May must enforce better data collection to combat Britain’s worst prejudices

A cross-party parliamentary committee just condemned the government for failing to collect better data on racial equality. Michelle Stanistreet applauds the initiative.

Stop this race to the bottom: give us the facts. 

The departure of Paul Dacre from his editor’s chair to a loftier seat in the Daily Mail’s firmament later this year has prompted an assessment of one of Fleet Street’s longest and most controversial survivors.

He is credited with being able to see into the hearts of Middle England. Apparently in those hearts he sees hate, racism, xenophobia and a mean spirit to the poor and dispossessed.

He has pursued his newspaper’s support of Brexit with a foam-flecked invective, scaring his readers with the picture of illegal immigrants swarming into this sceptred isle, raping and robbing its inhabitants.

“Up to a fifth of killers in England and Wales are foreign, police figures suggest,” his newspaper told us.

And: “One in ten families who get social housing are from abroad…thousands of Eastern European citizens are given council houses every year, leapfrogging millions of Britons who languish on waiting lists.”

Facts matter and to combat these scare stories and to hold a reasoned discourse on race, we need reliable and transparent statistics.

When Prime Minister Theresa May announced the creation of the Race Disparity Audit, she said it would be “an essential resource in the battle to defeat ethnic injustice”.

PM Theresa May added:

“People who have lived with discrimination don’t need a government audit to make them aware of the scale of the challenge. But this audit means that for society as a whole – for government, for our public services – there is nowhere to hide. These issues are now out in the open. And the message is very simple: if these disparities cannot be explained then they must be changed.”

When the audit – data on outcomes by race and ethnicity across public services held together on one portal – was first published last year, its reception was underwhelming. The information, said critics, was often old, unhelpful and in many places missing.

This prompted the parliamentary cross-party Women and Equalities Committee to hold an inquiry.

Women and Equalities Committee chair, Maria Miller, concluded:

“The picture at present is that data collection across different areas of government and public services is inconsistent, not properly joined up and in some cases just isn’t happening. That isn’t good enough.”

Her report said that without consistent information “too many government departments will remain ignorant of the uncomfortable truths they are responsible for tackling”.

For the press to report accurately and responsibly on issues of race, it needs to have full and accurate information. This is also vital in order to hold government departments and public bodies to account on matters of race and diversity and their ability to tackle discrimination and injustice.

The NUJ applauds many of the committee’s recommendations which call on the government to publish a 12-month action plan to improve the consistency and robustness of the data. We also support that, in the longer run, the government ensures “key data can be disaggregated to allow factors such as gender, age, region, socioeconomic status and religion and belief to be taken into account alongside race and ethnicity.”

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The union provides reporters with guides on how to report race, refugee and asylum issues. These address the language used and how to avoid the sensationalising of sensitive subjects. But equally important is access to robust, consistent data which allows comparisons over time and the ability to view issues of race within the context of age, gender, social class and geography.

We know from reports, such as those by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group, which found that black and Asian households have been disproportionately hit by austerity politics, facing a drop in living standards of about 20%.

David Lammy MP’s work, too, showed overt racial prejudice in the criminal justice system, that there are great injustices by race in the UK.

But unless we are given the data, it will be left for the likes of Dacre and his cronies to control the narrative and perhaps the hearts and minds of our citizens.

Michelle Stanistreet is general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

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