Please act *now* if you want to save small area population data!!

Please act *now* if you want to save small area population data!! Dear colleagues

Image from Photologue_np on flickr

 

Understandably, only a few of us can invest much time in following the plans for future censuses and you may therefore be unaware of recent developments. If you are a user of small area census data, please read on and act if you can – there is a real risk of losing the small area census data that you currently take for granted.

ONS are currently undertaking research on potential replacements for the conventional census in 2021. Although that seems a very long way off, recommendations need to go before parliament next year and the preparatory work is already well advanced. Based on the series of roadshows run by ONS last autumn, they have not received convincing high-value use cases for small area population attributes. Arguments such as “they are used to target local services” are not sufficiently robust to stand up to the inevitable financial scrutiny. A leading option is to derive basic age/sex data from linked administrative records and to use social survey data to obtain the types of population attributes that would previously have been obtained from the census – (ethnicity, LLTI, tenure, car ownership, employment, etc.) This would clearly not deliver small area data of the current quality, if at all.

We are urgently appealing to the research community to have your say: if no case is made, it seems entirely likely that ONS will not be able to include generation of costly small area data as part of the recommended option. If you can demonstrate high-value research (and ideally high-valued impacts!) based on small area 2001 census data, please mail us – we need to marshall further evidence by the end of February. Ideally, we are seeking identifiable research with an estimate of value and impact and/or an indication of why it could not be done without high quality small area data. If you can supply a paper or URL where further details could be pursued, better still.

NB This is about England and Wales, although Scotland and Northern Ireland will be reviewing the same issues in due course. If you want to find out more about Beyond 2011, see http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/about-ons/what-we-do/programmes—projects/beyond -2011/index.html Although there is not a formal consultation currently open, you can also mail them at beyond2011@ons.gsi.gov.uk With many thanks, David Martin, University of Southampton Email: D.J.Martin@soton.ac.uk Paul Norman, University of Leeds Email: P.D.Norman@leeds.ac.uk

[Reposted with permission from the radstats jiscmail list.]

Press Release: World Class Conference in York This Weekend

20 February, 2013

This Saturday, a hundred experts will come to York to discuss and debate issues of inequality and poverty in the world today – and yesterday. For over a century, York has been at the centre of this debate, since Seebohm Rowntree completed his pathbreaking poverty survey in 1900.

Rowntree’s story will be addressed by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw from York University in the first session at this weekend’s event, which is at the Priory Street Centre in central York. This session is also co-sponsored by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and will  provide a launch for the new book on the Rowntree family by local author Paul Chrystal (to be confirmed).

Another York speaker is Professor Richard Wilkinson, whose celebrated book ‘The Spirit Level’ argued why greater equality is better for everyone. The conference organiser, John Bibby, said, “This will be an argument accepted by most of the attendees at this conference, which is organised by Radical Statistics, a group of left-wingers interested in applications of statistical data”.

Other sessions will discuss inequality in India, the 2011 population census in the UK and will debate whether the 2021 census should be cancelled.The theme of the final speaker, Stewart Lansley, will be  “The Costs of Inequality”, on which he has written a very well-received book.

You can follow the conference live on Twitter, hashtag #radstats. For full information see http://www.radstats.org.uk/conference/york2013/

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Radstats 2013 Conference:
Inequality and Statistics

Registrations are now being accepted for the 2013 Radical Statistics conference – Inequality and Statistics – taking place on Saturday 23 February, 2013 in York.

Please see /conference/york2013/ for further information on all speakers, topics, location, social events and registration.

Or view an A4 flyer to post or distribute at /conf2013/A4Flyer.pdf

Programme highlights:

Jonathan Bradshaw: The Legacy of Rowntree

Danny Dorling:The 2011 Census: What surprises are emerging and how they show that cancellation is stupid

Ben Baumberg and Robert de Vries: Statistical Catfights and the ‘Spirit Level’

Stewart Lansley: Inequality: It’s role in the crash and the crisis

…and much, much more!

Hutton & Stewart on the autumn statement and welfare hits + Addendum

Both Will Hutton and Heather Stewart made swipes at Osborne’s approach to welfare in general and the benefit cuts in particular. Hutton’s attack centered around the notion of a social contract. He claims that Osborne’s autumn statement shredded that contract to pieces without entirely dismantling it. The notion of fairness is still a fundamental part of British life and can be crushed only with difficulty. As is known with certainty now, even our closest relatives, the common chimpanzee and the Bonobo have an understanding of fairness, ie., equitable distribution. Both humans and chimpanzees are able to depart from distributing resources equitably, but only humans can do so on such a grand scale and to such large sections of the community.

