#LGBTsurvey: why it's important

In July 2017, the Government Equalities Office launched the national LGBT survey. I helped create that survey, in my role as Head of LGB Policy at GEO, and as part of a small but dedicated team.

I don’t often take enough time to take stock of big pieces of work like the survey — the rapid churn of Whitehall activity normally doesn’t afford officials the luxury — but the LGBT survey was a significant undertaking. The publication of the results over the summer, alongside the LGBT Action Plan, was the culmination of 18 month’s work, and I’m particularly proud of my contribution to that. So, despite the temptation to move on to the next shiny thing, I’m going to take the time to reflect on the national LGBT survey and the LGBT Action Plan.

Why it was important to me. The things I learnt. The things that surprised me. The things that didn’t.

This is the first in a series of blog posts on my reflections from working on the national LGBT survey. I’ll update this post with links to the other posts as I write them.

Why the survey is important – to me, at least

We created the national LGBT survey to understand more about the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people had when accessing and using public services in the UK, as well as any experiences of discrimination they may have faced throughout their lives.

We chose the topics in the survey carefully and deliberately. An evidence review commissioned by GEO in 2016 highlighted a number of areas where LGBT people faced discrimination, but that also had weak evidence to support policy making. Some of the most significant inequalities of opportunity and outcome were in education, health, personal safety and the workplace.

Much of the existing evidence base was founded on very small, unrepresentative samples and on perceptions of inequality, rather than lived experience. The survey was designed to address some of the gaps in the evidence base about the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people living and working in the UK.

The survey couldn’t — and doesn’t — address all of the weaknesses in prior research, but it does address one of them: scale.

108,000 people responded. That makes it the largest survey of its kind. The largest ever domestic survey of LGBT people that anyone has ever conducted. Anywhere in the world. Ever.

This is a substantial addition to the national and global evidence base about the experiences of LGBT people, and the discrimination they face. It is wide-ranging data that can improve our understanding of what it’s like to be LGBT in the UK. That’s vital to policy officials like me: we can’t provide the right advice or make informed decisions if we don’t have access to proper evidence.

The scale of the response makes the survey important in particular because its findings cannot be ignored. It is easy to dismiss evidence based on tiny sample sizes; it doesn’t take much to argue that it appears to be little more than anecdote. This isn’t a tiny sample size though; it’s massive. You can’t ignore 108,000 people.

You can tell that the scale matters by the response to the results, and the subsequent announced Action Plan. Everyone has been shocked by the results, even if they weren’t surprised by the sentiment: and that shock has prompted action.

To me, that is why the national LGBT survey was important. It has improved the evidence base in meaningful ways, but it’s done that at such scale that you can’t escape it. It has shone a light on issues that most people hadn’t considered, and forced people to pay attention to them and react.

I believe that people don’t work in the Civil Service without some kind of public service ethos. For me, it’s waking up in the morning knowing that what I’m working on is making a difference to someone’s life; even if it’s just one person. The national LGBT survey has helped to put in place a bold plan to make a difference to a lot of people’s lives, and that is why I’m proud of the work I’ve done to make it happen.