Five Years into the Decade of Roma Inclusion: High Time for Governments to Get Serious about Data Collection

The midpoint of the Decade of Roma Inclusion is an obvious time for governments to assess how far they have come in honoring their pledge to eliminate discrimination and close the unacceptable gaps between Roma and non-Roma, “to demonstrate progress by measuring outcomes and reviewing experiences in the implementations of the Decade’s Action Plans,” as called for in the Terms of Reference for the Decade.

One glaring deficit, right across the Decade countries is the lack of ethnically disaggregated data. Five years into the Decade, the lack of reliable data about Roma communities remains a major obstacle to reducing inequality and eliminating discrimination. Put bluntly, if there is no data there can be no progress. If governments lack basic data they cannot devise effective targeted policies. Without reliable ethnically disaggregated data we cannot measure progress. Roma Initiatives has just launched a report on the state of data collection in the Decade countries with clear recommendations on how best to move forward.

The new report No Data – No Progress confirms our long-held assertion that the lack of disaggregated data is a major barrier to progress and weakens the impact of policies to promote equality and nondiscrimination. Such failures can result in actually worsening the situation for the impoverished, the marginalized and the disenfranchised.

The European Common Basic Principles for Integration (PDF) adopted in 2004 call for clearly defined objectives and highlight the need for evaluation and monitoring. But little has been done by the EU to support and encourage governments to collect data disaggregated by ethnicity. This lack of consistency creates confusion and complicates harmonization of policies at a European level. In 2009 the European Roma Platform established a set of 10 Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion. The European Commission is committed to support member states and accession countries to implement policies to improve the situation of the Roma. The Common Basic Principles advocate “explicit but not exclusive targeting” of Roma populations and transfer of evidence-based policies. The European Commission could harness the political momentum following the 2nd European Roma Summit to go beyond the habitual laissez-faire, business-as-usual approach that “...it is for the member states to decide whether or not ethnic data should be collected.” The Commission could play a vital coordinating role in guiding and coordinating the efforts of national governments to collect the sort of data we need to move forward in combating Roma exclusion. The European Roma Platform could take on this task, and with it, the responsibility to do something that could actually make a difference.

If we don’t have good enough data—the sort of data which highlights the disparate impacts policies have on minority groups, which can identify inequalities and pinpoint what reproduces and amplifies those inequalities—if we don’t even have reliable data about the size of the Roma population in each of the countries, how can credible, adequately budgeted policies for Roma inclusion be devised?

Some states object that the collection of ethnically disaggregated data is not permitted, that it cannot be done. The short answer is, Yes it can. It is high time to dispel this self-serving myth. As the report highlights, there are adequate procedural safeguards in place to ensure that personal data is not put to improper use. Good practice in the United Kingdom clearly demonstrates that that an appropriate legal framework coupled with clear directives can allow the collection of ethnic data in a manner that allows for more informed and nuanced policy-making and appropriate targeting of resources to address the needs of a diverse population.

No Data – No Progress offers clear and achievable recommendations, and scuppers any doubts that getting solid data is a realistic goal that can have a real impact on policies and people. If governments are serious about Roma inclusion, if they remain serious about the pledge they made when they declared 2005–2015 “the Decade of Roma Inclusion”—it’s high time to get serious about data collection.

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Decadence has not to be measured when it is obvious

At the startpoint of the Decade, no data were asked to the government so that they justify the need of participating in it. In other words, the disastrous situation was simply assumed and none thought of contesting this assumption. Once more in the recent history, this assumption was only valid for Central and Eastern European countries, while in the "Traditionally Free and Democratic Europe", everything was supposed to be OK. A few time later, everyone could see the marvellous situation of Rromani people in Italy, France, Switzerland or Germany: pogroms, deportations, ethnic filing, forced evictions etc. However, this did not mean that elsewhere, in the countries involved in the Decade, the situation improved. What happened in Hungary isn't but the worst illustration of a worsening situation everywhere.
Is this degradation the effect of the Decade? Maybe not. Who could say what the situation would be if the Decade never started? Maybe some old Rromani woman used to read the future on the palms of people. Maybe someone else as well (auditors, analysts etc.). In any case, one thing seems rather clear: in the last five years, those who mostly advocated for collection of ethnic data were people like Maroni, and they started collecting them. This caused, and rightly so, strong reactions on behalf of civil society, including on behalf of structures belonging to Soros network or working very closely with it. Now, here we are again with a change: "no data - no progress", says OSI. Decadence, when obvious, does not need figures, and Decadence is there. One just needs to go to the field and open his/her eyes. Therefore, should we read rather "there is no progress because there are no data"? Everyone has the right to try for justifying his failures. However, when the justifications are fallacious and have negative consequences (in this case the constitution of ethnic data which the kind of use in the future is uncertain), it is better not to put them forward. This is a question of pure ethics and according to some (including myself) it is more important than the financial sustainability of a program that in midterm has not proved efficient (I'm saying so in order to be moderate).

Best ethical wishes,

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