The fact is that the number of scroungers on benefit is a miniscule part of the population and nowhere near the size that Osborne would like the population to believe. Hence, the amount paid out by the government as a consequence of deception doesn’t amount to a hill of beans and will, in fact, cost more to retrieve than is spent. This is not sound economics.

Hutton says of Osborne that he is an economic illiterate. This certainly seems to be the case. In economic terms, virtually all of his economic policies have been pro-cyclical rather than counter-cyclical. In other words, if an economy is going into depression, government policies ought to be aimed at getting the economy going in the other direction. His policies have consistently made the economic situation worse rather than better. And pointing at external influences are at this juncture misdirection at best.

Stewart posits a hypothesis about why Balls flummoxed his rebuttal to Osborne, that he was surprised by the OBR figures. This may be true but there is I think a deeper mechanism at work in Balls’ case. And this is that he doesn’t really have an adequate understanding of how to fix the economic situation any more than Osborne does. What is good, however, about Balls’ position is that the government of which he would be a part would not engage in the slashing that Osborne seems to revel in.

Hutton thinks Osborne an economic illiterate. I am afraid that this charge also applies to Stewart. She asks the following questions. “And when Osborne puts some flesh on the bones of his latest austerity plans, in a spending review now planned for 2013, he will have a whole list of charges to chuck at Balls and his colleagues. Would they reverse the benefits cuts? Yes? Then what else would they cut instead, or what taxes would they raise to pay for it?”

The economic fact of the matter is that taxes are not needed to pay for any government program. That is not what taxes are for. Among other things, they forge a community together, thereby, in Huttonian terms, underwriting a community’s social contract, part of which cements us all together. It is this social cement that Osborne and part of his party is, in my view, perhaps unconsciously, trying his best to rip asunder. For support for this view from Robert Choate himself, watch his interview with Paxman where he almost admits this very point (but is apparently saving what he really thinks for his memoirs).

In short, the benefit cuts can be reversed without the need to raise taxes to pay for any such reversal. Related to this is Osborne’s fear that the country will lose its credit rating. The rating of credit agencies refers to the likelihood that the UK will go bankrupt. This is impossible, unlike the countries in the Eurozone who have given up their sovereign currency. He surely knows this, but if not, his fear can result from the City losing its foreign investment drawing power. Had the City not been allowed to become so central to Tory policy, this would be an irritation but nothing more. But this fear lies also in other false economic ideas held by the Chancellor. One of them is the one held by Heather Stewart, that taxation supports government spending. Balls has given every impression that he also is in thrall to this falsehood. Were he to divest himself of this unfounded idea, he would find himself in a better position to battle Osborne’s socially divisive, inequitable, iniquitous, and economically unsound policies.

Hutton:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/09/george-osborne-new-social-contract

Stewart:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/dec/09/autumn-statement-compassionate-conservatism-officially-dead

Addendum: on balanced budgets

One item that I left out of the previous account of the welfare hits but which has been part of the coalition’s belief system for some time – balanced budgets. This government, as have governments before it, believe in balanced budgets and have reaching such a state as a policy goal. Bill Clinton actually achieved this.

The notion of a balanced budget is a goal of a political administration is a useless goal and a potentially destructive one. Stephanie has a terrific metaphor of deficit/surplus interaction between the public and private sectors. It is a see-saw – the kind you find in children’s playgrounds. What you find in this metaphor is that surpluses in the public and private sectors cycle around the balance point but never settle on it. They never settle on it because the economy is always in motion. As anyone who has ever used a see-saw knows, you have to keep the see-saw see-sawing back and forth passing through the middle, or balance, point. If you stop and get off, one or the other side will slide to the ground where it will stop.  A successful see-saw ride will be one where neither side will go too far in either direction, which will disturb the cycling equilibrium and be potentially dangerous for one or both of the children. The same is true of the economy.

Here are Kelton’s graphics illustrating the point. First, the see-saw in its simplest situation.

As you can see, if one sector is in deficit, the other is in surplus. The trick is not to let either sector become too extreme. In these graphics, G = government expenditure and T = Taxation Revenue.

Now, capital accounting is added. But this does not alter the way the mechanism works.

For further information, I recommend Kelton’s own posts.

What happens when government tightens its belt, as the coalition is presently doing.

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2011/05/what-happens-when-government-tightens.html

US not broke and Clinton surplus destroyed the economy

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/category/stephanie-kelton/page/2

Kelton’s See-Saw version of the deficit-surplus interaction taking capital accounts into account, as it were.

