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Deep poverty and destitution

Racialised communities must be at the heart of tackling hardship

Racialised communities have real and visceral knowledge of the issues that affect them, working deeply in neighbourhoods and democratising data are key to long-term, transformational change. 

Written by:
Lela Kogbara
Date published:
Reading time:
6 minutes

Despite decades of global progress towards race equity, from the Civil Rights movement in the USA, to ending Apartheid in South Africa, and the introduction of equality legislation in the UK, economic and social hardship is still disproportionately experienced by racialised communities. In the UK the rate of destitution among Black, Black British, Caribbean or African-led households is three times their population share (Fitzpatrick et al., 2023)

These patterns of inequality that lead to disproportionate hardship in racialised communities across income, employment, housing or health may seem comparable on the surface, but scratch a little deeper and the picture is nuanced and difficult unpack. These nuances are visible to the different communities that experience them, but prove almost impossible to understand and address from central government. This is why getting down to community level is essential.

Pooling knowledge, with shared goals

In the face of racial disparity that is structural and institutional, communities disproportionately affected by hardship need to be at the centre of change in their neighbourhoods. That means increasing people’s engagement and power to act alongside policymakers and service deliverers, making transformational change possible, now and for future generations. This may sound ambitious, but there are places to look to for inspiration.

Take for example the Tamarack Institute in Canada. For the last 22 years it has supported a powerful movement called Communities Ending Poverty (CEP), which has made a significant contribution to falling poverty rates in Canada. This has been achieved through collaboration across business, government, social services and communities, pooling knowledge and learning together as they strive for a shared goal. Tamarack and its partners have succeeded in building a movement of communities working deeply in neighbourhoods, but with government as a stakeholder that listens to the evidence and provides funding. Individuals have been on an ‘inner journey of change’, and there has been a shift in relationships between them and the people who hold power. 

A crucial part of the challenge has been the very high poverty rate for indigenous groups. According to the Canadian 2021 Census of Population, in Winnipeg, which has the largest Indigenous population of all urban centres in Canada, the poverty rate for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples is 23.2%, 10.5% and 14.4% respectively compared to the overall rate of poverty, which was 7.4% in 2023. 

There have been specific initiatives as part of CEP to address Indigenous and racial inequalities such as deep dives into local population data and sharing Indigenous knowledge. For example, M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship circle (called Giiwe) built trust between people in official roles and the community, and improved inter-agency coordination in managing Indigenous homelessness. This work continues to evolve, and CEP has identified future priorities that involve people with lived or living experience of poverty, racism and colonialisation shaping initiatives, and improving community organisations’ capacity to access, collect, analyse, make sense and use of data.  

There is still work to do, but impressively poverty rates have almost halved in less than a decade for all groups. The work of CEP demonstrates that by building a movement of communities working deeply in neighbourhoods, and institutions such as national and regional governments reconfiguring their role as equal partner, efforts to end hardship among these groups will deliver positive results. This approach nods towards ‘data democracy’, making data accessible to everyone, that can lead to better outcomes for people and places experiencing hardship. 

‘Data democracy’ – an evidence base for action

From my work as a Director of Black Thrive Global until July 2023, it is clear that the evidence that has been relied on for decades to inform policy, practice and resource utilisation in the UK has not been effective at tackling hardship for racialised communities. Greater ‘Data Democracy’ offers part of the solution here, that means making information more accessible to people, by making the tools that access data easier to use. 

With this in mind, Black Thrive set out an ambition for knowledge construction as a communal process. This involves black communities forming data clubs to examine existing evidence in areas such as education, health, and criminal justice. Community Assemblies pinpoint the gaps in data and collaborate in sense-making and re-purposing data for the flourishing of Black people.

An example of this in action was some work on the links between the power the police have to ‘stop and search’ individuals in public, and mental health among young black people in Birmingham. The Black Thrive research team collaborated with Kings College London, Ratio, UNJUST and My Society to make neighbourhood data on ‘stop and search’ accessible to black communities, who used their knowledge and experience to generate new insights about how the police were targeting ‘stop and search’.

They requested that the team analyse the data on time of day and proximity to schools, which showed this was where and when the majority of ‘stop and searches’ took place. Data Democracy empowered the communities by validating their experiences and knowledge. It also increased their potential power to influence people in official roles (such as the police) and take action to change a practice which correlates with poor mental health for young black people in their community. Racialised communities have real and visceral knowledge of the issues that affect them, and through the democratisation of data they can translate this into actionable evidence. 

Put racialised communities at the heart of tackling hardship

Statutory systems need to understand communities in order to meet their needs, but different communities also need to understand each other, as well as understanding the systems they interact with. We need to support communities and systems to learn together, to adapt as required and to have the stamina and courage to keep going for the long term with a collective commitment to social justice and belief that change is possible. The following 3 actions will go some way in shifting the dial for racialised communities here in the UK: 

  1. Involve communities in generating evidence by creating spaces for community members and system actors (local authorities, health systems, employers, funders and so on) to explore social challenges and find solutions together across organisational boundaries.
  2. Enable communities to act together across identity by providing catalytic funding in a more intelligent and co-ordinated way. For example, combinations of statutory and philanthropic funders providing a single investment to solve hardship faced by families with disabled children would create new community alliances developing solutions for housing, transport, childcare and so on which could benefit all families for generations to come.
  3. Hardship (or a proxy such as poverty) should be added as a Protected Characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 and as part of the Public Sector Equality Duty. Each local authority should be responsible for publishing a summary of outcomes (and granular data that sit beneath) of the intersection between poverty, ethnicity and neighbourhood for all the public services in their area. They should be required to include at least 2 equality objectives relating to this data that are decided on through a process of engagement with the most disadvantaged communities, and be required to report to communities on progress at least once a year. 

About the author

Lela Kogbara is Co-Director of Place Matters.

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