How do you measure fairness?
This week we’re launching the Fairness Index.
Thanks for reading.
This week we’re launching the Fairness Index. It goes live on Tuesday morning at fairness.org.uk, and the online launch event is on Wednesday at 11am (sign up here), featuring Will Hutton, Richard Wilkinson, Torsten Bell, Ann Phoenix and me.
Next week’s Fair Comment will summarise the index’s content, but this week we look at some of the decisions we made during the design phase, when we were trying to work out how best to measure fairness.
Our other regular sections will be back in two weeks.
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How do you measure fairness?
Why an index is useful and necessary
This will help us to change the narrative around the overarching issues, to increase the level of support for policy changes that will help to build a fairer society and economy in the UK.
An index can also act as a credible analytical tool to help us and our partners to track progress or its absence (overall and on specific thematic issues or aspects such as public attitudes), and to communicate the key issues and ideas to a wider audience.
Focusing on inequalities and what makes them unfair
What we really want to do is to provide compelling evidence about how various inequalities in the UK are unfair, in ways that resonate with the public, media and politicians, to increase awareness, change narratives, and ultimately change policies. To quote the academic Ben Baumberg Geiger: “If people are to be convinced that there is unfairness that demands action, then we not only need to show inequities in life chances, but that these violate the threshold of what is acceptable. And it is this that most conventionally-presented statistical coefficients fail to do.”
The index highlights regional and economic inequalities, which are the most salient because they are the most obvious, but one of its core goals is to increase the salience of other inequalities (e.g. health or race) and causes of unfairness (e.g. poverty) by drawing attention to their existence, their severity and the extent to which they are unfair.
Another goal is to highlight where unequal outcomes are unfair because they are the result of unequal opportunities, and to tease out the nature and severity, the causes and the consequences of each type of unfairness, and of how they relate to one another.
The index includes the results of some recent polling that we carried out to discover whether seeing the facts about some of these inequalities changes people’s minds about whether we live in a fair society.
Structuring the index
The index focuses on the five fair necessities: fair opportunities, fair rewards, fair exchange, fair essentials and fair treatment.
For each of the five ‘fair necessities’, the index features three headline indicators that are produced by other organisations, and that allow us to assess the extent to which the ‘fair necessity’ in question has been achieved in the UK.
The headline indicators are chosen on the basis that they are relevant, robust, updated regularly, and (if possible) can be broken down by geography, socio-economic grouping, gender, race and disability.
The headline indicators are:
Wealth: Percentage of wealth held by the richest 20% and poorest 20%
Poverty: Percentage of people living in poverty
Living standards: Percentage of people unable to afford an acceptable standard of living
Secondary school: GCSE attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils
Higher education: Difference between percentage of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils who go to university
Graduate outcomes: Difference between percentage of disadvantaged and privately educated graduates becoming top earners
Executive pay: Pay gaps between CEOs and average employees
Equal pay: Gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps
Low pay: Percentage of employees paid less than the real Living Wage
Income tax: Difference between the effective average tax rates of top earners and median earners
Council tax: Difference between council tax bills as a percentage of net income for rich and poor
Tax enforcement: Difference between the enforcement of tax fraud and benefits fraud
Health outcomes: Healthy life expectancy gap between rich and poor
Housing quality: Percentage of homes that are classified as non-decent
Carbon emissions: Difference in per capita CO2 emissions between rich and poor
The qualitative section of the index look at the underlying issues in much more depth, drawing on the indicators and exploring the substance of the issues (including why the inequalities identified are unfair), real-life stories, survey data showing public attitudes, and practical solutions.
What it doesn’t do
The index does not involve any primary research (other than opinion polling). Instead, it is a work of synthesis that draws together a broad range of indicators that are not frequently seen in the same place, allowing for easy analysis by a range of demographic breakdowns as well as for comparisons over time.
The index does not ‘rank’ the UK alongside other countries (although it does provide international comparisons where available) and does not attempt to ‘score’ the extent to which the UK has achieved the five ‘fair necessities’. Instead, it uses the headline indicators (and a wider set of supporting indicators) to provide quantitative support for a series of qualitative arguments about the extent to which we live in a fair society.
The geographic coverage of the index is variable depending on the availability of data for each indicator and issue. To the extent that it is possible, the index covers the whole of the UK, but some indicators contain data for England only. Where regional breakdowns are included, they are normally at regional level only rather than local authority level.
The availability of detailed breakdowns for specific groups, including ethnic minorities, disabled people, and sometimes gender, is patchy. For example, sample sizes are often too small to be able to provide accurate data on specific ethnic minorities.
Several of our focus issues are not represented in the index’s headline indicators (justice, social security and democracy). We weren’t able to identify suitable headline indicators for these issues that were sufficiently robust and that adequately captured one of the ‘fair necessities’.
For many of the indicators, year-on-year changes are likely to be fairly small, but the index will probably focus its qualitative analysis in future years on those indicators that have changed the most, or are most noteworthy for other reasons.
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How fair is the UK? @fairnessfdn are launching the #fairnessindex on 19 October, a new online tool to explain the nature, causes and consequences of key inequalities in the UK. Sign up for the launch webinar at https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/6416630003903/WN_3pgwjYTqTCmxS_nfhE83fQ
How fair is the UK? @fairnessfdn have published the #fairnessindex, a new online tool to explain the nature, causes and consequences of key inequalities in the UK. Find out more at https://www.fairness.org.uk
Originally published at https://fairnessfoundation.com.