 – Census data shines a new light on the Windrush generation
As Black History Month draws to a close, our Evidence Manager Sarah Wilkinson, provides new insights into the lives of the Black Caribbean community using Census 2021 data.
Besides demonstrating the great inequality faced by the Black Caribbean community, the data shows that being Black in England encompasses a multitude of different backgrounds which can mean very different experiences of ageing.
This year the UK celebrated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks. This was one of the first ships to bring a new generation of post-war migrants from the Caribbean to settle in the UK: those arriving up until the early 1970s are known as the Windrush generation.
Many of this generation are now pension age and have children who are themselves now entering later life - making the Black Caribbean population one of the oldest ethnic groups in England today.
More than four in ten (42%) people with a Black Caribbean background are aged 50 and over, which is much higher than the overall average for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic populations (19%), although comparable to the proportion of White British people (44%).
The Windrush Generation and Employment
The NHS was also founded 75 years ago, and many Black Caribbean women came to work as nurses in the UK following recruitment drives in Caribbean countries. They were usually placed in lower status roles and were paid less than their peers. A similar drive saw an influx of Black Caribbean men into the transport sector.
This legacy can be seen in employment trends even now.
Black Caribbean people aged 50 to-64 are more likely than average to work in public administration, education, and health with almost two in three (64%) Black Caribbean women and one in four Black Caribbean men (24%) working in these sectors compared to half (49%) of all women and 18% of all men in this age group. However the evidence of a persistent ethnic pay gap for Black NHS workers points to continuing discrimination in employment.
Furthermore, the employment rate for both Black Caribbean men and women aged 50-64 is 68%: this is higher than the average for women (65%), but lower than the average for men in this age group (74%)- and the second lowest rate for men across all ethnic groups.
The Windrush generation and homes
Black Caribbean people aged 50 and over are more likely to be living in social housing than average (34% vs 14%), and more likely to still be paying off a mortgage (27% vs 23%). Only 30% of Black Caribbean people live in homes that are mortgage-free compared to 54% of all people aged 50 and over in England.
This means many are still paying rent or mortgage costs into later life, reducing their disposable income compared to those who own properties outright.
One result of this is that after housing costs are taken into consideration a higher percentage of Black Caribbean people aged 50 and over are living in poverty. We know that 28% of people aged 50 and older from a Black Caribbean or Black African background are living in poverty compared with 20% of this age group overall.
Black Caribbean people aged 50 and over are twice as likely as average to live in housing deprivation (housing that is overcrowded, without central heating or shared) - this applies to 10.3% of Black Caribbean people 50 and over compared to 5.3% for people from all ethnic backgrounds.
The Windrush generation and health
When the Windrush generation arrived in England, many faced appalling acts of racism as an everyday occurrence.
And 75 years on, racism continues to have a significant impact on people’s lives, including on their health. There is a five to six percentage point difference between Black Caribbean and White people aged 75 and older who report being in bad or very bad health. Similarly, among people aged 65 and over, a higher proportion of Black Caribbean people than average are disabled (40% compared to 35%). And those who are disabled are more likely to be limited a lot by disability (56% compared to 48%).
Structural racism leads to poverty, poor homes and difficulties in accessing good jobs, which can all negatively impact physical health. However racism also has a direct physiological effect on health: we know that even after accounting for differences in socioeconomic position, poor health is still more common among Black Caribbean people when compared to people of White ethnicity.
The 2021 Census tells us more about our nation’s population than ever before and illuminates the extent to which different ethnic minority groups differ in many important ways that are completely obscured when they are treated as a single group.
For example, Census data reflects a very different migration story for the Black African community.
More than two in three (68%) Black Caribbean people aged 50-64 were born in the UK, compared to fewer than one in eight (12%) Black African people in the same age group. And only one in five (19%) Black Africans are aged 50 and over.
These differences are important for people’s lives as they age - yet many national surveys do not allow for analysis at this level of ethnicity. In addition, many do not report results intersectionally by age and ethnicity, let alone by other factors too.
We know that the negative impacts of discrimination and structural inequality accumulate throughout people’s lives, meaning that gaps in wealth and health are greatest in later life. Yet without understanding variation in the lives of people both between and within different ethnic communities, government and society are unable to respond adequately.
This is why our new State of Ageing report, due to be published next month, will call for better ethnicity data - as well as action to help ensure that the inequalities suffered by the Windrush Generation across their lives are not experienced by future generations.