Ethnicity data at small area level

It is well known and understood that the decennial Census provides the most reliable and robust picture of ethnicity data at small area level across the UK. This data is always keenly anticipated as it is critical to understanding the many social measurements that go towards building a picture of outcomes for people from minority ethnic groups. 

As we are in the no-man’s land between the Census and the publication of its results we thought it would be an appropriate time to help an understanding of ethnicity data at small area level, including a brief look at what datasets outside of the Census can help build a picture of the ethnic profile of local areas. 

Ethnicity data at small area level

National research suggests there have been marked improvements in the outcomes experienced by people from minority ethnic groups across England. This, however, is not reflected by recent analysis by the Runnymede Trust on ethnic inequalities in local authorities. The research highlights an overall trend towards worse outcomes for ethnic minorities compared to white populations, particularly in their experiences of education, employment, health and housing.[1] Drifting upwards or sliding back? Ethnic inequalities in local authorities in England and Wales, 2001-2011, Runnymede Trust (2014) http://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/Runnymede%20Ethnic%20Inequalities%20Briefing.pdf

We are often asked about the availability of ethnicity data at small area level, as a high priority topic for users looking to understand their neighbourhoods and gain an in-depth knowledge of the equality of social outcomes across vulnerable and disproportionately affected groups. The need for detailed small area level data on ethnicity was recently highlighted during the 2021 Census topic consultation, where responses highlighted the need for understanding equality outcomes and the impact of policy and budget plans on minority groups. 

The Census does provide the best available small area data on ethnicity across the UK, however with data only collected on a decennial basis there is a gap in the availability of robust data in intervening years. Whilst smaller scale survey data can provide some estimates of minority group populations, they are unable to achieve robust enough results in order to explore the data at small area level – making survey and administrative data often not fit for purpose for our users. It’s important to remember too, that we need data to be available at small area across the whole of England before putting it into Local Insight. 

Gaps in ethnicity data

As highlighted, there are a number of gaps in the availability of ethnicity data at Local Authority level or below in England, leading to limitations in the ability to highlight the full extent of inequalities faced by different ethnic groups in local areas. Some of the most significant gaps include:

  • Regularly updated estimates of the population by broad ethnic group (census data is only published every 10 years).
  • Benefit claimant rates for key benefits by ethnic group.
  •  Level of disability by ethnicity.
  • Income and earnings levels by ethnicity.
  •  Key health outcomes by ethnicity including, infant mortality, overall mortality, low birth weights, healthy lifestyle behaviours, prevalence of different health conditions
  •  Victims of crime and perpetrators of crime by ethnicity
  • Experience of workplace discrimination/workplace rights
  •  Cross correlation between factors e.g. impact of age, ethnicity, disability, low-income, low-education, and gender.

Available data 

A person’s ethnicity is a multi-faceted concept, encompassing common ancestry and elements of culture, identity, religion, language and physical appearance. Given this, there are various ways of using data to understand the ethnic profile of a population, including country of birth, nationality, language spoken at home, national/geographical origin and religion. Overall it is generally accepted that a person’s ethnicity includes aspects of all of these things and more, meaning it is a difficult concept to measure from one dataset. 

Much of the data on ethnicity that we hold on Local Insight is derived from the 2011 Census, which is one of the few sources of information with breakdowns by ethnicity that is statistically robust at a sub-regional level. This can, however, be supplemented with data published at Local Authority level where this provides more up to date information on the socio-economic challenges experienced by people in particular ethnic groups. 

The table below lists datasets that are available with ethnicity breakdowns; the majority are Census based, but we have included too, those that are published more frequently and are independent of the Census: 