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/category/stephanie-kelton/page/4

Osborne’s Autumn statement

Well, many of you will have seen the budget and Balls’ response which began with a good deal of stuttering, widely reported by no explanation. If anyone has a hypothesis about why Balls began his retort by effectively stuttering, I would be glad to know. Even though he recovered after a few minutes, his response wasn’t very effective.

The primary reason for that I would argue for his ineffectiveness is that Balls, and Ed as well, has no well developed alternative to articulate. Effectively, he and others in the Labour Party assume as true the neoliberal economic theories that underpin Osborne’s major policies, though he slightly modified them in this statement. Policies guided by neoliberal economic principles have failed not only this time but every time they have been tried, either in western countries or in developing countries. This is fundamentally because they have no empirical relationship to the real world. They only work in toy economies.

They look correct to some people because the Keynesian position has been distorted and Keynes didn’t quite get all of it right. After the publication of the General Theory, he was already thinking about how to revise it. The theory should really be called the Keynes-Kalecki theory, as in a review of the General Theory the year following its publication, Kalecki corrected errors in Keynes’ theory of effective demand.

QE, which King is so fond of, is ineffective re job creation because it directs funds to banks who either hoard it or use it to pay down their toxic balance sheets. Osborne almost seemed to realize this when he proposed infrastructure projects. However, it looked a bit too little too late. And he doesn’t yet seem to have bitten the bullet. Besides, the money that has been put into the various QEs undertaken by certain sovereign governments is not enough to even make a dent in the banks’ toxic balance sheets, so great are their debts. Basically, it is money thrown away.

An interview with Robert Choate showed that Choate, while not being able to criticize Osborne due his present position, showed that he knows that credit ratings are meaningless for sovereign states with their own currency and that government doesn’t have to borrow, unless it decides to because the relevant interest rate is low. As for the basic interest rate, it can be kept low in perpetuity. Taxes should be used to control inflation by inhibiting spending and to direct spending into certain areas, as well as legitimating the sovereign currency. They should never be thought of as a basis for government spending, because government doesn’t need taxes to back their spending, something Choate knows only too well.  When pressed by Paxman in the interview, to explain his hints, he only said that we will have to wait to find out in his memoirs. However, no one, even Paxman, later picked up on Choate’s hints in the interview about what he really thinks of Osborne’s policies.

To rely on exports when every other country with whom you would do business is experiencing the same difficulty is incredibly stupid and shows that Osborne doesn’t quite know what he is doing. His comments about those on welfare were exceedingly ignorant. The stupidity of his position is that people who aren’t working don’t really want to would only be true were there jobs to go to. The basic fact is that there are fewer jobs than there are people looking for them. The jobs have to be there first to justify his basic assumptions about people’s motivations. History does not support Osborne’s ignorant comments.
In fact, Osborne’s social policies and comments directed to those on benefits, who are obviously not well off, is redolent of the ideas of the late 19th and early 20th century social Darwinists. For those of you interested in the way in which evolutionary biological ideas creep into discussions of the nature of human society, it may be of interest to those who do not read in this area that Darwin did not subscribe to the view of unbridled competition even for the Primates. It follows mutatis mutandis that Darwin’s view of chimpanzees applies to human social groupings. This view of unbridled competition may have seemed self evident in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but seems rather dated now. Yet, the idea refuses to die. A number of Osborne’s social policies could have come right out of early 20th century social Darwinist tracts. One of social Darwinism’s greatest critics was Lester Ward. Alas, no commentator has yet made this connection. It seems so obvious to me. Am I missing something?

Now, one problem with the post by Pilkington is that it is rather technical. And it is a piece on the political economy of the financial sector rather than economics per se. That should make it easier to read, but for some it might not. Basically his message is that by putting the money back into banks, it acts as a feeder mechanism for financial speculation, which is what needs to be toned down rather than reinforced.

I have also included a piece from the Independent by David Blanchflower. His position is that Slasher Osborne’s jobs policies are guided, not by empirical evidence, but by ideology. We all know this, but is is salutary to see figures from the Department of Works and Pensions that reinforce this view. It is impossible to believe that millions of people are scroungers. It defies rational consideration.

Here are the links:

Blanchflower: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/david-blanchflower/david-blanchflower-ideology-rules-the-coalitions-jobs-policies-8374461.html

Pilkington: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/12/philip-pilkington-monetary-policy-and-metaphysics-how-economists-try-to-naturalise-terrible-policies-and-disappear-into-their-own-theories.html

Post contributed by Larry Brownstein

Radical Statistics Issue 107 – Editorial

This issue of Radical Statistics comes out of the February 2012 Radical Statistics Conference, which was held at the British Library in London. The conference focused on the Mis-Measurement of Health and Wealth and was the best ever attended Radical Statistics conference. Five of the eight presentations given at the conference are collected here (we hope to include the remaining three presentations in some form in a future issue of Radical Statistics).1 As a set, the papers published here are very much in the radical statistics tradition: they do not simply critique mainstream methods of measuring, but also reveal the social necessity of challenging such measures and begin to propose alternatives.

