Ebony Riddell Bamber, Research and Impact Director, shares her thoughts from our September thought leadership seminar with the Research Network Advisory Group.
Research is essential to our shared objectives of promoting equality and human rights, both in terms of enabling evidence-based policy-making and effective strategic communications. We brought together some members of our Research Network to assess the current landscape, what our direction of travel should be, and which obstacles we might need to tackle on the way.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the juggernaut that is Brexit, and what it could mean for human rights and equality, dominated discussions. The EU Withdrawal Bill had just passed its second reading in parliament (followed by a mad dash to table amendments). Here at EDF, we’ll be supporting amendments put forward by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which align with our own policy position on the Bill.
“Human rights need to made relevant to people in their everyday lives”
Professor Andrew Sanders from the University of Sussex gave us a framework in which to discuss challenges to our human rights and equality protections. How do we overcome the reality that human rights are not valued or respected by many of us? Increasing the social value which all parts of our community attribute to human rights will surely help our cause. Harnessing human rights to promote social justice is key, and there is a wealth of research already out there that can support this process.
Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard, of the EDF board and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, highlighted that re-framing human rights and social justice issues is a topical issue for many NGOs and think-tanks. Reaching beyond our existing audiences to engage on issues such as poverty, racism, migration and economic inequality is something that all charities involved in social change need to be concerned with.
At the EDF we know only too well that you need to take as much care in approaching how to communicate research, as you do in generating it. Of all the issues discussed at our meeting, this kept on coming up – how can we make sure our research lands with our key audiences in a way that supports our goals?
Austerity – the Elephant in the Room
Professor Jonathan Portes highlighted how Brexit has changed the landscape, and shifted the focus from austerity to Brexit. The impact of this will be profound. In relation to the labour market – which has undergone significant shifts over time a particularly the past seven years – he highlighted the opportunity to define what we wanted post-Brexit. For example, in relation to modern forms of employment (which were the focus of the Matthew Taylor Review), and what the potential impact of less EU nationals in the workforce will be. The possibility of a bonfire of labour market regulations was not considered to be where the government was headed. We sincerely hope that this is the case.
In relation to public services and spending, Brexit was seen as an opportunity to help shape new choices, such as in relation to numbers and delivery mechanisms for supporting those that need it, access to higher education and the regulation of drugs for instance. The significant legal and resource implications for creating a new class of citizens – EU nationals – was highlighted, as well as ways in which the system is currently failing to recognise those entitled to recognition.
Hate Crime – Increasing Knowledge and Partnerships
Dr Mark Walters from the University of Sussex shared his take on the opportunities and barriers to tackling hate crime. He will soon be able to share evidence that the anecdotal spikes in hate crime following the June 2016 referendum are borne out by police data on sanctions applied during this period. We look forward to receiving and sharing this research with our networks.
Opportunities are the increased expertise and knowledge about hate crime due to the rise in practitioners and officers across the public and third sector, the greater availability and accessibility of academic research, and heightened media attention. On the flip-side, the part-privatisation of the justice system (which has created barriers to sharing information), high-profile public denials that hate crime has increased and is a problem, and the appallingly low conviction rate for disability hate crime are continuing obstacles to progress. In relation to the latter, he mentioned he would soon be sharing proposals in relation to how the criminal justice system should respond to this.
Dr Gwen Oliver, Head of Research at the Equality and Human Rights Commission shared the strategic priority areas for the EHRC and highlighted their forthcoming State of the Nation review, which will be supported by their Measurement Framework, which contains a range of indicators to measure progress on equality and human rights across various “domains” or areas of life. There are likely to be opportunities in the coming months for Research Network academics to feed in regarding data or evidence gaps, and for NGO members to continue involvement in stakeholder discussions. We will be in touch soon to follow up on this.
Clearly, there is a lot to focus our minds on at present as we count down to EU exit in 2019, which is overwhelming. In this context, it is critical that we continue to ground our policy work and public communications in a positive vision for a high standards UK. Setting this out effectively will depend on our ability to utilise and translate research about the benefits of equality and human rights to new audiences.
Please watch this space for more info on how to support the EHRC amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill and ensure that our hard-won human rights aren’t taken away at the stroke of a pen.