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:


The consultation can be found at:


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.

Another Statistics Canada chief quits over cuts and control

Philip Cross, StatsCan’s chief economic analyst, has resigned, citing the reduction of reliable basic information from the Census, and the politicisation of the national statistics agency.

The resignation comes 18 months after the head of StatsCan Munir Sheikh left, forced by the Federal Government to take responsibility for its decision to replace the Census detailed questionnaire by a voluntary household survey. The Federal Government felt that a compulsory census was invasive of privacy, a comment also made by journalists supporting a ‘Mind your own business’ campaign during the 2011 UK Census.

The unknown bias in the Canadian voluntary household survey is blamed for serious uncertainty in Canada’s price index. The consequences of the decision to make the NHS voluntary have only begun to manifest themselves, say economists in Canada. Statistics Canada has had a long deserved worldwide reputation for its independence and authoritative contributions to official statistical methods.  These cuts to the Canadian Census and other surveys caused an outcry and fears of similar downgrading of the statistical base in other countries, as reported in previous entries to this Reduced Statistics blog.

Further cost cuts, due to be announced in this spring’s federal budget, mean the Canadian agency is preparing for the possibility of layoffs.

General Lifestyle (Household) Survey ends

On 30th June, ONS announced that it the General Lifestyle Survey (previously the General Household Survey) will be discontinued from January 2012, with some questions transferred to other surveys.

In reponse to consultation, the ONS states:

” ONS welcomes all of the responses received and notes the concerns. These responses will be taken into consideration during the next steps of this project. Given the need to harmonise UK and EU poverty indicators, and ensure efficient data collection, we propose that the GLF ceases to run in its current form from January 2012.
Statistics on Income and Living Conditions required by European law (EU-SILC) will be collected via the Family Resources Survey (FRS) with a standalone survey providing the longitudinal SILC element. GLF questions not covered by EU-SILC will be collected using a separate survey, subject to continued funding for non-EU-SILC variables. Over the next six months, ONS will explore the exact format for this survey to best meet users’ needs. Details will be made available later in the year.”

Full details are available from the ONS website in the ‘Response to the future of the GLF survey consultation’ http://www.ons.gov.uk/about/consultations/closed-consultations/the-future-of-the-glf-survey/

UK Statistics Authority insists on doing its job

A meeting of Learned Societies heard that the UK Statistics Authority had found that the government was breaking its own code of practice on consultation, and was not willing to inform the Authority of proposed changes to official statistics; The Authority is required by law to advise on the impact of changes in statistical production. The same meeting heard that government departments are doing their own thing when implementing cuts, some cutting outputs with minimal or no public consultaton, and others involving users in extensive reviews. Not all are sharing their plans with the head of the government’s statistical profession, the National Statistician. 

The Chair of the UK Statistics Authority Sir Michael Scholar expressed disappointment in a letter to Minister Francis Maude last October 2010 that the government was unwilling to allow the Authroity to advise on the impact of proposed changes to statistics, listing 17 examples where the statistics of one government department informed the work of others.

The UK Statistics Authority issued the first of its Statistical Expenditure reports, in which it investigates “any changes to departmental statistical work programmes where there are questions about whether user needs have been fully considered; where adequate consultation may not have been carried out; where the effects on other departments or other statistical series may not have been taken into account; or on the rationale underpinning the proposals more generally.”

The first Statistical Expenditure report is attached to a letter to Eric Pickles on 8th April 2011, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, which demands that the government responds to the needs expressed in consultation over the Citizenship Survey. The survey has been cut completely, with fieldwork ending on March 31st 2011, in spite of users’ clear identification of its importance in ‘providing  evidence on the Big Society, extremism, cohesion and integration, fairness in the criminal justice system, discrimination, the impact of immigration, volunteering, well-being, and many other issues’.

Scottish Surveys reduced

A review of Scotland’s surveys, started in 2008, has turned into a cost-cutting exercise resulting in greater efficiency, fewer outputs and less precision. The full Scottish Household Survey Review is not yet published, but the Scottish House Conditions Survey will become a module within the general Scottish Household Survey. The Scottish Health Survey sample will be reduced by one third and will no longer include a nurse’s visit. The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey will be reduced in size, no longer providing data for local authority areas, and be carried out each two years rather than annually.

On the brighter side, the three surveys will be harmonised and from 2013 pooled data will provide some estimates for smaller populations than previously possible.

The changes will take place from the end of 2012. Summary by the Scottish Government.