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Open Access How useful are equality indicators? The expressive function of ‘stat imperfecta’ in disability rights advocacy

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Background: The measurement of equality is often difficult for groups who are weakly defined or poorly represented in official datasets. Social statistics are an essential component in rights recognition and advocacy because they make protected groups of persons visible and reveal the extent of their inequalities in comparison with population norms.

Aims and objectives: This paper examines how disabled persons have been included, or not, in EU statistics used for evidenced-based policy ‐ for example in the European Semester process concerning Member States’ employment and social policies, or in monitoring compliance with international human rights standards under the UN CRPD.

Methods: Over a period of a decade we mapped and disaggregated disability data from the main European social surveys, examining the availability and limitations of different sources to answer various policy questions.

Findings: The analysis produced indicators revealing stark inequalities between disabled and non-disabled persons but raised challenging questions about data quality, reliability and comparability. This revealed tensions in engaging the trust of policymakers in less familiar, or less reliable, data concerning minority groups.

Discussion and conclusions: Despite limitations of precision, imperfect statistics often retain a strong expressive function in human rights promotion. Greater investment is needed from governments and statistical authorities to strengthen disability equality data and indicators concerning marginalised rights holders.

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Keywords: Disability equality; outcome indicators; rights advocacy; statistics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Leeds, UK 2: Centre for European Social and Economic Policy, Brussels

Publication date: May 2021

This article was made available online on March 30, 2021 as a Fast Track article with title: "How useful are equality indicators? The expressive function of ‘stat imperfecta’ in disability rights advocacy".

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