Bringing inequalities to light

The Race Disparity Audit is a Government commitment to publish evidence of ethnic inequalities in outcomes for users of Government services, such as education, health and justice. The Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) at The University of Manchester has been advising the Government on collecting, interpreting and displaying the data. Their ultimate aim is to improve outcomes for people who use the services. We spoke to Professor James Nazroo, Director of CoDE to find out more.

Stories: Can you tell us a bit about CoDE and its aims and objectives?

Professor James Nazroo: CoDE is an ESRC funded research centre. We are focused on the question of ethnic inequality and the ways in which ethnic inequalities have unfolded over time. We are trying to feed our understanding of the patterns and drivers of ethnic inequality into a policy discussion. With the ultimate aim of seeing a shift in outcomes.

S: When was CoDE founded?

JN: Our funding from the ESRC started in April 2013. However, we had been working together in one way or another for several years prior to that.

Professor James Nazroo

Professor James Nazroo

Professor of Sociology and Director at CoDE

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S: Can you tell us a bit more about the Race Disparity Audit?

JN: When Theresa May became Prime Minister she stated that social justice would be a focus of her Government. The Race Disparity Audit is something that has flowed directly from that. The focus is to display evidence on ethnic disparities (inequalities) in the outcomes from the activities of Government departments. Particularly, in education, employment, criminal justice and health. It is led by a group in the Cabinet Office and has recently published the evidence online in an easily accessible format.

S: Can you tell us about how and why CoDE contributed to the Race Disparity Audit?

JN: CoDE’s concern is with ethnic inequality, so it is not surprising that we were motivated to become involved and were invited to be involved. To date our central role has been advising on where data might be found to assess ethnic inequalities in relevant outcomes, not a straightforward thing to do. And then to advise on how the data might be displayed in accessible ways. Even more difficult is interpreting the findings, so our contribution now is mainly on this and on further developments to the online portal that displays the data.

Young woman with other young people in the background

CoDE is developing its work related to education and higher education.

S: What does CoDE’s contribution mean for the Centre and the wider University?

JN: One of the key agendas for CoDE is to achieve change. I made a claim when CoDE started that you never hear a Government minister say anything about ethnic inequality. Shortly before he stepped down as Prime Minister, David Cameron raised this issue and now we hear Theresa May talking about race disparity. In my view that’s great progress. For CoDE it means that we are able to influence policy more profoundly than we may have been able to do previously. In terms of a broader remit of changing the way people think about ethnic inequality, our data and understanding can have influence, and the Race Disparity Audit makes our evidence very visible. For the University as a whole, there is a gain from seeing our research having such an impact, our value to society is more convincingly shown. But also, and perhaps more contentiously, the Race Disparity Audit shows how some public institutions are failing to address such inequalities, including the university sector. This is in terms of employment practices but also in terms of educational outcomes. It is something that The University of Manchester should pay attention to.

S: Do the findings of the Government’s Race Disparity Audit echo the research produced by CoDE?

JN: The findings of the audit do echo the research that CoDE has done. The points of inequality that we have examined are echoed in the Race Disparity Audit. That provides an additional evidence base and it also provides an incentive to Government to think about what they are doing in these areas. The research that we do in CoDE goes beyond this description though, it is more fundamental than that. We set out to understand processes and mechanisms that lead to these inequalities. We want to be able to talk about causes and solutions to these longstanding problems. 

“The institutions that we are focusing on are those that shape people’s lives and beliefs, and that are motivated to do something different.”

S: What do you think is the key area in the audit that needs to be explored and tackled? And is CoDE doing anything in that area presently?

JN: I have two responses to this. In terms of the data that the Race Disparity Audit is revealing, education appears to be crucial. One of the things CoDE is doing is developing its work in relation to education and higher education. It is vital to examine the ways in which ethnic inequalities emerge in the educational system and how this relates to crucial stages in the life course where ethnic inequalities are established. But I think perhaps more important is what the Race Disparity Audit can’t tell us, and that’s more about how racism operates in our society. The Race Disparity Audit can see the products of racism, but it can’t tell us the mechanisms, so what we need to do is really focus on the processes of racism, how they operate.

S: What’s next for CoDE?

JN: The direction we are moving in relates to our intentions to try and achieve change. We have documented inequalities very thoroughly, we have documented how those have emerged over the last 40-50 years, and we’ve begun to understand the processes that are driving these inequalities. We intend to focus on key institutions within our society and how inequalities are generated within these institutions. Also, how institutional process and practices might be adapted to produce better outcomes. The reason for doing this is that if we can get institutions to operate differently, then outcomes for ethnic minorities can change quite dramatically, we can achieve change.

The institutions that we are focusing on are those that shape people’s lives and beliefs, and that is motivated to do something different. So institutions relating to health, to higher education, to politics and political participation, and those relating to culture and the construction of cultural products. All of these institutions are ones where inequality becomes reinforced by current practice. But they are also ones that are very interested in changing and making a difference.