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UCL Public Engagement Blog



Ethnic Health Inequity and Data Justice – A Conversation with Abdullahi

By h.craig, on 18 May 2023

Yellow and pink post -it notes and printed cards are scattered on a table. Handwritten notes cover them, reversed so that they do not reveal too much of the conversation.

Yellow and pink post -it notes and printed cards are scattered on a table. Handwritten notes cover them, reversed so that they do not reveal too much of the conversation.

This article has been written by Abdullahi, a young person from Coram Young Citizens. Young Citizens is Coram’s award winning programme for 16-25 year olds from migrant and refugee backgrounds who make a difference to the lives of other young people new to the UK through direct work, improving practice and policy change. Find out more at the Coram Young Citizens webpage. 

Abdullahi came from Nigeria and has lived in the UK for 10 years. He is a Social Anthropology graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at University of London. He’s a prospective Master’s student that will be studying Human Rights from September 2023, and was a producer for the Royal Albert Hall’s Young Producers Programme, where he produced an event called Licence To DV8 (weblink) at the hall. Abdullahi volunteers at Coram(weblink), We Belong(weblink) and has three caseworker roles in justice, immigration and advocacy at Hackney Migrant Centre (weblink.) He has experience of being on a student advisory panel for IntoUniversity (weblink) and was a member of both Hackney Youth Parliament and Young Speakers of Hackney. Outside his busy lifestyle, Abdullahi enjoys learning Spanish and is a massive fan of wrestling! Abdullahi’s favourite quote: “When you fight for your dreams, your dreams will fight for you”.

Abdullahi  shared his reflections taking part in focus group discussions led by Joseph (Jo) Lam (Institute of Child Health website biography), as part of a UCL Beacon Bursary for Public Engagement supported project: Ethnic Health Inequity and Data Justice – A Conversation with Young People. The project focus on exploring how ethnicity is understood, experienced, asked and recorded for young people from refugees and migrant backgrounds. This project has taken place with funding from The Wellcome Trust, and additional support from UCL Beacon Bursary award.

The Significance of Recording Ethnicity Background Accurately 

What is ethnicity? Ethnicity is when an individual or a group of people have a unique and shared culture, language, religion, or language. In essence, ethnicity is a set of social traits that determines how the human race differs and is similar in various spheres of life. “Academics have attempted to find terms to describe ethnicity – I think Donald L. Horowitz explained it best in 1985, when he said that ethnicity is an umbrella ideology that “embraces groups differentiated by colour, language, and religion; it covers ‘tribes,’ ‘races,’ ‘nationalities,’ and castes”. I saw the concepts of ethnicity categories in action during the focus groups. A focus group led by a UCL PhD student asked young people for their opinions on this urgent issue as part of its investigation into how researchers could enhance its statistics on ethnic categories. As a young migrant and African man, participating in the focus group opened my eyes to how simple it is for me to answer questions about my ethnicity because “Black African” is always an option. The realisation that everyone has ethnic categories that they identify with was the thing I took away from the debates that I will remember the most, though. For instance, I spoke to Ahmed about his experience after the end of both sessions, he said: “Partaking in these sessions, I’ve realised that whatever ethnic category I decide to choose is up to me, as it’s based on my experiences with where I’ve grown to love since my childhood[1]”.

Ahmed’s experience serves as a reminder of the need for the healthcare sector to improve the way that ethnic categories are entered into their systems. I have filled out forms and noticed that there aren’t many options available; they are frequently listed in the following order: Asian or Asian British, Black, Black British, Caribbean or African, Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, White and other ethnic groups. This short list of ethnic groups serves as a good illustration of why it is crucial for the UK healthcare sector to not only expand the list but also more accurately record people’s racial and ethnic backgrounds. Finding out how heavily the UK healthcare sector depends on the “other ethnic group” option to appropriately match ethnic group data was one of the sessions’ major takeaways for me. To accurately submit data and fight for justice, this component needs to be improved. Contrarily, this presented a problem during the sessions since the other participants and I realised how much effort has to be done to enhance data input for ethnic categories in the healthcare industry. The focus group, however, was a step in the right direction for me because I learned a lot more about ethnic groupings than I normally would. It was fascinating to learn more about the methods used on the ethnic groupings throughout the survey phase. As one’s ethnicity is an important component of what makes one human, I believe the data on ethnicity should be documented more accurately and responsibly. In my perspective, switching people’s ethnicities to the other option feels like eradicating a crucial piece of information on an individual.

I believe that listing all of the potential ethnic categories and leaving the “other” option open will enable the data on ethnicity to be collated in a way that is more inclusive and more in line with what the term “ethnicity” actually means. The fact that not everyone may be able to understand their ethnic backgrounds or that there may be language barriers to understanding it is another element that might be taken into consideration. By establishing the ethnic categories in multiple languages, the healthcare system can begin to significantly record ethnic backgrounds in a courteous, accurate, and acceptable manner. Given the amount of work the UK Home Office invests into ensuring interpreters are available for every stage of an immigration process, i.e. Migrant Help, I am confident that this investment will help to enhance the healthcare system in the UK. In the future, ethnicity records should, in my opinion, be treated with respect, given prime priority, and given options for multiple languages. People may start to have a newfound confidence in the healthcare system as a result, and a more inclusive modern society may also start to emerge.

Participating in a focus group that led this conversation was unquestionably a fantastic experience since it gave me a platform to openly share my opinions on this universal issue and it helped me better understand ethnicity and ethnic classifications. The fact that I had the opportunity to reflect and recognise how fortunate I am to be able to grasp ethnic groups while participating in the focus group and writing this blog made me raise the question: how those who have a language barrier would understand this topic? This is a key reason why I recommended language options when it comes to understanding ethnic groups as this will minimise the use of the ‘other’ option and will enable the healthcare system to record more accurately.

Having a youth voice in a global matter is extremely crucial as today’s youths are powerful, well-informed and determined change-makers. After all, youth and children account for over 40% of the global population, which is one of many reasons why the youth voice is so important. Having the youths’ voice during the focus group was not only the right thing to do, but it was also the tactical thing to do, as we are all striving for society to continue to be evolving rather than stagnate. It is now up to young people to shift the narrative of how things currently are to how they should be. Because this is a problem that affects young migrants, we are frequently the community that is seldom reached, thus I appreciated that the UCL PhD student worked with us during the focus group. Anyone organising a focus group with young people should be transparent and honest about the focus group’s purpose, how the participants’ ideas will contribute to the overall objective, and how the participants’ privacy will be maintained. Once this is implemented throughout the entire process, the individual will understand that the voices and opinions of young people possess the strength, agility and a wide range of talents to bring about the constructive changes we want to see. I advise anyone organising a focus group to invest in amplifying and hearing the views of young people because it helps us feel like we belong, builds our self-esteem, and develops our leadership skills, all of which are necessary for both our professional and personal life.

If you would like to discuss this blog please contact Jo Lam on his IRIS website profile or Email Address (opens in new window.) 


One Response to “Ethnic Health Inequity and Data Justice – A Conversation with Abdullahi”

  • 1
    Roy Dixon wrote on 5 June 2023:

    Abdullahi’s insightful conversation on ethnic health inequity and data justice is a powerful reminder of the need for inclusive healthcare systems. It highlights the role of various stakeholders, including logo design firm, in promoting social equity. The discussion prompts us to consider how such firms can contribute to creating a more just and accessible healthcare landscape for all.

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