Empty-chairing people with disabilities

People living with disabilities in the UK have suffered an excessive burden from the spending cuts; have been further excluded by the decision not to compile statistics on the impact of those cuts; and now, as the election looms, find a refusal to recognise them politically.

[For what it’s worth: these are problems that cut across all political parties, and I’d much rather not be writing this about any in particular; but the behaviour of the coalition government has been extreme.]

CWR disabled cutsThe data we have show a very considerable excess burden of cuts on people living with disability – the Centre for Welfare Reform, for example, find that people with disabilities lose an average of £4,410, or nine times the burden on most citizens; while people with severe disabilities lose £8,832, 19 times the burden of others.

That these statistics are generated by an independent organisation tells its own story. The WOW Petition managed to achieve the necessary 100,000 signatures to be granted a parliamentary debate on the need for a ‘cumulative impact assessment’ (CIA) of the cuts to support for people with disabilities and carers.

They even won. But no assessment has been forthcoming, due to the government’s claim – apparently erroneous, it transpires – that the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies had said a CIA would be too difficult.

With the general election looming, the Learning Disability Alliance (England) set up a citizens’ jury to assess the related policies of each major political party. The results are what they are – but the striking feature of the jury was that the main party of government refused to take part, despite repeated personal invitations.

LDA party rankOne last piece of information on what looks very much like the deliberate uncounting of people living with disabilities in the UK: this threat from the main department responsible for benefits, the DWP, to withdraw cooperation from one of the main disability-focused news services.

Simon Duffy writes that the community of people with learning disabilities, their families, friends and carers may number as many as 5 million – more than enough to swing multiple seats. The evidence on cuts suggests a political calculation that this won’t happen.

 

Immigrant life and death in Europe, uncounted

Just as immigrants to Europe are often undocumented, so too their deaths. The UK’s Institute of Race Relations has published a study looking at the known cases in recent years, and it makes for terrible reading from the title onwards: ‘Unwanted, unnoticed: An audit of 160 asylum and immigration-related deaths in Europe’.

Aside from the typically harrowing detail of each case, the study puts together an overview of the main patterns.

How can people be uncounted up to the point, even, of their death? Out of 160 cases, not even the cause of death is known for 32 people. Not. Even. For 43 people, even the basic information of nationality remains unknown.

Table 2 shows the main factors where these are known.

IRR uncounted migrant death 2015 tab2

These findings aren’t only important because, well, people died. As the authors put it:

If there is no publicly accessible record of deaths, how can states be held accountable?

The report calls to mind the CIPOLD review in the UK: the Confidential Inquiry into the premature deaths of people with learning disabilities. Through tracing individual stories of lives and deaths, the study created a set of baseline results that remain the best we have – including:

  • men with learning disabilities die, on average, 13 years younger than men in the general population; and
  • women with learning disabilities die, on average, 20 years younger than women in the general population. (Intersecting inequalities, anyone?)

These differences are not, to be clear, just a direct result of learning disabilities. They reflect society’s treatment of people who live with learning disabilities. The report finds, for example, that 37% of deaths would have been potentially avoidable if good quality healthcare had been provided (and see Chris Hatton’s powerful comment on discrimination by health specialists).

There’s an earlier post here on how the problem of being uncounted with learning disabilities hasn’t been addressed in the UK since CIPOLD, and despite various high-profile scandals.

Not always, but often, an important part of not counting is not caring. And all the more so when the uncounted is a particular group. The phenomenon of Uncounted is not a technical one, but a profoundly political one.

Back to migrants in Europe. Uncounted, from beginning:

IRR uncounted migrant death 2015 tab1To end:

IRR uncounted migrant death 2015 tab3

Link to the full study.

Transgender Reporting and Human Rights

I’m delighted to host this guest post from Fran Luke, full-time parent, un- and underemployed musician and teacher.

“Ignorance is the parent of fear.” Moby Dick, Herman Melville     

I am not a subject matter expert.  I do not pretend to be, nor have I ever had any intention of becoming one.  I would much prefer to be playing with my children, writing music, improving and performing on my instruments, or even working at a job that allows me to adequately care for my family.  That said, I have located and read as much reporting as I can find regarding Transgender Human Rights issues, globally.  I’ve read a good many other reports, as well, but this is personal.

