There was a time not that long ago when it felt like we were awash with data on the pandemic via daily updates in the media, dashboards, charts, surveys, even apps.
The data are less prominent and ubiquitous now, but, like COVID-19 itself, still in the background even if it’s less likely to attract the headlines.
Despite this abundance of data, the pandemic highlighted the need to have more and better data about the diverse characteristics of people to ensure our government and public services are equitable.
In April 2020, early into the first lockdown, reports were emerging from England that some ethnic minorities were being more severely impacted by the virus, for example based on data on those who had been admitted for intensive care. This led to questions being asked as to why there was no publicly available data on the impact of COVID-19 on different ethnic groups in Scotland.
Shortly after, an Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity was established to advise the Scottish Government on response to the pandemic, with the lack of data a key focus for the Group.
A lack of data on disability status across the population also restricted the publication of statistics on the impact on people with disabilities. However, evidence has since appeared showing the extent to which people with disabilities were disproportionately affected during the pandemic, due to both the direct effects of the virus and the restrictions that were put in place to control the infection.
Over time, many publications and studies have reported the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on different sections of the population, including minority ethnic groups, religious groups, the elderly and those living as socio-economically deprived areas.
But, as the Expert Reference Group and others have pointed out, it shouldn’t take so long to produce this evidence.
A legacy of the pandemic must be that we have better systems in place in Scotland to collect data on the protected characteristics of the population that the public trust and value, and that are used to support the evidence and actions that improve lives.