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We still don’t know how race and poverty interact in Sheffield

Racist data collection practices fail to tell the full story of deprivation in the city.

Aerial view ecclesall road greystones
Anton Velchev (Unsplash)

Many people of colour are well aware that communities of colour tend to be poorer. We have less access to good education, healthcare, and community infrastructure. However, this isn’t always reflected in the data.

Data based research isn’t politically neutral just because it involves numbers. And, analysis which only looks at race in isolation is extremely limited.

The latest available data for Sheffield comes from a 2019 report from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This map shows the most deprived areas of Sheffield which are in blue.

Sheffield E08000019 IMD2019

The report explains the seven markers which measure deprivation:

• Income Deprivation

• Employment Deprivation

• Education, Skills and Training Deprivation

• Health Deprivation and Disability

• Crime

• Barriers to Housing and Services

• Living Environment Deprivation

Deprivation profiles don’t look at the wealth of individuals. Rather, they take samples from each area to present an overall picture of deprivation. The listed areas can inform an understanding of quality of life. The Tackling Poverty Strategy only mentions ethnicity once, when it says:

Some groups are likely to be at greater risk of poverty, often due to being affected by multiple disadvantages. In this section, we consider which groups nationally and in Sheffield are at greater risk of poverty.

Among other groups, they include women, ethnicity, disability, and more. They also state:

As might be expected, national research suggests that individuals and families who fall within more than one of the groups at greater risk are even more likely to be at risk of poverty, but we do not have the data available to understand this at a local level.

This is the crux of the issue – racist data collection practices mean that, for example, poverty and ethnicity is not rigorously researched. Like the government report above shows, this means it’s almost impossible to meet the specific needs of particular groups. All this is to say nothing of groups who intersect. For example, we don’t have extensive institutional knowledge of disabled people of colour in Sheffield. It makes sense that such a group would have particular needs that would improve quality of life. But, if the data isn’t there, institutions won’t do anything.

Race report

Of course, the recent report from the Race Equality Commission brings up the connection between poverty and geographical racial segregation. The report uses data from 2013 to state that:

The Fairness Commission’s evidence used the Indices of Multiple Deprivation to demonstrate how areas in the South West of the city live in the least deprived 20% of the country, while over 30% of Sheffield’s population live in areas within 20% of the most deprived in the country. Those in the most deprived 20% are predominantly in the north and east of the city.

They then conclude that when a map from the census population of the city is overlaid against the map showing the poverty index, you can see:

patterns of social variation at play in Sheffield that cross ethnic populations and geography.

To put this plainly, the authors of the report are making a connection between a higher incidence of poverty and where people of colour can afford to live. Given that people of colour are much more likely to be poorer than white populations, it makes sense that we’re priced out of areas with better schools, healthcare options, and more varied shops. Class politics sit at the heart of this tangle, and impacts every aspect of quality of life.

Unfortunately, the race report’s analysis doesn’t make even the basic analysis above. This is precisely why people, myself included, have been unimpressed with the conclusions of the report. The report doesn’t put forward material solutions to these problems. Requesting a bar of anti-racism for organisations is running before they can walk; if communities of colour are punished for their poverty, and purposely kept disenfranchised, what’s the point of proclamations of anti-racism?

Building data alternatives

Data collection and data analysis do not meaningfully incorporate the lives and experiences of people of colour. Of course, this is a choice from both white institutions and researchers working with white values. When pieces of data are put together they find that Black and ethnic minority households in the UK are “over twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts.” Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are twice as likely to be in the bottom fifth of income than average. People of colour are disproportionately more likely to be affected by the housing crisis.

There are material needs which are not being met for communities of colour. Having a lack of data for us isn’t good enough as an excuse for why nothing is done. In fact, there are alternatives to white-oriented data analysis. Muslim Census is a community-led organisation which collects and presents data about and for British Muslims. The Institute of Race Relations has produced some work which collates data from other sources concerning communities of colour.

However, as is often the case with social inequality and injustice, until the biggest institutions can be convinced that the quality of life of people of colour matters, this isn’t going to change. Until then, we have a system that is functioning as it's supposed to by facilitating the most vulnerable in our society falling through the gaps.

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