Reduced Statistics Redux

In 2012 ‘Reduced Statistics’, a working group from Radical Statistics, took a detailed look at cuts to official statistics under the coalition  since 2010, and what they might mean in local government, housing, health and education. This led to a draft report as well as a debate with the UK Statistics Authority and ONS at the Royal Statistical’s Society’s conference. In a recent blog post and seminar at the London School of Economics, Alex Fenton looks at the latest information from the UK Statistics Authority on official statistics, and considers what it means in the light of the government’s proclaimed enthusiasm for “open data” and ”transparency”.

View the LSE British Politics and Policy blog pos by Alex Fenton (3/11/14): Austerity stats: Making sense of cuts and changes to official statistics under the coalition

Time to show your love for the Census

Be sure to read the recent Radical Statistics articles about the implications of the loss of the population census by Danny Dorling and Paul Norman, then answer this consultation!

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is consulting on the census and
the future provision of population statistics in England and Wales.
Improvements in technology and in government data sources offer the
opportunity to modernise the existing census process or to develop an
alternative census method that reuses government administrative data.

Therefore the two approaches to modernising the census in the future are:

1. An online census that is completed once a decade.
2. A census that uses existing government data and compulsory annual
surveys.

Both approaches would provide annual statistics about the size of the
population, nationally and for local authorities. A census using
existing data and surveys would provide more statistics about the
characteristics of the population every year. An online census would
provide more detailed statistics once a decade.

To find out more about the consultation please download the consultation
document from http://tinyurl.com/o22s8l3.

To take part in the consultation please complete the online survey
available from http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XY3SK3W.

The survey closes on the 13th December.

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.]

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.

Is it useful for government to publish the take up of welfare benefits?

The UK Department of Work and Pensions is running a consultation from July 12th to October 4th on the future of the annual statistical publication Income Related Benefits:

Estimates of Take-Up. It is proposed that the publication is discontinued. The Take-Up publication is sourced from the Family Resources Survey and shows the level of take-up of entitlement to benefit for the six main income-related benefits in Great Britain:

Income Support, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Jobseekers’ Allowance (Income-Based) and Employment and Support Allowance (Income-Related).

The full National Statistics publication can be found at:

http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/index.php?page=irb_arc

The consultation can be found at:

http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/income_analysis/july_2012/take_up_irb_consultation.pdf

Please direct any questions on this to Simon Lunn simon.lunn@dwp.gsi.gov.uk or 0207 449 5361.

Housing and communities in England

A briefing paper from Reduced Statistics investigates the UK Department for Communities and Local Government. It had  a 7.8% cut in the 2010 Budget, with further large yearly reductions to 2015. Under the doctrine of ‘localism’, much of its core policy and analysis work in housing, planning and regeneration has been devolved to local authorities. A number of its non-Whitehall agencies which produced statistics have also been abolished or merged. Read the full five page Reduced Statistics briefing on housing communities in England.

Comments are welcome to expand and improve the content of the briefing.

Scottish Government Surveys amalgamated from 2012

The annual budget for four major Scottish population surveys has been cut by £2.8m, reducing the sample size for some questions and omitting a nurse visit and its blood samples. On the plus side, core questions will have a larger sample size in the combined survey. The four affected surveys are:

    • The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
    • The Scottish Health Survey
    • The Scottish Household Survey
    • The Scottish House Condition Survey

The Scottish Government report summarising these changes was published in November 2011. Comments are requested by michael.davidson@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.