IndicatorDescriptionSource and date
Ethnicity profileThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify the usual resident population by ethnic group, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011). The ethnic group classification used in this dataset is an 18 category classificationCensus 2011
Multiple ethnic groupsThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify households by the diversity in the ethnic group of household members, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011)Census 2011
Summary country of birth profileThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify the usual resident population by country of birth, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011). The country of birth classification used in this dataset is a 9 category classificationCensus 2011
Detailed country of birth profileThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify the usual resident population by country of birth, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011)Census 2011
Highest National identify non-UKThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify the usual resident population by national identity, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011). National identity is a person’s assessment of their own identity with respect to the country or countries with which they feel an affiliation. It is not dependent on legal nationality or ethnic groupCensus 2011
Households with household members where English is not a main languageThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify households by the combination of adults and children within a household that have English (English, or Welsh in Wales) as a main language, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011)Census 2011
People not proficient in EnglishThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of people who cannot speak English well or at all. Figures are self-reported and taken from the English language proficiency questions in the 2011 Census. QS205EW Proficiency in English (Quick Statistics (QS))Census 2011
Most common languagesQS204EW Main language (detailed) (Quick Statistics (QS))Census 2011
Year of arrival in UKThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates that classify the usual resident population by year of arrival in the UK, for local areas in England and Wales on census day (27 March 2011)Census 2011
Communities aged 65+ by ethnic group
This dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of people aged 65+ by ethnic group: LC2109EWls - Ethnic group by ageCensus 2011
Households with no access to a car by ethnic groupThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of people living in households with no car or van by ethnic group: LC4203EW - Tenure by car or van availability by ethnic groupCensus 2011
Communities providing unpaid care by ethnic groupThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of people providing unpaid care by ethnic group: LC2301EW - Ethnic group by provision of unpaid care by general healthCensus 2011
Communities with no qualifications by ethnic groupThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of people with no qualifications by ethnic group: LC5202EW - Highest level of qualification by ethnic groupCensus 2011
Communities in overcrowded housing by ethnic groupThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of people living in overcrowded households by ethnic group: LC2405EWls - Ethnic group by occupancy rating (rooms)Census 2011
Economic activity by ethnic groupThis dataset provides 2011 Census estimates of economic activity by ethnic group, covering full-time employment, part-time employment, self-employment, unemployed, long-term sick or disabled, looking after home or family: LC6201EW - Economic activity by ethnic group by ageCensus 2011
Admin-based ethnicity statisticsThis experimental dataset combines ethnicity data from three administrative sources: English School Census, Hospital Episode Statistics and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies to produce statistics on the population by ethnic group at local authority level for England. These research outputs are not official statisticsONS 2016
International migrationOverseas nationals allocated a National Insurance Number (NINO) on the National Insurance Recording System. The figures cover overseas nationals allocated a NINO for whatever reason i.e. the figures cover benefit/tax credit recipients as well as workers. All overseas nationals allocated a NINO are included, regardless of their length of stay in the UK. Data is broken down by nationality of the recipientDWP 2019/2020
Statutory Homeless Prevention Duty by ethnicityEthnicity of main applicants assessed as owed a prevention duty. Prevention and relief duties are owed to all eligible households who are homeless or threatened with becoming homelessMinistry of Housing Communities and Local Government 2019/20
Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants by broad ethnic groupJobseeker’s Allowance is payable to people under pensionable age who are out of work and available for, and actively seeking, work of at least 40 hours a week. Universal Credit has replaced Jobseekers Allowance for new claimant’s post 2016 and existing claimants are being migrated across. However, unlike Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance is available with breakdowns by ethnic groupsDepartment for Work and Pensions (DWP) 2015 to 2020 – rolling average
Asylum seekers receiving supportProportion who are seeking Asylum and receiving accommodation or subsistence support under the Section 95 support for refugeesHome Office
Dec-2020
Syrian RefugeesSyrians resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme by location of resettlementHome Office
Dec-2020
Mothers country of birthChildren born to mothers born outside the UK, by mothers country of birthOffice for national statistics (ONS, 2015)
Population by ethnicity from the Annual Population SurveyPopulation by broad ethnic group based on the Annual Population Survey. Due to the relatively small sample size these estimates have wide confidence intervals at Local Authority level and are not published at below that levelAnnual Population Survey 2020
Ethnicity Estimator softwareThe Ethnicity Estimator (EE) classifier is based on research which uses names data assembled by the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC). The data are taken from consumer sources and from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which securely host data from England & Wales. Data is safeguarded rather than open dataConsumer Data Research Centre
Pupil ethnicityThe publication combines information from the school census, school level annual school census, general hospital school census and alternative provision census on pupil ethnicity and English as an Additional Language for maintained schools and Local Authorities in EnglandDepartment for Education (DfE)

Ethnicity data looking ahead 

The upcoming release of the Census 2021 provides the best opportunity for researchers looking to better understand the ethnicity of the populations they work with. Beyond this, ONS have identified a number of areas which they see as key challenges for collecting and presenting data on ethnic groups at small area level across the UK – with the overall aim of making ethnicity data collection more consistent across government:

  • making sure any collection of ethnicity data meets the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – in other words, only asking for people’s ethnicity when there’s a clear need to do so and keeping their information secure
  • finding the best way to ask people about their ethnicity, using a consistent list of ethnic groups that people identify with and find acceptable
  • adapting to the continuing changes in how we think about ethnicity, with even greater emphasis on language, culture and religion, and greater variation in ancestry of those of Mixed origin
  • to generate new analysis of ethnicity using administrative data (see details of this approach here https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/ethnicity/articles/adminbasedethnicitystatisticsforenglandfeasibilityresearch/2016

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