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Why was the practice needed?

The equalities data audit is a response to an increased societal demand in the UK for robust data to monitor equalities. This has been illustrated by developments such as the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)’s report on the state of equalities and human rights in Britain in 2010 and 2015, the Race Disparity Audit announced by the Prime Minister in 2016, and the launch of an official website on Ethnicity Facts and Figures in 2017.

Against this backdrop, the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) aims to improve its ability to address cross-cutting equalities issues more effectively by setting up a Centre for Equalities and Inclusion. The aim of the Centre is to work with other stakeholders to ensure that the right data are available to address the main social and policy questions about fairness and equality in society. The audit is a first step in this process.

The aim of the audit was to take stock of existing equality data sources. It also sought to identify gaps in quality, coverage or timeliness of UK equalities data to enable collaborative action across government, academia and civil society organisations. This will allow the identified issues to be prioritised and action to be taken.

How was it implemented?

The audit was carried out on the basis of an open call through the website of the ONS (crowd-sourcing), whereby stakeholders from across government, academia and civil society organisations were invited to fill in a spreadsheet.

The audit covered the protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act, namely age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race and ethnicity, sex and sexual orientation.

Applying the EHRC’s measurement framework for equality and human rights, the data were structured along the domains of health, education, justice and personal security, living standards, work and participation.

The audit started with an initial search of relevant sources of official statistics and continued by successive stages of crowd-sourcing for feedback on its content and further input. To ensure its completeness, the audit was distributed initially within the ONS.

The audit was then advertised on the Government Statistical Service (GSS) website. It was targeted at non-governmental organisations with a demonstrated interest in the issues.

For each of the resources listed, respondents were asked to provide information on:

  • the protected characteristic(s) that it covers;
  • the organisation responsible for it;
  • the underlying dataset – the survey source or administrative dataset;
  • the theme – this was a free text field to capture the broad subject matter of the source;
  • its geographical coverage – UK, Great Britain, country-specific or lower levels of geography;
  • its geographical granularity – whether the source is currently broken down into lower levels of geography, such as country, region, local authority;
  • the date of the most recent publication;
  • how often it is released;
  • the time period for which the data are available.

The process was accompanied by a working group including representatives from the relevant branches of government and from academia. Following the recommendations from this group, the audit was enhanced to capture the raw data sources underlying the initial resources provided by the crowd-sourcing exercise.

Researchers added fields to capture harmonisation information and to reflect the extent to which each data source included characteristics on the socio-economic group and people at higher risk of harm, abuse, discrimination or disadvantage. A field was also included to reflect the extent to which data collected on a specific characteristic are self-reported, in line with a fundamental tenet of the human rights-based approach to data.

Finally, the ONS collated the data sources in a database, analysed them and reported on the findings.


  • The equalities data audit final report describes how the audit was carried out and the work undertaken to refine its content. It further presents the findings from the audit on the state of the existing evidence on the protected characteristics.
  • The spreadsheet on which the report is based is published along with it. It provides a snapshot of the state of evidence at the time of publication. It was conceived as a living document that will continue to evolve over time as new data sources are added and existing data sources are updated.

Key success factors

  • Request the details from the original data sources, rather than from publicised data, as well as the links to the metadata or quality reports.
  • Engage other stakeholders with an interest in equalities data early on to advise and co-produce the audit project.
  • Identify a suitable conceptual framework, such as the measurement framework for equality and human rights early on to structure the approach to ‘equalities’ data and what will be included.
  • Use communications channels of partners to extend the reach of your call for data.

Technical information

  • Data sources covered: Census; Administrative data; Household or individual surveys; Victimisation surveys; Attitudinal surveys.
  • Areas of life covered: Employment; Education; Health; Social Protection; Housing and living conditions; Access to good and services; Hate crime; Others:justice and personal security, participation.
  • Target audience: Analysts interested in equalities data with the goal of developing a community of practitioners collaborating on the production, analysis and dissemination of equalities analysis
  • Duration: January-October 2018, revision ongoing
  • Geographical scope: National
  • Leading institution: UK Office for National Statistics
  • Other organisations involved/consulted: Equality and Human Rights Commission, Government Equality Office, Race Disparity Unity, Sustainable Development Goals and Indicators team, Department for Work and Pensions, Office for Statistical Regulation, Government Statistical Service Harmonisation Team, representatives of the Devolved Administrations of the UK
  • Financial & human resources: Budget:£50,000 initial set up costs plus ongoing development and maintenance costs; Source of the budget: National budget; Staff: 3 Full Time Equivalent (FTE)


Centre for Equalities and Inclusion, UK Office for National Statistics

Email: equalities (at) ons (dot) gov (dot) uk