Philippa Stroud: Our Race Equality Commission aims for a UK in which every individual can fulfil their unique potential

23 Dec

Baroness Stroud is CEO of the Legatum Institute.

The Legatum Institute recently announced the creation of a Race Equality Commission, which I co-chair alongside Rev. Nims Obunge MBE DL. The Commission brings together people from a diverse range of backgrounds and ethnicities, all committed to exploring why racial disparity exists in the UK and identifying the changes that would make a tangible difference to people’s lives.

The fundamental starting point for the Commission is a firm belief that every individual has immense personal worth, dignity, and purpose. At the Institute, we stand against racism in all its forms and are committed to working to increase the prosperity of all.

Recent events, such as the killing of George Floyd in the United States earlier this year, and the global public outcry that followed, raised deep questions about community, identity and belonging; about the distribution of opportunity, power and responsibility; about reform and how to bring about healing and unity. These are some of the questions the Race Equality Commission seeks to answer.

In the UK, there are also challenging questions to engage with: the stories we tell ourselves that give us a sense of place, of value, and of purpose, and the means by which values are transmitted down through the generations. It is vital that we have proper exploration and debate to better understand the causes of and find the enduring solutions to divisions in our society.

We know that creating a better world needs to involve everyone collaborating together, and we are inspired by the countless stories of extraordinary transformation and breakthrough in the UK’s history that were brought about by small groups of thoughtful, committed people working together. Theirs is the example the Race Equality Commission seeks to follow.

During the first meeting of the Commission, I was struck by the willingness of Commissioners to share their views with vulnerability and to have difficult conversations with mutual respect even when there was disagreement. Some spoke of their experiences, some shared stories of the communities and groups they’ve spent their lives working with, while others talked of frustration at years of conversation on these issues with very little change.

All agreed that there is a need for honest discussion in which everyone feels able to contribute fully and knows they will be listened to, as it is only in this spirit of kindness that we can bring about real understanding.

Since the Government published the Race Disparity Audit in 2017 a number of reviews have taken place – from the McGregor-Smith Review to the Windrush Review – all highlighting different areas of disparity. For example, the Race Disparity Audit highlighted that Asian and Black households are more likely to be poor and are the most likely to be in persistent poverty. The McGregor-Smith Review noted that, in 2015, one in eight of the working age population were from a BAME background, yet BAME individuals made up only ten per cent of the workforce and held only six per cent of top management positions. And the Timpson Review of School Exclusion revealed that Black Caribbean children are around 1.7 times more likely to be permanently excluded from education than White British children.

However, while adding much to the data on these issues, these audits and reviews have had little impact on the lived experience of those suffering from racial inequality. Therefore, as well as reviewing all the existing data, the Commission will seek new evidence about the attitudes and experience of ethnic minorities across different sectors of society – from the school environment to the labour market, the criminal justice system to the health system.

We will do this by speaking with as many people and communities across the UK as we can, and will produce a series of recommendations for Government and policy makers, businesses, schools and communities, as well as practical plans for anyone in the UK who seeks to bring about real change.

We want to address the complex and historically thorny issue of racial inequality in a holistic and positive manner. We are committed to working tirelessly until all people have the same opportunities available to them and the support they need to seize those opportunities. In short, we will keep working until we have removed every stumbling block put in people’s way, created the pathways to prosperity for all, and seen the transformation of society – so that every individual can fulfil their unique potential.

But we know that we have much to learn, and that change will take time, so until then, we can all start by being just a little kinder to one another.

Philippa Stroud: So you wanted an impact assessment of the effects of lockdown, restrictions – and of Covid itself? Here it is.

18 Dec

Philippa Stroud is Chief Executive Officer of the Legatum Institute, and leads the Social Metrics Commission.

Covid-19 continues to dominate the headlines. The human consequences of the virus on individuals, families, and communities right across the UK is clear to see – in our health, our relationships, and our livelihoods. We must not forget that many families will be dreading the festive season without loved ones who have passed away during the pandemic.

But as politicians, health experts, economists, business leaders, and the public continue to debate what the rules should be around Christmas, we must also remember that the impacts of the pandemic go beyond the here and now. There are long-term implications for the nation’s health, economy, and wellbeing that we will be dealing with for many years to come. This is why it’s so important that we think carefully about the choices we are making in managing this dreadful virus.