The issue begins with Howard Reed’s critique of the ways that UK debt statistics are constructed and interpreted. He unpicks the UK Coalition Government’s ‘maxed-out credit card’ explanation of current government finances, and demonstrates the links between this reading of the data and the ‘austerity’ policies which are responsible for slowing growth in GDP (and therefore exacerbating the debt/GDP ratio). Howard also points out that contrary to popular opinion, the previous Labour government’s real spending was very much in line with historical precedent. Continue reading

Why measure the take up of welfare benefits?

A critical submission on cutting government research and publication of the take up of welfare benefits has been sent from Adrian Sinclair, Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh. He argues that cutting statistics of take up would be “neither acceptable nor responsible”, “would deprive policymakers and analysts of essential evidence for evaluating benefit effectiveness”, would weaken critics of government policy, and would end statistics that have inspired improved evidence in many other countries. Consultation on this issue has ended: Government expect to respond to submissions by 4th Januay 2013.

The closing of take up statistics would also be jumping the gun, as the benefits system in the UK is changing with the introduction by this government of ‘Universal Credits’. A different consultation on production and dissemination of Claimant Count statistics following the introduction of Universal Credit, closing 12th November 2012.

Royal Statistical Society considers cuts to statistics

At its conference earlier in September, the UK’s Royal Statistical Society (RSS) considered whether the government cutbacks had undermined the UK evidence base. The three presentations, two from the UK Statistics Authority and one from Radical Statistics, are summarised below. We will post a blog when a full written version of the Radical Statistics presentation is available.

RICHARD ALLDRITT, UK STATISTICS AUTHORITY kicked off the session, noting that the budgets for statistical work across government vary and are set almost completely independently of each other, restricting the scope for co-ordination in spite of other virtues. It is not necessarily wrong to reduce or reorganise statistical production, and to assess change it is necessary to have a means of assessment, as the UKSA has via its Statistical Expenditure Report series. Maximising value needs to become a conscious focus of statistical work in government.  The case must be made convincingly that expenditure on statistics is not only good value, but better value than alternative uses of that money.

JIL MATHESON, NATIONAL STATISTICIAN focused on the statistical profession within government. The number of Official Statistics had decreased from 1,085 in 2010 to 932 in 2012. Prescription cost analyses from the Health and Social Care Information Centre had ended for example. Statistical budgets were not easy to measure as statistical work was variously described in each Department as research or under policy headings. The Office for National Statistics budget has been reduced by 17% from £161m to £136m during the five years to 2015. However, demand was still strong for statisticians, and permission had been gained to recruit again. Economists and Social Researchers have also grown in number recently. The reduced budget had focused attention on the right question: ‘Are we doing the right things with the budget we have?’

LUDI SIMPSON, speaking for the RADICAL STATISTICS GROUP, gave evidence that analysis has suffered in particular, making statistics of less value and giving greater space for misinterpretation. Compendia and ONS publications had ceased, and health analysis removed from ONS priorities. The UKSA Committee on Official Statistics had commented that they didn’t know enough to assess changes in statistics and had made no comment yet on cessation of statistics. The cuts were greater in Local Government where many senior staff had left. Strategic planning responsibilities have been transferred to District Councils without research support, from Regional Offices and Regional Development Bodies which have been abolished. The further introduction of commerce to public service has resulted in measuring demand rather than need. A full report will be circulated soon to the Stats User Net for comment.

UK job vacancy statistics changing

From ScotStat News 31 Aug 2012: “In late autumn 2012, there will be fundamental changes in Jobcentre Plus handling of employer vacancies and services in support of job search.

“This means that existing National Statistics on Jobcentre Plus vacancies will cease and there will be no further releases on Nomis. Statistics will be made available from the new job-search service. However, definitions will not be consistent with the existing series.

“DWP have opened a consultation with users of the statistics on 15 August 2012. This will run for 13 weeks until 14 November 2012. The consultation can be found on page 4 of the latest DWP Quarterly Statistical Summary. Users are encouraged to respond to this consultation.”

Current use of the vacancy statistics were discussed in July at the Labour Market Statistics User Group. Paul Bivand’s presentation mentions the upcoming changes.

The DWP quarterly statistical summary is also suspended pending revised reporting tools.