Community demographic

Last updated on 17 Nov 2021

1. Executive Summary

The Health Research Authority (HRA) is here to protect people who take part in research and make it easier for researchers to carry out cutting-edge research. Crucial to delivering this is the large community of committed and dedicated members of our Research Ethics Committees, the Confidentiality Advisory Group, and the Public Involvement Network who together bring a broad range of valuable expertise and insights to inform our work. Health and social care research impacts everyone and it is important that this community fully reflects the population that it serves which is why the findings of this demographic survey are so important to identify where we should take action to ensure that these roles are attractive and accessible to everyone.

We are pleased to see from this survey that many of our members are engaged with the HRA, evidenced by the solid 42% participation in the 2021 survey. We know that HRA community members feel that the HRA promotes a place and culture of mutual respect (72%) and is inclusive (70%). However, only three-fifths (61%) agreed that the HRA is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive organisation.

We recognise that the membership is predominantly female as women account for 62% of our membership. We also have an older demographic with 70% of our membership aged 55 and above. An older age demographic is a recognised feature of the volunteering sector in the UK:

'Early to mid-adulthood was often characterised as a time for focusing on career and relationships, rather than participation; while later adulthood was often a time where people had more time and inclination to participate (especially on retirement)'

NCVO (2011) Pathways through participation, p. 7

We also know from the data that we have low representation from particular ethnic groups - African, Caribbean, and Arab ethnicities are underrepresented.

A diversity of perspectives makes us better able to protect and promote the interests of patients and the public in health and social care research, which is why we would like to work towards making our membership more inclusive. We have established an HRA Community Insight Group who are overseeing a programme of work to ensure that we engage effectively with our Community, support people who want to become a member of our Community, including identifying and addressing barriers to membership that may impact on the diversity of our Community. We will also recognise and champion the crucial contribution to health and social care research by all our Community.

2. Responses

The survey was designed by the HRA project team in collaboration with BMG Research. The survey was conducted by BMG on behalf of the HRA between 15 and 31 of March 2021. Approximately 900 respondents were sent the survey and 399 completed it. This represents a 42% response rate.

The HRA Community is made up of individuals who belong to one or more of these groups:

  • Research Ethics Committee (REC) - with approximately 900 members
  • Public Involvement Network (PIN) - with approximately 100 members
  • Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG) - with approximately 30 members

For context, the 399 responses were drawn from the groups as follows:

Group Survey response Percentage
Research Ethics Committee (REC) 358 90%
Public Involvement Network (PIN) 27 7%
Confidentiality Advisory Group (CAG) 14 4%

3. Data

The survey asked our members about themselves in the following demographic categories:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender (sex)
  • Relationship status
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation

The survey responses represent a significant proportion (42%) of our membership, so has allowed us to extrapolate and draw conclusions for the whole HRA community. Our members data is presented alongside data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) where this is available for the population of England. This is an older data set and will be updated when the ONS Census 2021 is published.

3.1 Age

The HRA community are an older population, with 43% of our members aged 65+ and a further 27% aged 55-64. This makes 70% of our membership aged 55 and above. We have very few members (16%) who are below the age of 45.

The extensive expertise, commitment levels and the experience needed to perform roles undertaken by members of Research Ethics Committees and the Confidentiality Advisory Group is a likely factor contributing to so many members being at the latter stages of their careers.

However, we are currently undertaking work in the Public Involvement Network to identify ways to reduce barriers to participation in this area of our work. .

Age Survey responses HRA ONS
16-34 22 6% 30%
35-44 38 10% 16%
45-54 47 12% 17%
55-64 106 27% 15%
65+ 173 43% 22%
Prefer not to say 13 3% 0%

3.2 Disability

Around 12% of members consider themselves to have a disability, and of these individuals 20% have asked for their group to make reasonable adjustments, with almost 90% telling us that these requests were implemented, compared to 11% who stated that they were not.

Disability Survey responses Percentage
Yes 46 12%
No 336 84%
Don't know / Prefer not to say 17 5%

3.3 Ethnicity

Most members (79.7%) describe themselves as White British (including devolved nations). This reflects the English population. However, there are also a large number of our members who describe themselves as being from any other White background (10%). This is out of proportion to the English population.

The data that is represented by other ethnic/mixed ethnic background covers a number of different ethnic groups where the numbers are too low to disaggregate. However, we can see from the data that African, Caribbean, and Arab ethnicities are underrepresented.

Ethnicity Survey responses HRA ONS
White British 318 80% 81%
Any other white background 39 10% 5%
Any other ethnic /mixed ethnic background 36 9% 12%
Prefer not to say <10 2% 1%

3.4 Gender

HRA membership is predominantly female. Women account for 62% of our membership compared with only 35% men. This does not reflect the national population as the ONS data shows that around 51% of the English population are women.

Gender Survey
Man/Male 140 35% 49%
Woman/Female 246 62% 51%
Other / Prefer not to say 13 4% 0%

3.5 Relationship status

HRA members are predominantly married. Those who tell us they are married or in a civil partnership account for almost two-thirds (65%) of our membership.

Relationship status Survey responses Percentage
Single (i.e. never married or in a civil partnership) 53 13%
Civil partnership 13 3%
Married 248 62%
Divorced/Civil partnership legally dissolved/Separated 25 7%
Widowed/Surviving partner from a civil partnership 18 5%
Prefer not to say 42 11%

3.6 Religion or Belief

The data that is represented by other religion or belief covers a number of religions where the numbers are too low to disaggregate.

Religion or belief Survey responses Percentage
No religion or belief 156 39%
Christianity (including Church of England, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and all other Christian denominations) 166 42%
Any other religion or belief 48 12%
Prefer not to say 29 7%

3.7 Sexual Orientation

The majority of members identify as heterosexual/straight (86%) which is a reasonable reflection of the English population (94%).

Gender Survey responses HRA ONS
Bisexual/Gay/Lesbian 18 5% 3%
Heterosexual/straight 341 86% 94%
Other and Prefer not to say 40 10% 3%
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