While the rollout of the vaccine has begun, it will take many, many months for the population to achieve the level of immunity required for life to return to normal. Until then, it is vital that we have a consistent and transparent decision-making process and mature conversations about the balance between personal, societal, and governmental responsibility.

Policymakers constantly have to make difficult choices, but this year has been perhaps harder than most. The Government has had to decide how to balance the terrible consequences of lost lives in both the short- and long-term with wider damage to the livelihoods and wellbeing of the population, and has had to consider whether to introduce enforceable legislation or rely on guidance and public communication campaigns to drive behaviour change.

The Government has said that its approach is to continually review the evidence and seek the best health, scientific, and economic advice in order to pursue the best overall outcomes. We applaud this sentiment. However, delivering on it requires an in-depth and detailed analysis of the impacts on health, society, and the economy, so the various trade-offs required can be understood. It requires a holistic assessment of the likely consequences of different policy options, and a model that can factor in and respond to the inherent uncertainty of a pandemic.

There is currently no public evidence that such a tool exists and is being used by Government. This has left policymakers facing the unenviable task of weighing up many conflicting issues. But more concerningly, it has left the public feeling confused and uncertain. Our recent UK Prosperity Case Study revealed that, even before the coronavirus struck, public confidence in national government had been deteriorating and was among the lowest levels seen across the world. This is deeply concerning as good governance and decisive and effective leadership will be crucial to guide the UK through the pandemic and create a more prosperous society in the future.

The good news is that the Legatum Institute has this week published a methodology for a holistic impact assessment for Covid-19 policy choices, and demonstrated its application with a retrospective analysis of the 31st October decision to introduce the English national lockdown.

The assessment framework accounts for the direct and indirect physical and mental health effects, economic effects, education effects, and wider impacts of both the virus itself and people’s responses to it (whether through personal choice or enforced behaviour change). Based on publicly-available data and using the Treasury’s standard conversion factors, it evaluates both short and long-term impacts, and presents results in a way that allows the impacts across these different areas to be considered together.

We do not claim that our framework is a definitive judgment on whether the decisions taken since the start of the pandemic have been the right ones, nor can it provide the answers for the difficult decisions that will come next. But it does show that it is possible to deliver this sort of analysis, that it is possible to consider the wide range of impacts of different policy choices in a holistic and consistent way.

Our report shows how to assess the impact of Government action to limit the short-term deaths from the virus so far (which has undeniably reduced the number of people dying as a result of the virus), and compare it with the costs of this action – restrictions on mobility, work, and hospitality that have reduced people’s incomes and lowered employment, as well as the cancelled medical procedures, the social isolation that has led to a deterioration in mental health for many, and the likely long-term mortality impacts associated with economic crises and recessions.

The report also demonstrates the importance of differentiating the question of what level of mobility and mixing will lead to the lowest overall negative impact from the question of how to achieve that desired level – for instance using public information, guidance, or regulation. It also shows the necessity of conducting impact assessments at a local level, as the difference in underlying infection rates, demography, and employment patterns across the country mean that the appropriate level of mobility and mixing will be different in different areas.

We hope that the Government will urgently adopt and develop our proof of concept and use it to inform future policymaking with regards to Covid-19. Such an approach will provide invaluable information to policymakers as they consider what the rules should be as we move into Christmas and the New Year and how different areas can move into different tiers or out of restrictions altogether. This will put Government policymaking on a stronger footing and make it more likely that it can achieve the best overall outcomes for the UK.

But it will also provide a vital framework through which politicians can communicate with the public, allowing deeper and more honest conversations about the choices the country has already faced this year and will face in 2021. By sharing the evidence behind their decisions and being transparent about the choices being made, the Government can re-build public trust and allow the British people to do what they do best – make personal decisions that care for their families, communities, and country

Philippa Stroud: The Coalition stopped officially measuring poverty – which left its successor unsightedover free schools meals

28 Oct

Philippa Stroud is Chief Executive Officer of the Legatum Institute, and leads the Social Metrics Commission.

