Jo Whiley and Marcus Rashford have shown how to make a difference recently. They have taken a cause and delivered a result that has benefited many who need advocates because they cannot fight their own corner. Who fights for children in poverty? Who fights for those with learning difficulties?
Why should personalities have to raise their heads above the parapet to raise awareness of injustices that many of us, no matter our political persuasion, do not wish to occur in our society?
Does our government deliberately wish to overlook children in poverty or those who have learning difficulties? I would be very surprised if they did.
The problem they face is central government do not know who they are.
Take children in poverty. I am aware of a primary school where the teachers do a fantastic job to support their most vulnerable pupils. The headteacher thought they were aware of each of the pupils that needed support. They were shocked when the local housing association told them their data showed that the financial position of local residents indicated the school may have only identified one-third of the pupils they should have.
We live in a fragmented society with an abundance of data. That sounds like a contradiction, but the problem is the data is fragmented. Where is the government record of which children are in poverty? While government may have over-reaching data on household wealth, it is difficult for them to identify a particular household where a child may be in need of additional support.
Much of our benefit system depends upon a claim for an entitlement being made. Therefore, it is not easy in a crisis to easily identify who needs help and quickly get that help to them. In the later life arena, it’s a crime that over one million people entitled to Pension Guarantee Credit are not claiming it.
Where is the registry of those with learning difficulties? It is probably split between education authorities and social services departments. It is certainly not held on medical records that are used to manage the vaccine roll out. The result being that Jo Whiley was offered a vaccine in advance of her sister with learning difficulties.
Our health records do not have details about our occupation. Therefore, unless vaccinated at places of employment, it becomes difficult to give priority to certain occupations over a genuine desire to vaccinate the majority as quickly as possible.
Similarly, any attempt to accelerate the vaccine roll out to those who – due to poverty or ethnicity – are more vulnerable to the virus, has to be done geographically-based on population data rather than health data, which makes the operation a little hit and miss.
The successes of government during this crisis have been where good data existed to enable a rapid change in policy. Real-time PAYE enabled the furlough scheme. Those for whom the HMRC did not have good income records fell through the support cracks, for example, the recent self-employed and directors who paid themselves through dividends.
Some will say why can’t government departments talk to each other and exchange data? What data is it you need to be exchanged? You will probably find the data required is held by a local health trust, education authority or social service department. I live on the border of two health trusts. If I am sent to the neighbouring health trust for an investigation, the forms and data systems are not compatible with those used by my own health trust.
We all want our privacy, but at the same time we want government to react quickly to emergencies by riding roughshod over that privacy.
One of the most important data protection principles is that the data we hold on our customers is relevant and up to date. After a year where so many have been affected in so many different ways, is the data you hold on your clients now still relevant and correct?
We are getting a picture of the number of additional deaths that have occurred, the numbers who are suffering long-term absence from work due to new disabilities, the proportion of households that are better off, and the greater proportion that are worse off. We don’t know which segments our individual customers fall into, and more importantly those which fall into several segments.
They may have lost dependants or now have family members more dependent upon them. They may be better off or be a lot worse off financially. The same could apply to their children. If they are in need of your services, when will they contact you?
A compliance exercise in making sure your customer data is accurate and that you know your customer could lead to many new business opportunities. Unless you know which of your customers need your help, how can you make a difference?
Bob Champion is chairman of the Air Later Life Academy