Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician for Scottish Government and Co-Director of ADR Scotland, discusses the importance of accurate data on the socio-demographics of a population.
Last year, our data on ethnicity was shown not to be adequate. It was incomplete and so our understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on different parts of society wasn’t as good as it could be. To overcome this, the independent Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity recommended a number of actions which Scottish Government will take forward. This included developing linkage between healthcare and other datasets, which featured as a commitment in the 2020 Scottish Government Programme for Government.
Clearly, the need to have good data on socio-demographics of our population goes beyond ethnicity. It is a fundamental role for public services in Scotland to eliminate discrimination, foster good relations and advance equality in our society. This helps to meet our purpose in the National Performance Framework of creating “opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish”. It also meets legal obligations in the Equality Act 2010 through the Public Sector Equality Duty.
In September 2020, a commitment was made in the Scottish Government Programme to ‘develop an equality and human rights mainstreaming strategy, which is underpinned by a comprehensive approach to improving data collation and analysis, and will ensure that the voices of those impacted shape our approach and policies’.
As part of our response to Covid, we established a Data and Intelligence Network to enable us to use data ethically and in trustworthy ways at pace in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The network effectively mobilised and made accessible data links between health and social care, the wider public and private sector and research projects. As we move to the next stages of our COVID-19 renewal and recovery work, it is vital that we build on what was achieved over the last year to make fundamental and lasting changes to address the inequalities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.
So, we have established a piece of work to develop a more complete picture of the protected characteristics across the Scottish population using existing administrative and census data. The main benefit of the work is to enable public organisations to understand the extent to which their services work for people from different backgrounds, and to support those who hold public bodies to account. This can help raise awareness of specific issues relating to the equality of provision of services.
Initially, we are exploring how we integrate data from the 2011 Census with records from the school census, hospital inpatients and outpatients. This will give a much richer and more accurate record of data about people than from any one of these sources of data alone. When the data is put together, we will publish information on how much better this is.
Given the sensitivities of the subject matter, we will use pseudonyms within the collated data to protect the identity of individuals, and it will be held in a highly secure computing environment with stringent governance to access.
Only qualified trusted researchers would have access, and all uses of data will be published and approved by an independent panel. The data will only be used for research and statistics in the public good, and will ensure that no individual person is identifiable in any ensuing reports or publications.
The data will be processed in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation as applied, enacted and amended in UK law.
At no point in the use of the data will any information be used to identify individual members of the public.
I talked to some members of the public about the project and safeguards in place last month. They were supportive of what I’m trying to achieve.
This is really important statistical and data development in Scotland that will potentially support decisions that make us a more equal nation. I also recognise the sensitivity of the data and responsibility for keeping this safe and using it well. I will update as this project develops.