After being advised by a member of an NGO advocating, I guess, for people ‘like me’ that the ‘time was not yet right’ to pursue Trans* rights at the UN level, I felt the need to learn more.

When our leadership spends more time speaking about the tie or dress they wore to a White House function, or how great it is our Trans* children can now die in endless war, it’s time to look elsewhere.

The argument for which group is the most marginalized should never be entered into.  It is pointless.  It’s always an issue of class and perceived degrees of humanity.

Transgender reporting

With regard to documentation, who is included or not, and policy, I’ll start with the UN.  It’s my understanding population data is provided at the national level.  This from a brief discussion with Anne-B Albrectsen at UNFPA, “We work to make sure that all countries disaggregate data as much as possible. Nationally owned data is best”.

Can data collected at the national level, perhaps the easiest way to get data into the system, accurately reflect conditions of marginalized sectors?  Would it not often be the policies of those in power that keep marginalized communities where they are?  The issues of the Rohingya and question of citizenship come first to mind.

There is not a great deal of reporting on the issues of Transgender human rights, but there is some.  Rather than begin by referencing reports from LGBTI advocacy organizations, I thought it more appropriate to start with recommendations and reports from agencies within the UN.

UN-counted?

After being treated at times like an uncomfortable joke at some UN initiatives that invited civil society discourse, I thought I’d start with their own recommendations.  These recommendations never seem to make it to the mainstream discussions of Human Rights, or the General Assembly for that matter.

Here is a list of recommendations from the 2013 UNDP Discussion Paper, ‘Transgender Health and Human Rights’:

undp dec2013 trans rights recs

Some of the recommendations from the 2012 UNDP report ‘Transgender Persons, Human Rights and HIV vulnerability in Asia and the Pacific’ include; having Trans* people as research partners, documenting and understanding Trans* vulnerability, promoting transgender rights and culture, making equality legislation work better.

The first of eleven recommendations relates directly to counting:

undp dec2012 hiv trans rec1

UNDP’s 2010 Issues Brief, ‘Hijras/Transgender Women in India: HIV, Human Rights and Social Exclusion’, includes the following recommendations:

undp 2010 hijras recs5-8

Finally, these are the concluding thoughts from the UN-Women briefing paper, ‘The Transgender Question in India; Policy and Budgetary Priorities’:

unwomen trans india conc

Where next?

One question to consider is why this type of analysis has failed to penetrate more deeply into UN and national-level policy discussions.

Another is whether there are risks from being counted – whether invisibility does not sometimes provide a type of protection.   The discussion, and struggle for the realization of Universal Human Rights for any segment of society can never be put off for political expedience.  If the goal is truly a crosscutting, transformative human rights agenda, then we must start by recognizing our shared humanity.  The cost of silence is, and has been far too great.

Night is Another Country - culture of silence

[From The Night is Another Country,  RedLac Trans and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.]

We know some information at least is there, provided as shown in these instances by the agencies or organizations that do not appear to bring it into the mainstream.  So, who does the counting and decides what to count?  I’ll end here with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: 

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

 

Selected Resources

Links

Uncounted: People with learning disabilities in the UK

It’s possible that there is no more excluded and marginalised group worldwide than people with learning disabilities. There are certainly much more harshly and deliberately victimised groups in many places – but for a single group, neglected to the point of rights abuse on a global basis…?

It’s probably not useful to speculate about this anyway, and certainly not to set up any group against any other (and in no way is this speculation intended to downplay other global dimensions of exclusion such as gender and caste).

But here’s the point of thinking about it. If you wouldn’t immediately dismiss the suggestion as ludicrous, then it’s worth thinking about two things:

  • Why it might be that the underlying conditions to accept such a pattern of rights abuse might exist, systematically, across all sorts of societies with all sorts of histories and at all sorts of per capita income levels; and
  • Whether the exclusion of people with learning disabilities globally has anything like the level of public awareness, attention, or outrage, that it should.

