Data Transparency for Social Change
If we hope to reduce ethnic inequalities then high quality data is essential. The government’s launch of the Race Disparity Audit in 2017 was a positive step, putting a plethora of data on racial equalities on a ‘one stop shop’ website. However, it has less data at the local authority level, where it is collected less uniformly. The government is uploading information in stages and with time, more granularity should be possible.
The Runnymede Trust’s Race Equality Scorecard Project is a project funded by Trust for London. It has gathered data at the local authority level in Croydon, Kingston, Redbridge, Sutton, Barking and Dagenham, Hackney and Haringey. We worked with these local authorities to map ethnic inequalities across seven themes: education, employment, housing, health, criminal justice, civic participation and support for the BME voluntary sector. By making the data more accessible and providing analysis, it is easier to locate where the largest inequalities lie. The aim of the Scorecards is to make it easier to hold decision makers to account and instigate action at the local level.
Each report includes a brief analysis of the data across each indicator, followed by responses from the public sector and local stakeholders on what the findings mean for them. There is a brief outline of the next steps needed to reduce the inequalities. Runnymede worked with local authority staff, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), the Metropolitan Police and voluntary organisations to collect as much data as possible. Although the ethnic inequalities found in the reports reflect national patterns and trends, the Scorecards revealed local differences. This enables local authorities to better target their interventions. It also can guide voluntary organisations to focus their demands and asks.
Under the Equality Act 2010, service providers need to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). This means paying ‘due regard’ to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities. The Scorecard data can help to service providers to pinpoint where action is needed. But by working with the local authorities, the ‘next steps’ section of the Scorecard reports could take into account the pressures the local authority was under and make suggestions that were feasible.
The data alone cannot make change. A strong and positive relationship between the council and local voluntary sector leads to better results. For example, in Sutton, the Scorecard led to serious commitments from the council. The publication of the Scorecard led to in-depth discussion on what was and wasn’t working in the local authority to meet the needs of its rapidly growing Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) population. The leader of the council and service leads committed to tackling institutional racism by coproducing solutions with communities. For example, local faith organisations are signposting to the council’s psychological therapy services alongside any faith-based support they offer. Under the PSED, taking steps to meet the needs of people with protected characteristics (ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability), where these are different from the needs of other people is an important way of showing ‘due regard’ for advancing equality
However, the Scorecard project has not been without challenge. The publically available data at this level is limited. Equally, the cuts to local authority budgets since 2010 has constrained and restricted the solutions they can feasibly deliver. Further, voluntary sector organisations in general, and race equality organisations in particular, have seen budgets and capacity severely reduced. Smaller, more local race organisations have closed down.
Until the Race Disparity Audit is able to produce and host data at this level, local authorities should work with the voluntary sector to collate as much ethnic inequality data as possible. This can act as a blueprint for change. The Scorecard can be replicated in any region. It can equip local campaigners with the evidence they need to make sure services are being delivered fairly and disadvantage is being tackled.
By understanding and addressing local ethnic inequalities, the needs of BME communities will be better met and their life chances improved. Data transparency is integral to making it happen.