Public sector - understanding equality data collection: main report

This research describes and explores the range of equality and socio-economic disadvantage data collected by public sector organisations. Findings offer insights into what works best in terms of collecting, utilising and safeguarding robust data, highlighting major barriers to its collection or use.

2 Background

2.1 This section describes (i) the policy context for the research, (ii) the legal framework within which the collection and processing of personal data takes place, and (iii) the aims which the research is intended to address.

Policy context

2.2 The Equality Act 2010 came into force in England, Wales and Scotland on 1 October 2010.[11] The Act brought together over 100 separate pieces of legislation (including the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) and provides a legal framework for protecting the rights of individuals and advancing equality of opportunity for all.

2.3 The 2010 Act explains that having due regard for advancing equality involves:

  • Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their 'protected characteristics'[12]
  • Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people
  • Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.

2.4 The (Scottish) Public Sector Equality Duty is set out in the Equality Act 2010 and the (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012.[13] These regulations require (most) public sector bodies in Scotland to (i) eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, (ii) advance equality of opportunity between different groups, and (iii) foster good relations with regard to the nine (9) protected characteristics of age, religion and belief, race, disability, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, and gender reassignment.

2.5 In addition, the Fairer Scotland Duty (Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010) places a legal responsibility on particular public bodies in Scotland to actively consider how they can reduce inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions. This came into force in Scotland in April 2018.[14]

2.6 An ambition to advance equality lies at the heart of the Scottish Government's vision for Scotland. This commitment is articulated through Scotland's National Performance Framework and specifically through the Framework's:

  • Purpose - 'to reduce inequalities and give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress'
  • Values - 'to treat all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion' and
  • Outcomes - which 'reflect the aspirations and values of the people of Scotland, are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and help to track progress in reducing inequality'.[15]

2.7 In order for the Scottish Government's ambition for the advancement of equality to be realised, it is vital that robust and comprehensive data about the social and economic characteristics of the people of Scotland (including equality and socio-economic disadvantage data) are collected. The availability and use of such data allows policies and services to be developed, delivered and adjusted in ways which align with the ambition to reduce inequalities, whilst its lack or absence will mean that it is not possible to recognise and address shortcomings, or track progress towards the vision for Scotland which has been identified.

2.8 As part of their efforts to address the issues around the collection and availability of equality data, the Scottish Government developed its Equality Evidence Finder.[16] This resource first appeared in 2012 and is updated twice a year. The Equality Evidence Finder provides a range of equality data across many policy areas, drawing on an extensive array of sources. The Scottish Government also published an Equality Evidence Strategy in 2017 which sets out its approach to improving the equality data which are available.[17]

2.9 Equality issues came into sharp focus for the Scottish Government in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the Scottish Government published an analysis of the health and social impact of Covid-19 in relation to protected characteristics and socio-economic disadvantage.[18] Throughout the pandemic, concerns about the impacts on older people, disabled people and those with underlying health conditions, people from black and minority ethnic communities, and socio-economically disadvantaged people have featured heavily in public discourse.

Collecting and processing personal data: the current legal framework

2.10 The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) is a United Kingdom Act of Parliament which updates data protection laws in the UK.[19] It is a national law which codifies into UK law the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).[20]

2.11 The DPA 2018 (and the GDPR) requires organisations that collect and process personal data to follow strict rules called 'data protection principles'. They must make sure the information is:

  • Used fairly, lawfully and transparently
  • Used for specified, explicit purposes
  • Used in a way that is adequate, relevant and limited to only what is necessary
  • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date
  • Kept for no longer than is necessary
  • Handled in a way that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unlawful or unauthorised processing, access, loss, destruction or damage.

2.12 Thus, the DPA 2018 (and the GDPR) plays a vital role in relation to (i) what data are collected, (ii) how consent for data collection (and follow up) is obtained, (iii) how data are processed and stored, (iv) whether a Data Protection Impact Assessment[21] (DPIA) is required, and (v) how data are used and reported.[22]

Aims and objectives

2.13 The research described here is one element of a broad programme of work being pursued by the Scottish Government to enhance the collection, use, and reporting of equality and socio-economic disadvantage data in order to improve policy making, service design and delivery.

2.14 This research has five (5) aims as follows:

  • Aim 1: To identify, describe and explore what equality and socio-economic disadvantage data are collected[23]
  • Aim 2: To identify, describe and explore how equality and socio-economic data are collected and stored
  • Aim 3: To identify, describe and explore why or for what purpose data are collected and whether that purpose is fulfilled
  • Aim 4: To identify, describe and explore the barriers to equality data collection and to its use for the outlined purpose
  • Aim 5: To use findings from aims 1 to 4 to offer insights as to what works best in terms of collecting, utilising and safeguarding robust equality and socio-economic disadvantage data and to highlight major barriers that could prevent collection or use of these data.

2.15 The research also has an implicit aim to investigate views on whether the collection of equality and socio-economic disadvantage data should be 'more extensively mandated under legislation' as has been suggested by some stakeholders in this field.



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