Needless to say, if you buy the premise at all, then these two points have a common causality: the simple lack of importance given to the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Uncounting in the UK

This blog, if it’s about anything, is about the way that the marginalisation of some groups at least is exacerbated by being uncounted. Uncounted, so denied a full role in the statistics upon which policy decisions are made; and in the data which forms the base for political accountability.

Consider one of the world’s richest countries, and one with a long and proud history of universal (universal) health provision: the UK.

Here’s a little context from the last major study:

  • On average, men with a learning disability died 13 years earlier and women with a learning disability died 20 years earlier than the general population.
  • 37% of deaths would have been potentially avoidable if good quality healthcare had been provided.

Periodically, the exposure of a particularly terrible case of abuse results in commitments to progress. The major recent example is the BBC’s exposure in 2011 of systematic abuse at the Winterbourne View hospital.

Aside from specific legal consequences, this triggered the ‘Concordat’ – “a programme of action to transform services for people with learning disabilities or autism and mental health conditions or behaviours described as challenging”, signed up to by everyone from the Department of Health and Local Government Organisation, to the Care Quality Commission watchdog and major NGOs in the sector such as Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation. A particular aim was to move everyone who could live in the community – expected to be the vast majority – out of such institutions, with widespread closures expected.

A major component of the Concordat commitments was to better counting. Specifically, the Department of Health committed to:

Winterbourne View Concordat counting commitment Dec2012

Within getting into details, these commitments were both welcome in themselves, and indicative of the failure to count to that point.

Lack of progress report

More than two years since the Concordat – and getting on for four years since the motivating scandal broke – what progress has been made?

Earlier this month the National Audit Office published an important report on just this question, examining “the challenge faced in delivering key commitments in the Winterbourne View Concordat, the extent to which these have been achieved, and the barriers to transforming care services for people with learning disabilities.”

There has been a more or less complete failure to achieve the main objective of allowing people to move out of Winterbourne View-type settings and back into real lives, and/or not to enter such settings in the first place. To do what the Concordat aimed for:

a rapid reduction in hospital placements for this group of people by 1 June 2014. People should not live in hospital for long periods of time. Hospitals are not homes.

As the report notes, in 2012 data was a fundamental barrier to progress. Despite some important advances, the findings on the present position are damning.

NHS England lacks adequate and reliable data to monitor progress. In 70% of the 281 case files we reviewed at visits to 4 hospitals, there was at least one error in the June 2014 quarterly census data submitted to NHS England. Official data for our cohort of 281 patients showed an average stay of 3 years and 10 months. The actual length of stay was 4 years and 3 months in their current hospital.

Available statistics are not accurate either about the numbers of people in institutions, nor about even the most basic features of their experience.

This is a repeat, not a typo:

Available statistics are not accurate either about the numbers of people in institutions, nor about even the most basic features of their experience.

It’s difficult not to think that we (still) don’t bother counting, because we (still) don’t care enough to do it right.

A changing landscape?

I can see one reason to be cheerful. Sad to say, it doesn’t come from the big NGOs who are part of the Concordat. Their reaction to the NAO report didn’t seem to include taking any responsibility for its abject failure thus far, nor any suggestion of how their call for change this time would deliver any more progress than all the previous ones. (There’s a whole separate piece to be written about the ability to hold governments accountable of large NGOs with an existential dependence on public funding for service provision.)Connor

No, if there’s a bright spot here, it comes from a quite different direction. The Justice for LB campaign, coming out of the completely unnecessary death of 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk in ‘care’, has developed into a grassroots movement of people living with disabilities and their families. [Full disclosure: Connor lived across the road and I love these guys.]

Justice for LB responded to the NAO audit of the Winterbourne Concordat with their own self-audit, which is (surprisingly!) a thing of beauty, anger and hope. The potential for the ‘LB Bill’ to make it into parliament after the general election is real, and exciting.

Perhaps the best way to stop being uncounted is to demand it yourself – but of course if it were that easy, nobody who wanted to be included would be left out in the first place. Uncounted is a political phenomenon, and Justice for LB is a most welcome, and deeply political response

Legal risks and unwritten research

How cautious should advocacy organisations be about legal risks? And how much important work goes undone, or the results unreported, because the threat of legal action could be existential for the organisation?

