Discover more from Fair Comment
Could What Works work for inequalities?
Political leaders might be more willing to take action on inequalities if they better understood the consequences of inequalities and which interventions are most effective. What can be done?
What do we know about inequalities in the UK?
There’s no shortage of evidence of the scale and severity of various forms of inequality in Britain. Take, for example, last week’s shocking news that black babies in England are now three times more likely to die than white babies. Last year the IFS published a wide-ranging review of inequality.
We also have plenty of evidence that inequalities in Britain have, in large part, come about due to unfairness - an absence of opportunity, of people’s basic needs being met, of people being fairly rewarded for their work, and so on.
And we know that the public are justifiably exercised about this state of affairs, with plenty of polling to show that a huge majority of Britons are concerned about inequalities and support bold action to tackle them.
What don’t we know?
We have some understanding of the negative consequences of inequalities, but we need to develop the evidence base at the same time as communicating more effectively to decision-makers about how inequalities, for example, undermine economic growth (as well as making it less inclusive and sustainable), and jeopardise the health of our society and democracy.
There is a shortage of robust evidence about the effectiveness of interventions to tackle inequalities, in part because the problems and the potential solutions are enormously complex and systemic (see below).
We also need to better understand the political levers to effect change - how can we persuade politicians to take action? We can’t assume that more and better-communicated evidence by itself will help, when we know that other barriers to action are important (such as fear of voters’ reaction, and fiscal rules). But more evidence about how to achieve policy change on complex structural issues might help us to be more strategic and systematic in tackling these barriers together.
What can we do about it?
In the last decade or so, a number of What Works Centres have been set up, with support from government, to collate, create and translate evidence about the effectiveness of policies in a range of fields, from homelessness and education to wellbeing and policing. Do we need a What Works Centre for inequalities, to fill some of the evidence gaps outlined above?
The Policy Institute at King’s College London have argued in a report (and, more recently, a book) that, because inequality is cross-cutting, it should be a focus for many if not all existing What Works Centres, and that a better approach than setting up a new centre (and creating a new silo) would be to set up one or more initiatives that work across the What Works movement (and beyond) to encourage and enable the creation and dissemination of more and better evidence on the effectiveness of various policy solutions to inequality.
Any such initiative would need to ensure that it avoided the traps of focusing on what is easy to measure rather than what needs to be measured, of looking at interventions that tackle symptoms rather than causes as a result, and of setting an unrealistically high bar around standards of evidence. But there is a genuine need for more work in this area, and a real opportunity to drive change by collating, catalysing and communicating evidence of the potential impact of policy solutions to inequalities, perhaps alongside evidence of the causes and consequences of those inequalities, and of public attitudes to both the problems and the solutions.
What do you think? Could such an initiative make a difference? If so, what might it aim to do and how could it set about achieving those aims? Please share your thoughts by replying to this email or commenting on the post. Thank you!
Fairness Foundation news
A quick reminder of two upcoming webinars: Tackling inequality through responsible business practice by our partners at the Structural Inequalities Alliance and the Good Business Charter (21 Nov, 1pm to 2pm), and The Spirit Level revisited with Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (28 Nov, 1pm to 2pm).
We’ll be publishing some new polling on attitudes to health inequalities this Friday; I’ll be writing about it in next Monday’s Fair Comment.
There’s a new two minute guide to fairness on our website.