BAME entrepreneurs in Lewisham more disadvantaged than others, study finds

Lewisham High Street. Pic: Fotologic

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic business owners are more disadvantaged than their non-BAME counterparts despite forming nearly 70% of independent businesses across Lewisham, a study has found.

The Lewisham High Streets Survey, commissioned by the council, found that many BAME business owners did not know how or where to access the support that is already available. Conducted by London South Bank University, the report found that “BAME business owners were less aware of the available support [from the council], and of those that were aware, they were consistently less likely to have used it”.

Black Lives Matter protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, in which deaths among ethnic minority communities were disproportionately higher, highlighted the “systemic inequalities” that BAME business owners face, Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan said in response.

Abdul Ghafoor, 46, business owner. Pic: Chandni Doulatramani

Abdul Ghafoor, 46, owner of a food and meat shop on Lewisham High Street told ELL: “The council people are bastards. I’m not scared of them… They don’t help us in anything. If our fruit cartons are even slightly on the footpath, they slam a fine of £65. They’re looting us. We work like donkeys, but we are still struggling.” Ghafoor, who is originally from Pakistan, said all business owners on the Lewisham High Street didn’t have to pay the annual council rate last year due to coronavirus but the high weekly rent and reduced customer count is killing his business.

The study found that BAME business owners lack trust in authoritative institutions, including Lewisham Council, and do not believe they have their best interests in mind. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic having negatively affected all business owners in Lewisham, a higher proportion of BAME business owners are sceptical of revenue and customers returning to pre-pandemic levels.

More than half of non-BAME people interviewed are confident of revenue returning to pre-pandemic levels, compared with 32% BAME business owners. Similarly, 27% of non-BAME business owners are optimistic about improving customer levels compared with only 8% of BAME entrepreneurs.

Suliman Safi, 20, shop manager. Pic: Chandni Doulatramani

Suliman Safi, 20, who moved from Afghanistan to the UK two years ago told ELL: “The council have have not helped us at all. Business is really bad. My whole family is in Kabul and things have become so expensive after the Taliban took over, but I’m barely able to send them any money.” Safi, who manages his cousin’s mobile phone shop, added that he wasn’t aware of any existing initiatives by Lewisham Council to help them recover after the pandemic.

The study found that 29% of BAME owners in Lewisham are Asian/Asian British, followed by 20% from “other ethnic group”, including forty different ethnicities, and 6% are Black/African/Caribbean/Black British.

Catford and Lewisham have the highest percentage of BAME-owned businesses while Lee Green and Blackheath have the lowest.

Lewisham Council said it would address the inequalities faced by BAME communities by offering some business owners discounts on Federation of Small Businesses memberships, in a bid to build their trust in the council. The non-profit has been helping members with legal advice and networking as part of their pandemic recovery programme. The council will also have face-to-face business meetings with BAME entrepreneurs to understand their needs.

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