Earlier at the (virtual) office we were discussing the importance of considering legal risks in relation to some specific pieces of work, and to some upcoming possibilities. Without getting into the detail, all have the potential to involve individuals, multinationals or major accounting firms that might be quite happy to sue over perceived reputational damage.

What does the law say?

One solution, of sorts, is to be right: don’t make mistakes, and you ought to be covered. The Defamation Act identifies a range of defences, including truth but also ‘honest opinion’ (even if untrue), and ‘public interest’.

The recent ‘serious harm’ condition also acts to limit the scope for action:

(1) A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

(2) For the purposes of this section, harm to the reputation of a body that trades for profit is not “serious harm” unless it has caused or is likely to cause the body serious financial loss.

On balance, at least for me as a non-lawyer, it’s still easy to feel that there’s enough room for you to end up in court for saying reasonable things, with reasonable evidence.

What goes uncounted?

Needless to say, the things that will be left unresearched or unpublished, because of the chilling effect are not going to be random – they will tend to relate to powerful individuals and organisations. (Not entirely unrelatedly, presumably only the biggest advertisers can expect to see the type of rose-tinted coverage that Peter Oborne claims that HSBC enjoyed from the Telegraph.)

I suspect everyone who works in this broad area of work can come up with examples like these:

  • a colleague who has been sued (in one case, who lost for a careless, somewhat important word);
  • a major piece of research that never saw the light of day (I’m thinking of a case involving commodity pricing between a major resource-rich African country, and a small Northern European country, where it was felt the risk of being sued by a particular entity – even although it was not planned to identify it directly – was too high to risk); and
  • any number of pieces of work that were abandoned in the planning stage – so the questions were never asked – because of likely risks of trying to publish any answer obtained.

Not to mention Global Witness and Beny Steinmetz

What’s the answer? (May not contain answers)

So, I complained to twitter….

…and the twitterbrain provided a selection of answers. 

  1. Use (pro bono?) lawyers.
  2. Get sued, but have (really, really) wealthy backers.
  3. Get sued, but crowdfund a defence fund.
  4. Get sued, but have pro bono lawyers on hand.
  5. Get sued, but set up some kind of offshore structure to undertake/publish the research so it doesn’t threaten the main organisation.

I don’t much like any of the ones that start with ‘Get sued’. And lawyers are expensive. So it looks like a case of looking for ways into pro bono assistance where possible, and building in costs where necessary in funding proposals.  And, probably, just not doing some stuff that we might like to. Bah. 

Any further ideas (or offers of help, e.g. 2 above) would be most welcome. 

#SwissLeaks – Tax transparency for accountability

hsbcleakMuch of the #SwissLeaks data has been in the hands of tax authorities for 5 years. Many of the questions raised relate to individuals and to particular regulators and governments – but there’s also a broader question that goes to the type of solutions that will address the broader loss of trust in tax authorities’ effectiveness and independence. Clear policy changes are needed to recover trust and accountability.

Last night the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and a host of international media organisations from Le Monde and The Indian Express to the BBC and CBS, broke publicly a leak of documents from HSBC’s Swiss bank, dating to 2005-2007. TJN provides a little historical context here, while Richard Murphy poses some highly pertinent questions. Oh, and TJN’s Jack Blum gave a cracking interview to 60 Minutes.

The broader lesson

If there’s a broader lesson here – and there is! – it’s that providing data privately to tax authorities is insufficient. The leaked data provided privately to (mainly European) governments in or around 2010 simply failed, in different ways, to deliver accountable and effective taxation.

