Indy Sira, Director, Voices of Colour & Taimour Ahmed, Founder, Expert by Experience

Navigating Finances & the Impact of COVID-19: The Experiences of South Asian Women

29 September 2022

COVID-19 played a significant role in deepening financial and health disparities on a societal level. While the impact of this has been felt by different communities in different ways and to varying degrees, ethnic communities have undeniably been impacted disproportionately. For example, while the UK population is 17% BME, BME people accounted for 34% of intensive care unit admissions as a result of the pandemic. According to a report by the Runnymede Trust:

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the ways in which inequalities have been built into our system and how ‘race’ and class impact on outcomes, affecting people from cradle to grave.

Therefore, it is vital to understand that the ways in which inequalities are experienced varies significantly through the lens of class, race, and gender.

For South Asian women in the UK, financial inequality is a prominent experience that has been made worse by the impact of COVID-19, leading to increased health disparities. As highlighted within our research by a participant:

“[Managing my finances] has made me feel anxious, tense and I always get a sense of dread, as sometimes it seems too overwhelming to go through.”

Within the research conducted by our team at Voices of Colour & Expert by Experience, we have been exploring the idea of inequity in practice.

Not So Hard to Reach Communities

Historically, there’s been a narrative built around ethnic communities that they are ‘hard to reach’, whether it comes to research or awareness programs. We found our experience to be the complete opposite. To ensure that we had the widest and most diverse engagement possible , we grounded our research in the following principles:

  • Accessible language: i.e., cutting out the jargon
  • Outreach: Meeting our communities in their safe spaces, i.e. religious sites
  • Community Led: Interviews and research led by South Asian community members.

What did we find?

In total, 103 South Asian women across the UK (aged 18 +) completed an online survey last year. As part of our research, we also conducted in-depth interviews with a group of South Asian women. 

The key findings of our research included:

  • 66% agreed that as South Asian women, their gender impacts how they navigate money.
  • Financial insecurity and uncertainty as a result of the pandemic were mentioned as critical reasons impacting on mental well-being.
  • 85% did not feel financial literacy was accessible to all in their community.

Within the context of systemic inequities, class discrimination has undoubtedly played a role in increasing the income disparities that are experienced by some South Asian women. This is on top of damaging cultural narratives and patriarchal practices that surround women building their own wealth – class further deepens the financial divide. For example, ‘People from Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups are around twice as likely to be in the bottom fifth of incomes than average and have the lowest median household incomes’.

Some of the participants shared: 

“The lack of financial literacy appears to be passed down from generation, especially, when you belong to a low income family as money and finances aren’t always spoken about”

“I see more how structural inequality plays a role and also how I’ve been blocked from participating in the economy”

What are we proposing?

  • Policy: Investing time in identifying the current inequities and cultural barriers that exist within health-based services and organisations that continue to perpetuate disparities. This is alongside being aware of the further marginalisation certain communities face amongst South Asian women to avoid homogenisation of experiences.
  • Policy & Institutions: Accessible health-based services that understand the needs of South Asian women from different communities and have processes in place to co-design spaces where they feel comfortable within their local communities.
  • Funders & Institutions: Investing in spaces within the community that create places for South Asian women to feel comfortable to speak about the challenges in navigating financial barriers and the increasing impact it has on their mental health (as a result of the pandemic).
  • Funders: Investment in creating accessible and inclusive financial support that recognises the varied experiences and culture of South Asian women from different communities. It should cater to the different languages and financial inequalities faced by women across the communities.

What are our next steps?

Our hope with this research is to be able to continue building on our work in a way that engages local community organisations. The second phase of our project has been shaped to focus on health equity in particular and how South Asian women can feel confident to access support services without feeling marginalised systemically. We will also be creating a space to discuss the stigma attached to speaking about finances and the impact it can have on one’s mental health.

Read more about Voices of Colour and Expert by Experience’s research here.

If you want to share your experiences of how your age or ethnicity has impacted your mental health and financial situation, we’d love to hear from you. Learn more about our Research Community here.

If your work focuses on different demographic groups and you think you might be able to help us to deepen our understanding, please get in touch via .

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