Marcus Rashford presents the Conservative Party with a problem. No Conservative believes that any child in this country should ever go hungry, but we also want to build a society in which parents are able to earn enough to support their own children and, where that is not the case, in which there is a welfare state that supports those in need. These are our long-term objectives.

So what happens at a moment of crisis when there is a short-term need, and why has the call for the expansion of holiday provision of food and activities to support an additional 1.1 million children in the short term gathered such momentum?

In 2016, the Government abolished the old measure of poverty as an official measure. This means since that year it has been walking blind. Policy decisions have been made in a vacuum without a tool that shines a spotlight on the needs of the most disadvantaged.

The Government has made some great decisions, but without the certainty that what they are doing is hitting the target. Has poverty gone up? Is it plateauing? Until there is an agreed metric that tracks this, who can say?

That is why I launched the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) in 2016, drawing from left and right, and have proposed a new set of poverty metrics: to end the war on poverty measurement so that we could put our energy into working towards an effective poverty reduction strategy.

By the SMC measure, until the start of Covid-19, Conservatives could rightly declare that work was the best route out of poverty and, with record high levels of employment, this strategy was clearly effective, with 90 per cent of households where both adults work full time being out of poverty.

But during this global pandemic, the SMC measure also tells us it is those in deep poverty who are being most significantly impacted by the virus. Two in three (65 per cent) of those employed and in deep poverty prior to the crisis have seen reduced hours or earnings, been furloughed, and/or lost their job.

Although these numbers are not tracked by the Government, the public instinctively feels this to be the case. Locally, Conservatives know this too and are responding with short-term fixes.

The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea for example has promised £15 food vouchers over half-term for its 3,300 local children eligible for free school meals. Councillor Josh Rendall, the lead member for family and children’s services, said: “This is not a long-term solution but this is an exceptional year and we know it has been a tough one for many families.”

Conservatives have a good story to tell. Number 10 and 11 have worked tirelessly to put the entire resources of Government behind protecting the British people from Covid-19, including in the short term with increased support in the benefit system, the Job Retention (and soon Support) Scheme and, in the long term, through improved services for mental health and education, tackling the costs of housing and driving forward the levelling up agenda.

But in the absence of an effective poverty measure, we are unable to quantify the positive impact of all of these choices, gain credit for a comprehensive strategy on poverty, or identify whether there are short term challenges that still need to be addressed.

We need to be able to say that no child in Britain will go hungry on our watch – but we can’t. And we are allowing others to create a narrative for us, and in the absence of an agreed poverty measure and subsequent strategy, we always will. This does not need to be the case.

Had we had the SMC measure already in place, we would have been monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on the most vulnerable during this time of crisis. Had we adopted the SMC measure, we would have known in May that although the pandemic is hitting everyone, it is hitting those in deepest poverty the most and that short term measures may be required to see the poorest through this time.

It was Will Quince, a Work and Pensions Minister, who first announced that the department was taking forward the SMC measure of poverty and developing Experimental Statistics, back in May 2019. But even now, when accurate and timely data is needed more than ever, the work has stalled.

I know there will be some who will be nervous about a new measure of poverty, even one that has gained consensus across the political spectrum and already won the Government much political capital. But the measure is in effect a framework. It is the best way of capturing the “who” is in poverty – the “who” we need to be concerned about and looking out for. The Government can then decide where it wants to place its effort – so at a time like this it would have focused on those most impacted.

The Government could decide to focus on those who are moving in and out of poverty and close to the labour market (the top seven million). That is in effect what the £20 uplift has done in Universal Credit.

Or, it could decide to focus energy and resources on those in deep poverty – those who are 50 per cent below the poverty line (bottom 4.5 million). This is the most vulnerable group and where I would put my energy and effort at a time of national crisis. This is who many of the public thinks of as being in poverty, which is why they are so concerned now and why Rashford has received so much support.

I know that many Conservatives, like myself, came into politics because we were concerned about the long-term drivers of poverty. We feel deeply concerned about the most vulnerable in the nation. We know that poverty is about money, but that it is also about family, education and skills, debt, housing, sickness and disability, and employment. It is about the support being there when you need it so that you can get up and onto your own two feet again and find your own way out of poverty for you and your family.