  • Exhibit I: UK. Since receiving details of more than 1,000 cases in 2010, the UK has undertaken 1 (one) prosecution. The coalition government that came to power in 2010 also negotiated a very bad agreement with Switzerland that TJN had shown beforehand would not only protect tax evaders from transparency and prosecution but would also fail to bring in anything like the claimed sum of revenue. In addition, the government appointed as a Lord and trade minister Stephen Green, who had been the chief executive and then chairman of HSBC during the entire period.
  • Exhibit II: Greece. Somewhat further down the road of accountability is Greece, where the then minister of finance is now facing charges of “attempted breach of trust at the expense of the state and improperly interfering with a document”, for alleged actions relating to the loss of the list received from France, and the possible removal of relatives’ names.
  • Exhibit III: India. As of last month, The Indian Express reports that 15 people were facing prosecution out of more than 600 names provided by France in 2011. Today, they have published data from #SwissLeaks relating to 1195 names.
  • Exhibit IV: USA. Here the questions relate, once more, to what action exactly followed from the 2010 receipt of leaked data from France – and whether HSBC should have been allowed to maintain its banking licence. As The Guardian notes, no reference to the case features in the HSBC settlement of nearly $2bn relating to sanctions-busting activities.
  • Exhibits V and VI: Denmark and Norway. With thanks to @FairSkat and @SigridKJacobsen respectively, both of these countries with a relatively strong reputation for fair taxation did the ‘inexplicable’ and chose not to request the data from France. In the wake of the #SwissLeaks story, both now seem likely to.

Without confidence in fair and accountable taxation, governments risk the erosion not only of wider tax compliance, but of state-citizen relations and so of effective democracy (see e.g. recent behavioural and cross-country studies on the important role of tax).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that individual taxpayer data should be in the public domain. While some countries go to this length, many consider it a serious violation of privacy.

What sort of transparency is needed for accountable taxation? 

How can governments (re)build trust that the rich and powerful – not to mention the criminal – will not simply go uncounted behind closed doors?

Here’s a suggestion – comments welcome:

  1. Publish data on the aggregate bank holdings in other jurisdictions of residents, as declared by the banks and through automatic information exchange between jurisdictions (in effect, the national components of the locational banking data collected but not published by the Bank for International Settlements, which was called out by the Mbeki panel and African Union last week);
  2. Publish data on the equivalent, as reported by taxpayers;
  3. Publish regular updates on the status towards resolution of any discrepancy, e.g. “three cases accounting for 27% of last year’s discrepancy are now being prosecuted; investigations continue into 154 cases which account for a further 68%; while further work is underway to determine the nature of the remainder of the discrepancy (5%).” Addendum: @AislingTax points out quite rightly that I need another category here: the ‘gap’ which is not a gap, but rather relates to other features of the tax system such as non-doms in the UK.

A parallel case is that of the watering down of proposals for country-by-country reporting by multinational companies. Publication is necessary so that companies are held to account for abuses, but also so that tax authorities (and governments) are held to account for fair and effective taxation.

Private provision of this data to tax authorities may allow them to tax companies more effectively, but does nothing to demonstrate to citizens if such an opportunity is actually taken. Much of the #Luxleaks data was available to tax authorities, in theory or in practice, but only publication has led to a policy response.

As I twoth last night, the lesson of #SwissLeaks is that accountability demands public transparency.

 

Mbeki panel showcases new risk-based illicit flows approach

We’ve already blogged at TJN about the Mbeki panel’s historic report on illicit financial flows (IFF) out of Africa. Here I want to pull out a particular aspect, a new approach to IFF which is pioneered in the report.

All IFF approaches to date have focused on estimating the actual scale of flows, in currency terms, on the basis of anomalies in data on cross-borders flows and/or stocks. This raises (at least) two inevitable problems. First, the data are imperfect – and hence anomaly-based estimation may confuse bad data on ‘good’ behaviour with good data showing ‘bad’ behaviour. Second, the behaviour in question is, by definition, likely to be hidden – so it may be unrealistic at some higher level to expect public data to provide a good measure.

Intuition for a risk-based approach

The alternative, or complementary approach, is to pursue a risk-based analysis. Because of the behaviours involved, whether IFF are strictly legal or not, they contain some element of social unacceptability that means the actors involved will prefer to hide the process. For that reason, the risk of IFF will be higher – all else being equal – in transactions and relationships that are more financially opaque.

That will mean, for example, that the chances of uncovering IFF will be higher in anonymous shell companies than in companies with complete transparency of accounts and beneficial owners. Not all anonymous shell companies will be used for IFF, but the risk is higher. Similarly, at a macroeconomic level (at which level much data tends to only be available, unfortunately), trading with a relatively financially secretive jurisdiction such as Switzerland will be characterised by a higher IFF risk than trading with a relatively financially transparent jurisdiction such as Denmark.

