October 21st 2022

The Equity Index: Will the Foreign Secretary tackle inequity in the sector?

Will the Foreign Secretary tackle inequity in the sector?


There was a time when UK-based advocates were screaming about the many inequities in the global development sector and asking themselves and each other, what will it take to move the needle? When will racism in the aid sector have its moment of reckoning – much like we saw with sexual harrassment and safeguarding?


Last year, we saw a glimpse of what this could look like when one of the most powerful watchdogs on the UK’s aid policy publicly called out racism in the aid sector. In February 2021, the International Development Committee (IDC) in Parliament launched an inquiry on the Philosophy and Culture of Aid, with a specific focus on racism. The IDC published its findings in a report in June 2022 and the overall conclusion was unequivocal: “Racism manifests in the very structure of international aid; the sector still reflects the power relationships of colonialism.”


But despite this clear condemnation, the response to this hard-hitting report has been muted, at best. The government is yet to provide a concrete response to and plan for how it will address issues of racism and inequity in the UK development sector. Media coverage has also been slim, with limited attention beyond a Guardian article, Racism in aid sector is a hangover of colonialism, says scathing report by MPs, which cites Equity Index Co-Founder Lorriann Robinson.
As of this month, we have a new Prime Minister and a new Foreign Secretary in post – this provides a new entry point for decisive action. Will James Cleverly as Foreign Secretary use the inquiry’s findings and recommendations to root out racism and inequity in the sector?


What did the inquiry find? 

The inquiry focused on four themes: 1. Working with partners in-country, 2. Communications and storytelling, 3. Data on racism and diversity in the aid sector, and 4. Building an equitable and inclusive aid sector. It found that racism manifests across each of these areas, including through creating racist hierarchies of knowledge, expertise and funding.
  • For a full recap of the inquiry’s findings, read our short summary here.


The Equity Index contributed to the inquiry’s public consultation process by making a formal submission to the IDC. Our Co-Founder Lorriann Robinson also gave oral evidence before Parliament as part of the inquiry, which you can watch here. Several of The Equity Index’s recommendations were also made part of the report, including that the FCDO should:
  • Increase direct funding to Global South civil society organisations;
  • Require organisations that it funds to publish equity-related data.


On data specifically, the IDC recommends that organisations “with more than 50 staff should measure and publish their ethnicity pay gap data in order to be held accountable.” This would greatly enable the work of The Equity Index in the UK, as well as other global initiatives such as the Racial Equity Index.
Beyond data, we believe that equity should become a guiding principle for the FCDO’s mission, objectives and procurement policies, and that the IDC should ensure that issues related to racism and inequity remain on its agenda throughout this Parliament.




What does this mean for the sector? 


This inquiry highlights how racism manifests at every level, from organisational inequities felt by staff to the lives of those such aid seeks to help in the first place. It is clear the sector is in need of reform. The inquiry’s findings could represent a major turning point in the UK development sector, if action to address racism in the sector is swift and decisive.
We do, however, need to sustain momentum because this is deep-seated work that requires continuous attention. For organisations, it means the UK Government is beginning to not just observe but also openly acknowledge the need to address racism and centre equity in the work of the sector. Funding could become conditional on what organisations are doing to address issues of racism and inequity, reaffirming the need for organisations of all sizes to formulate plans of action.
As The Equity Index, we continue to believe in the importance of transparency and accountability on issues related to racism and inequity – how else can we measure the pace of progress by all types of UK development sector actors?


Our next fundraising phase continues

We are now officially moving into our next round of fundraising to bring the model we have outlined here fully to life. If you would like to support our work, there are two ways to do so: 
  1. Fund our core costs by getting in touch to discuss potential opportunities. 
  2. For organisations that are not part of the UK development sector (i.e., operate in different countries or are from a different sector in the UK), we are available to provide consultancy services to support you on equity in your context. Please get in touch to discuss further. 


Learn more about The Equity Index
By Areeshya Thevamanohar, Anh Le Kim Nguyen, Lorriann Robinson, Alex Martins