When the pandemic hit the UK back in 2020, the charity sector faced uncertainty, alongside an increase of needs in society. The crisis has brought with it many interrogatives and, above all, an awareness that more readily available information is required to enable charities and funders to make informed decisions about resource allocation.
It was with that awareness in mind that, back in May 2020, we decided to launch a free resource for charities, funders, and policymakers, to enable them to easily view multiple datasets on both existing and emerging needs in the UK. Our databank showed official statistics on groups in need of support, and what we have been hoping to achieve since then is influence how data on people’s needs and data on their characteristics can be harnessed for good in our sector—to enable us all to build back better.
Last week, in the ‘levelling up’ White Paper, the government announced support for ‘innovative uses of real time data at the local level’. Our newly updated databank can play a crucial role here, supporting local leaders working to tackle disparities and multiple disadvantage across the country.
The Local needs databank
Over the course of the pandemic, we have continued to work on our databank and we are pleased to have now launched a new regularly updating and interactive version, to help charities and funders better understand needs in communities around the UK. The Local needs databank pulls together over 50 indicators of need for all 382 local authorities and government districts in the UK. It shares official statistics, such as those on multiple deprivation, age, health, ethnicity, and Covid-19, alongside data on local charity density and charity demand data, from organisations such as Turn2us, Buttle UK and British Gas Energy Trust. All of this data allows our sector to better understand what needs are increasing and decreasing across the country and what charities are experiencing on the ground. It can also be used alongside the ONS subnational indicators explorer, announced as part of the levelling up agenda, to provide detail on need indicators which are key to the work that civil society and local policymakers do.
For example, our databank shows that the ten areas with the highest levels of child poverty in the UK are all in London. And we know from our research into the levelling up agenda that, of the five main funds that have so far been announced, half of these ten areas that are struggling with child poverty have not yet been allocated any levelling up money from the targeted funds we analysed at a local authority level. These are Waltham Forest, Barking & Dagenham, Islington, Lambeth, and Hackney.
What’s more, with the cost of living crisis hurting families up and down the county, the Local needs databank shows how 16% of all UK households are in energy poverty, ranging from 5% in Wokingham to 34% in Argyll and Bute.
Opening up your data
The new Explore and compare feature on our databank, allows charities and funders to produce their own tailored data reports on the places and needs that matter most to them. They can learn more about the areas where they work and compare them to areas facing statically similar levels of need.
By creating interactive resources like the Local needs databank and the new Explore and compare feature, we hope to help charity sector organisations question their decision-making, reflect on what timely data recorded by charities is telling us, and to also integrate open source data approaches into the their activities—to benefit other organisations working to tackle social needs.
We also hope that this data is used by local leaders who want to support civil society to be as impactful as possible. Ultimately, the databank, and similar digital initiatives that have emerged throughout the pandemic, have provided the sector and its stakeholders with the opportunity to move away from a stagnant comfort zone.
The issue at hand is that many charitable organisations lack the time, resources and skills to make best use of data, and to combine it with the data they collect themselves, therefore undermining their ability to understand changing needs and make evidence-driven decisions. There is a shift needed in the culture and attitude towards data in our sector. The charity sector is missing out on opportunities to achieve better impact and increase collaboration and, more importantly, to tackle inequality by giving a voice to those who are under or misrepresented by ‘big data’.
Official statistics alone can only provide a partial indication of circumstances experienced by people in everyday life. By the time this kind of data is released, grants have been already made and charitable services have been delivered. By better integrating official statistics with charity data, we can help provide a timelier picture of need in the UK.
We would like more charities to join our Local needs databank initiative by sharing their data, contributing with their expertise or by simply helping us to improve.
Taking on inequalities
We hope that the momentum generated by such initiatives will change for good how civil society organisations utilise data. What’s more, civil society data on beneficiaries, their characteristics, and the support they receive has the potential to inform local decision-making, and challenge society’s understanding of what charitable organisations really offer in this country, and the true extent of the difference they make.
These initiatives can encourage more and more organisations, if not to join in, then at least to make their data more accessible to others, so that charities doing similar work or funders wanting to target their giving, can learn more about who is doing what and where.
By sharing intelligence and collectively making sense of the inequalities we face, we will gradually reduce them. You can learn more about and use the Local Needs Databank here.