Scoring financial secrecy

At present, the most common measure of financial secrecy is the Financial Secrecy Index (FSI), published every two years by the Tax Justice Network, and now used widely—for example, as a component of the Basle Anti-Money Laundering Index and of CGD’s Commitment to Development Index, and as a risk assessment tool recommended in the OECD Bribery and Corruption Awareness Handbook for Tax Examiners and Tax Auditors.

The secrecy score on which the FSI is based reflects 49 measures, grouped to form 15 indicators, which capture a range of aspects of financial secrecy from transparency of beneficial ownership and accounts, through international juridical cooperation. The secrecy score ranges in theory from zero (perfect financial transparency) to 100 per cent (perfect financial secrecy); in practice no jurisdiction has scored less than 30 per cent.

Calculating IFF risk measures

Consider an illustration, involving one country’s exports – say Ghana. For each trading partner, we combine its share of Ghana’s exports with its secrecy score (which ranges from zero to 100). The results can be summed to give an overall level of secrecy for all of Ghana’s exports, and this score reflects Ghana’s vulnerability to IFFs in its exports (the flow-weighted average financial secrecy of all partners). If we multiply this vulnerability score by the ratio of Ghana’s exports to GDP, we obtain a measure of the country’s exposure to IFF risk, which can then be compared across other stocks or flows.

A vulnerability of 50, for exports equal to 10 per cent of GDP, would give an exposure of 5 per cent. This is equivalent to Ghana carrying out 5 per cent of its exports with a pure secrecy jurisdiction (that is, one scoring 100 out of 100), while all other exports go to completely transparent trading partners. The exposure can then be thought of as Ghana’s pure secrecy-equivalent economic activity, as a ratio to its GDP. (Note: Where no secrecy score is available we apply the lowest observed score of 33. This will bias scores downward, though much less so than assuming a zero score.)

IFF risk calculation

This measure of intensity of exposure to IFF risk can then be compared (given data), across time, countries and stock or flow types (with some important caveats). Table AIV.4 from the Mbeki panel report provides an indication of the overall intensity of exposure across African countries (excluding the major conduit jurisdictions).

Further detail can be found in Annex IV of the Mbeki panel report, while Alice Lépissier and I are working on a full paper to follow. Comments on the approach are very welcome indeed.

IFF risk intensity

$17 trillion: ActionAid counting the gender (employment) gap

AAid gender employment fig1

Here are four big bullets from ActionAid UK’s new report, ‘Close the gap!’:

  • Women earn 15% less than men on average. If women’s wage were raised to the level of men’s wages in all developing countries, with all else held equal, women would earn $2 trillion more.
  • Women’s participation is 37% lower than men’s. Raising women’s participation to equal that of men, all else held equal, would see women earn $6 trillion more.
  • Addressing both the wage gap and participation gap simultaneously in this way would see women earn $9 trillion more.
  • Extending the analysis to rich countries generates a global total gap of nearly $17 trillion.

Congratulations are due – it’s an enormously important issue and these are striking findings, so I hope it gets serious attention. [Disclosure: I commented on an early draft of the quantitative analysis.]

How good are the numbers? (Uncounting ahoy)

The methodology is fairly straightforward, and clearly set out in the report. If there’s a weakness, and there is, it’s in the data. ActionAid are commendably straightforward about this too:

Pay gaps and ratio of male to average wage taken from ILO data. There are many missing values. We fill the pay gaps using regional medians…

Inevitably given the extent of missing values, some of the extrapolations of pay gaps verge on the heroic. I’d judge the methodology to be reasonable in the data context, but make no mistake – the data context is shocking. Meanwhile,

Labour share data are taken from a [2012] working paper

I’ve no reason at all to doubt the quality of these data, but how can it be that there is no better source than these multi-year averages calculated by a single IDPM researcher a couple of years ago? The report quite rightly highlights the gender implications of the failure to count unpaid work, and to this can be added the pretty desperate state of counting of paid work.