This is a moment to take action in the short term – as the Government has been doing and still needs to do – but it is also a moment to get our house in order for the long term: to adopt the SMC poverty measure and build a comprehensive poverty strategy so that now and in the future we can say hand on heart, on our watch: no child went hungry.

Phillipa Stroud: Coronavirus has hit those in poverty hardest. The Government must support employment, fast.

2 Jul

Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission.

The UK is living through the most significant health, social and economic crisis of modern times. But not everybody is being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which I chair, shows that those who were already struggling to make ends meet are being hit hardest.

Research we conducted with YouGov reveals that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those who were living in deep poverty – that is, more than 50 per cent below the poverty line – and were employed before the virus hit have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or seen their hours and/or wages drop. This compares to just over a third (35 per cent) of those living more than 20 per cent above the poverty line prior to the crisis.

Our analysis shows that, over the last 20 years, rising employment rates for those in poverty were helping families move out of deep poverty, so they were more likely to be able to escape poverty in the future.

Families in poverty where the adults work full-time are less than half as likely to experience deep poverty than those with part-time work or no job. A reversal of this success story could have a profound effect; increasing poverty rates and deepening poverty for those already below the poverty line. So supporting employment, especially for those on the lowest incomes, must remain a key priority for Government as the country emerges from the lockdown restrictions that have caused the economy to contract so severely.

We also need to empower those in or at risk of poverty to increase their financial resilience. The SMC’s analysis shows that, before the crisis hit, nearly three in ten people in poverty lived in families that were behind paying the bills and seven in ten were in families where no-one saves. This means they did not have a buffer available to them when the pandemic struck and are therefore more likely to have fallen further into poverty.

However, it is not all bad news. The SMC’s analysis also shows that, after rising for the last three years, the poverty rate for both children and pensioners had plateaued before the crisis, and that, since the turn of the millennium, poverty levels haves fallen for lone-parent families.

In addition, there has been a drop in the poverty rate for families that include a disabled child over the last 10 years, and across all age groups there has been a fall in the proportion of people in poverty who are also in persistent poverty.

These success stories demonstrate that poverty can be tackled and reduced. But with millions of people still in poverty, we cannot be complacent.

The first step is to ensure that poverty is properly measured. This is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty, and to ensure that those individuals, families, communities, and areas of the UK that have historically been left behind are supported to improve their situation.

After decades of damaging debate that has distracted focus away from the vital action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society, a new consensus is needed so that policymakers and politicians can track progress and can be held to account.

I am delighted that the Government has committed to creating new experimental national statistics based on the SMC’s approach, as the first step towards adopting it as an official measure.

While it is entirely appropriate that this work was paused during the pandemic so the Government could focus on providing support to those individuals and families whose health and livelihoods have been impacted by the virus, the need to return to it is clear.

The next step is for a full Poverty Commission to be established to develop solutions based on this measurement data. We already know that poverty is more likely to be experienced by some families than others, and that the nature of that experience is incredibly varied.

The causes and implications of the various types of poverty are different, which means that the approach needed to tackle them will be different. As with the SMC, it will be important that the Poverty Commission has support from individuals and organisations across the political spectrum as well as from business, the charity sector, and those who are in poverty.

However, while the Poverty Commission will need to conduct further work to assess what really creates an enabling environment for different people, the existing data clearly shows that work is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Therefore, as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an employment- and skills-based recovery will be vital.

We must enable the smooth transition of those on low incomes who have been furloughed and need to increase their hours, to avoid them falling deeper into poverty. We need to re-open schools so that the education of the poorest is protected and to allow their parents to work the extra hours that could make all the difference.

And we need to ensure that schools are preparing students for the jobs that will be available in the future, equipping them with the skills they will need in a world of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies.

In addition, given half of those in poverty live in a family with a disabled person, we must increase support to help those with disabilities find full-time employment. The inescapable cost of housing, and especially private renting, is also one of the major factors contributing to poverty, so it is also vital that we make housing more affordable.

My hope is that the SMC’s poverty measurement framework can inform the creation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. Where there are obstacles, we need to remove them, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty, we need to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to do so.

This will require a partnership between those in poverty and policymakers, business leaders, and community builders across the UK. Together we can ensure that poverty is less prevalent in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty in the future.