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London by day
by Lynda Archard
©: January 13th 2003

Job prejudice in the UK

January 13th 2003

It has become trendy in the UK to add ethnic monitor forms to nearly every application form that we fill in for jobs or anything else. These are to make sure that all groups get fair treatment and the government knows who is in the country and of which ethnic group and sometimes religion too. These are often prejudiced or biased simply because of the lack of options to tick. You can be white British or black British but you don’t have a choice of English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh. You can be Catholic, Church of England, Muslim, Jewish or atheist but not Pagan or Wiccan. Although these forms do state that they are filled in by choice you are often frowned on and told to fill it in by staff in the company the application applies to.

Today I applied to Greenwich Local Labour And Business (GLLaB) for a scheme called Intermediate Labour Market. This ILM scheme could give me a job working 30 hours per week for £150 wage paid by GLLaB. This low wage was to encourage me to work and gain experience if they could find a company willing to employ me knowing they would not be paying my wages at all. It is a sort of modern day apprenticeship that someone else pays for so I can stop getting silly contradictory comments about my CV such as over-qualified and under-experienced. I don’t mind the low wage if I can get a proper job at the end of the 9 month scheme.

I had pre-filled the form before my appointment and I had crossed out White British and wrote English in its place. The woman interviewing me immediately crossed it out and wrote British without asking my permission. I protested and she explained that the option of being English was not on the computer and the only other option I had was to tick the section that said I prefer not to answer, which is a lie. She had already questioned me after I said I could not claim benefits because I did not exist in the eyes of the law or the job centre. I explained that I had been told that if my husband was unemployed for more than 2 years then I could claim job seekers allowance and get help with finding a job or yet another educational course but until then I could not claim individually as a person in my own right. Her attitude was poor and arrogant as she walked over to a man who came and asked me why I had been told that and that it was incorrect. After explaining once more he said I was correct and I could still apply for a job with GLLaB, which I already knew. She went on to explain the most simple things in a way that made it easy for a two year old to understand, underlined her email address so I could see the difference from ordinary writing and wrote ‘Att:’ (actually short for attention) and her name in case I couldn’t remember later. I wouldn’t mind but her name is the same as mine! She also underlined a sentence so I could see it among the short 3-sentence note. When my husband mentioned that ‘English’ should be an option on the so-called ethnic fairness form she promptly treated him like a schoolboy by ordering him to go and sit somewhere else because it was not his interview. She totally ignored his comment of being back at school.

After filling in more forms with the same details there was another form for the ethnic monitoring. At the top it clearly said ‘you do not need to fill in this page and it will not affect your chances of getting a job,’ so I ignored it and handed it in. Within ten minutes I had a telephone call from my daughter telling me to contact GLLaB because my application could not be processed without that information. I went back and pointed out the message at the top of the page and signed the bottom, which was not included as part of the page I could ignore. The other part of the form I ignored was the question asking if I am a smoker or a non-smoker. Nothing was said about this - yet.

Some people might assume that by not filling in this form that I am prejudiced about something. All I really want is a job that I can do based on my CV and list of qualifications.

Why didn’t I fill in the smoking question?

It simply might prejudice my application. If I smoke one cigarette per month then I am a smoker and I did not have the option of saying yes but not while I am working. A non-smoking employer would not consider a smoker and I could lose the job before I get an interview. If I smoke I am considered too ignorant to understand what no smoking in the building means and it is assumed that I can’t go longer than 5 minutes without a cigarette break. Something else to consider in answering this question would be the fact that I am over the legal age to smoke and I can smoke at home or anywhere outside of non-smoking environments. I do not expect a stranger to tell me what I can and can’t do and I do not expect them to stop doing something I don’t like either. I did not see any questions asking if I drank alcohol, drink caffeine or worse – eat garlic!

Why didn’t I fill in the ethnic monitor form?

Once again it could prejudice my chances of a job. Either I can do the job – if I thought I couldn’t then I would not bother wasting time by applying for it – or I can’t. If any company in the UK, especially in London, does not employ people from certain ethnic groups they are considered as racist. That applies to black employers only employing black employees or white employers only employing white employees. Anyone can seek advice from the race discriminations board.

In the passed few years it has become obvious that some people have got jobs purely because they make the company look good on paper. In our local supermarket there is a girl who can barely speak English. She mutters things that only one in every thousand customers might understand and you cannot ask a question because she cannot understand English either. Did she get the job serving in a supermarket because she can show good customer care and do her job well? No!

So let me turn the tables. If I was an employer in an English company and I have to employ 4 people to liase with English customers and I had 10 applicants – 5 white and 5 black – who would I employ?

This is my answer: Out of the ten there are eight who speak good English and the other two would not be considered. The next consideration is presentation. Out of the eight two of them look scruffy so now I have narrowed the eight down to only six. The next consideration is customer care skills. Two have not shown they have these skills so they are out of the equation. I know have my four applicants. I would not care if they were black, white, yellow, red or green. They can do the job.

What does happen: If they were all black people or all white that got the job then I could be taken to court for racism by one of the people I have turned down and forced to employ a selection of ethnic minority groups to prevent being branded as a racist, whether they can do the job or not. Political correctness gone wrong!

Ageism is another problem in the UK. Often there are jobs advertised asking for ‘applicants under the age of 30’ or such things as ‘would suit retired person’ if the job is part time. Last year I applied for a job in PC world. A young girl telephoned me to ask a few questions about my qualifications and we chatted for about 30 minutes. She seemed impressed with my attitude, telephone manner and qualifications, which gave me a boost of confidence. The woman even asked me when I could start the job. She finished by asking if I minded telling her my age. I said 41 and the reply was quite blunt, “Thank you someone will get back to you soon.” One week later I got a letter telling they are very sorry but they can’t employ me at this time. I was still waiting for the interview to speak with someone face-to-face!


Older people have experience of life situations, problems and people. Younger people might have new ideas but an older mind can help that new idea to work. An older mind has also seen more and can tell if that new idea really is new.

Older people are more stable and wiser. As we age we become wiser about important things such as getting bills paid and understand the importance of a long-term career to provide a regular income. We want a steady job and are more loyal to the company, less likely to take time off with a hang-over from partying the night before and older women will not leave to start a family.

As a whole this world needs to stop prejudice. You have the right to ask a smoker not to smoke in your presence but you cannot dictate outside your realm. An employer should not have to accept employees that cannot do the job simply to look good and non-racist. I am not talking about special needs of people. If you are confined to a wheel chair then it is in your interest to say that you have this disability so the company can make adjustments to suit your needs. That is common sense. Does it matter what ethnic group you are? No. So why should you tell them that?

When we stop seeing skin and start understanding people we can all be more productive. Until this happens I will continue not to tell future employers my ethnic origin, religion or social habits. I want to be judged on my qualifications and experiences to get a job that suits my ability. I do not mind losing out to someone who is better qualified than me. I do mind losing out to someone less qualified who is younger or a different colour or religion just because of political correctness.

Am I prejudice?

I didn’t used to be but now I am prejudiced towards people who pretend to strive for equality when they are really forcing us into certain boxes.

Wouldn’t it be great if the best person to do the job gets the job? I think so.

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© Lynda Archard