Normally I would insert some blather here about post-2015 and reasons to be cheerful, but ba’ hairs I’m having a bad day. Talk to me about the data revolution when you’ve decided who’ll be first up against the wall. It seems we’re really talking about incremental data reforms. Either way, serious improvements in gender disaggregation are urgently needed.

Some progress will certainly come via the Sustainable Development Goals, but let’s not kid ourselves. The Open Working Group SDG proposal includes:

8.5 by 2030 achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value

That should do it, right? Maybe. Remember the current failure of counting is the end-product of 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals – which included this more prominent target:

Target 1.B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

Still, I suppose the MDGs didn’t include a data revolution so this time is bound to be different. Right?

Three points of caution

  • Presentation. One issue to mention is the possibility that the number take a life of its own, as these numbers can, and ends up being presented as the cost of sex discrimination in employment. It’s not this – because there’s no reason to think that $17 trillion of extra employment will suddenly come into being if the world was fairer, so a good part of this would likely come instead from reduced male employment earnings. The $17 trillion reflects the estimated scale, in currency terms, of the sex gap in employment in developing countries.
  • Economics above the rest? While it makes sense in advocacy terms to go for a big number (that may be why you’re reading this post, for example), it’s unfortunate if it adds to the sense that only economic arguments matter. As the report makes clear elsewhere (in the bits that won’t make any headlines), the deeper dignity and empowerment dimensions are much more important and complex.
  • Inequality reinforced? A related point is that the nature of the calculation reinforces a different aspect of inequality. Consider two economies of the same size with the same gender participation gap but where the average wage in one is twice as big as in the other. The methodology will value the gap in the first as also being twice as big as the other. Now that seems unhelpful, on the face of it, if we would broadly think that the two economies and their respective gaps are of equal importance. In fact, we might think that the gap in the lower-income country is more important, since it is more likely to imply poverty for those on the wrong end.

To give a sense of how important this potential problem is within the overall calculation, compare the developing country and advanced country totals. In particular, note that the wage gap in rich countries is nearly twice that in developing countries. We certainly shouldn’t downplay the sale of the problem in rich countries, and I’m glad ActionAid have made the analysis global rather than giving the impression it’s only a developing world problem. But at the same time, measuring in dollar terms may overstate the relative importance of the problem in high-income settings; when the human costs in lower-income contexts may be equal or greater.

AAid gender employment table1

Welcome to Uncounted

Film trailer voiceover voice:

Imagine a world of such structural inequality that even the questions of who and what get counted are decided by power.

A world in which the ‘unpeople’ at the bottom go uncounted, and so too does the ‘unmoney’ of those at the very top. Where the unpeople are denied a political voice. Public services. Opportunities. And the unmoney escapes taxation, regulation and criminal investigation, allowing corruption and inequality to flourish out of sight.

This is the world we live in. This is Uncounted.

What links a samizdat publication in turn-of-the-century Khartoum, the liquidation of a Scottish football club, a Burmese mobilisation for the US census, the Swiss role in supporting apartheid, a campaign around UK learning disabilities and Thomas Piketty’s proposal for a global financial registry? The common thread is the relationship between power, inequality and being uncounted – a relationship that demands we pay much more attention to who and what are counted and not.

We may pride ourselves on being the generation of open data, of big data, of transparency and accountability, but the truth is less palatable. We are the generation of the uncounted – and we barely know it.

Counting is fundamentally political. Decisions about what and who to count not only reflect unequal power, they are also a major driver of inequalities. Our failure to acknowledge and challenge these automatic tendencies means that we unthinkingly facilitate them.

There are two major elements to the uncounted: that which is uncounted because of a lack of power, and that which is uncounted because of an excess of power. In addition, the category of that which is only counted in private has its own power dynamics. Policy implications vary according to the context and the type of uncounted – but there are some very clear channels if we decide – as we surely must – to address the problem head-on.

This site will include semi-regular blogging (that may eventually result in a book) on these issues and others, along with related publications and data as they appear. There’s also a particular space for the Palma: a measure of inequality, developed with Andy Sumner on the basis of Gabriel Palma‘s analysis of the income distribution.

[NB. This post will also live at ‘About Uncounted‘, for ease of location.]