24th Mar 2021

Today we publish a suite of Vital Signs reports on diversity, equity and inclusion. They examine the experience of five groups whose contribution to the vibrancy of our region is often inhibited by deep-seated inequalities: women; people with learning disabilities; Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Our reports set out the facts of inequality in our region, alongside the testimony of people affected by them. They identify a range of serious issues, with many problems exacerbated by the pandemic,  or highlighted by recent high-profile events. For example:

  • the issue of violence against women has been thrown into the limelight by the case of Sarah Everard, a Durham University graduate. Our report on the experience of women draws attention to the appalling levels of sexual violence and domestic abuse within our region. It stresses the importance of supporting charities that give direct help to victims, and which speak out to prevent the problem from becoming “hidden”;

  • the high death-rate within Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, only partially explicable by the prevalence of  COVID-19, has been the focus of much debate over the past year. Its underlying causes remain the subject of research. However, for many it is seen as an extreme manifestation of long-standing racial health inequalities. Higher rates of economic deprivation, and poor access to services, within these communities have certainly played their part. Our report accounts for these problems, and finds a strong will within communities to address them here in the North East, reflected in a growing Black- and Asian-community-led voluntary sector that could benefit from greater philanthropic support;

  • it has been established that young people have been particularly affected by the pandemic due to a range of issues including educational disruption, increased unemployment and increased pressure within families. Our report on the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities suggests that its young people face a “double disadvantage”, being already at greater risk of difficulties such as mental ill-health, abuse, exploitation and homelessness. Our report draws attention to the key role of support from within these communities, and stresses the need to redress a loss of funding in recent years; 

  • discrimination against people with disabilities one of those quoted in our report on learning disabled people, to suggest that “our lives are not valued the same as yours”. It is hard to disagree given the very high COVID-19 mortality amongst learning disabled people, and with reports emerging about the inappropriate use of do not resuscitate orders. The importance of work by charities and disability networks to ensure that basic rights are met in relation to the provision of health and social care was flagged in our report on the experience of physically disabled people. As one interviewee put it “if we don’t make a noise then we just get ignored”.

When we awarded the tender for this research to Cullagh Warnock, and Dr Chris Hartworth of Hullabaloo Research, we knew that they would face massive challenges in capturing all aspects of communities’ experience. COVID-19 added to their difficulties, limiting the research that could be undertaken, and delaying publication by several months. We think they have done a great job within these limitations, providing a good starting point for a conversation about the role of philanthropy in making the North East a fairer place to live.  The debate may well touch on other communities’ experience of inequality - such as those of people with mental health problems, religious minorities or older people – and it should be shaped by the active involvement of those with lived experience.

As ever, Vital Signs attempts to provide a starting point for a discussion of the issues, rather than the final word on them. If you want to discuss anything in the reports or have any feedback please contact Mark Pierce, Associate Director of Knowledge and Research.  

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