Editorial: ‘The cuts’ (Radical Statistics issue 103)

From Radical Statistics 103, published November 2010. Available online: February 2011.Fat man leaning on thin man saying We're all having to  tighten our belts.

Since they came to power, the Coalition Government has been reshaping official statistics so as to tell a story. Part of that story is how Britain was brought to ruin. Over the past decade, economic growth in the UK has been driven by the accumulation of unsustainable levels of private sector debt and rising public sector debt. This pattern of unbalanced growth and excessive debt has helped create the exceptional economic and fiscal challenges that the Government must address …1

Part of the story is the attribution of responsibility for the problems to the public sector. Over the last decade, the UK’s economy became unbalanced, and relied on unsustainable public spending and rising levels of public debt. 2 Part is how welfare dependency has grown. We need to address the high and increasing costs of welfare dependency. There are now nearly five million working-age people receiving the main out-of-work benefits. 3

This leads to the conclusion that the deficit must be tackled by curbing dependency. The Spending Review makes choices. Particular focus has been given to reducing welfare costs and wasteful spending. 4

Radical Statistics has always been concerned at the extent to which official statistics reflect governmental rather than social purposes. At every stage of the narrative, the evidence has been distorted. The UK public debt, as a percentage of GDP is less than in Germany. France, the USA and in many periods of the UK‟s own history. The public debt was incurred, not because of the expansion of the public sector, but to save the banks, and the economy. The growth in benefit expenditure reflects the extension of entitlements for older people, increasing unemployment and responses to disability. The statistical presentation is often questionable. This extraordinary graph – the third circle is more than double the size of the first – comes from The State of the Nation, published by the Cabinet Office: claimants have increased by over 40% since 1997, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million.

circles showing increasing claimant numbers from 1997 to 2009

Figure 3.1: The numbers of working-age Disability Living Allowance claimants have increased by over 40% since 1997, from 1.2 million to 1.8 million

The government’s claim to be giving priority to deficit reduction is inconsistent with its limited emphasis on taxation. John Grieve Smith points to an alternative of increasing tax income, from VAT, income tax, inheritance tax and corporation tax, which has reduced in the UK from 33% to 28% during the time of the Labour administration.

Stewart Lansley cogently argues for action to limit the rising concentration of wealth at the top. This raises the concern that the central focus is not the reduction of the deficit, but rolling back the frontiers of the state. One aspect of the government strategy that is
hard to quantify is the privatisation of services (to those who can afford a profitable price). Radical Statistics has received a request from the public sector union UNISON for help with quantifying the impact on services of privatisation: please contact troika@radstats.org.uk with your willingness to work with them.

The papers in this special issue examine some of the key propositions in the government’s analysis. Stewart Lansley looks at the history of the crash; John Grieve Smith and Richard Exell, at the economics and the public sector; and Paul Spicker at spending on welfare. Other papers are concerned with the impact of these measures on the people they affect: Tim Horton and Howard Reed consider the distributional implications of the cuts, Alan Franco the local impact of benefit cuts, Jay Ginn pensions and support for older people, and Robert Moore the effects on Wales.

Paul Spicker and Ludi Simpson, Guest Editors

1 HM Treasury (2010) Budget 2010, HC61, http://www.hmtreasury.gov.uk/d/junebudget_complete.pdf
2 Cm 7942 (2010) Spending Review 2010, London: HM Treasury, p 6
3 Cm 7913 (2010) 21st Century Welfare, London: DWP, p 4.
4 Spending Review 2010

UK Health Statistics priorities

There are two days left to make comments to the Health Statistics Users Group on strategic priorities for health and social care statistics and information. All user comments received by the end of January 2011 will feed in to the annual statement of strategic priorities for official statistics on health and social care.

It is particularly helpful if you can include some comments on the information areas that have been identified, using the framework provided, as well as indicating your priorities.  Although there is an opportunity to comment on all the information areas, please note that you are free to comment on just one or two of those information areas, if those are the only ones of particular concern to you.

Alternatively, if you just wish to endorse, query, or add some further detail, to the comments that were made at the workshop, then this is also helpful.

Accessing the workshop outputs and making comments. You can see the output from the workshop on the HSUG web site by following the link to emerging strategic priorities on health and social care statistics. You can also go directly to the report of the workshop on the RSS website or go directly to the user survey.

England&Wales Citizenship Survey cancelled

The last fieldwork for the Citizenship Survey will be March 31st 2011. The Citizenship Survey has been used since 2001 to understand the attitudes and diversity of neighbourhoods. It has been a face to face household survey carried out by the Department for Communities and Local Government covering a representative core sample of almost 10,000 adults in England and Wales each year, plus a minority ethnic boost sample of 5,000 and a Muslim boost sample of 1,200.

The press release announcing the closure states that the survey is  ‘complex and expensive’ and refers to the ‘current drive to deliver cost savings across government and to reduce the fiscal deficit’. A report of the consultation during November 2010 is promised. There is no further attempt to justify cancelling a survey which has been used to inform a wide range of social policies, and without which there will be no regular monitoring of attitudes and behaviour in local neighbourhoods.

Canada Census 2011: Not Scientifically Valid?

The December 2010 (Vol 7, no. 4) of Significance Magazine (a joint publication of the American Statistical Association and the Royal Statistical Society) has a piece by Jon Baskerville on the reduced 2011 census of Canada (as well as comments about reduced statistics in the UK) on page 172.

The piece ends with the observation, “…if Canada finds a compulsory census incompatible with the freedom of its citizens, will the world have to follow??”

(Supplied by David Swanson)

Voluntary Census in Canada makes academic research more expensive

Ellen Goddard, professor of rural economy, expects that data from the now voluntary Census Long Form will be so unreliable that researchers will need more money to gain access to private databases, according to a CTV News Report. The extra money for purchasing data, or to undertake fresh research, may not be available from strained government research funding for universities. As a result, less useful research will be undertaken, claims the report.

Statistics Canada cuts five more surveys

To meet $7m cuts, Statistics Canada is ending the Industrial Pollutant Release Survey, and the Quarterly Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Survey, both pilot projects; the National Population Health Survey; the Survey of the Suppliers of Business Financing; and the Survey on Financing of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Globe and Mail report.

The cuts fuel the widespread dismay for the ending of the compulsory census ‘long form’ which allows high quality social and employment analysis of Canadian provinces and neighbourhoods. See posts on October 26th and August 11th, and new press coverage of EU concern.

UK General Lifestyle Survey (ex GHS) under threat

The Economic and Social Data Service has appealed for evidence that might help to save the General Lifestyle Survey (GLF), using the following information (taken from an email generally circulated to all GLF users):

The future of the GLF (previously known as the General Household Survey) is under threat and we need your help.

 The GLF may cease to continue in 2012. THE EU_SILC questions currently on the GLF may be moving to the Family Resources Survey in 2012 which would leave the GLF with only a few sections (health questions on adults’ and childrens’ health conditions and use of health services; smoking and drinking; and family information questions, including marriage, cohabitation and fertility histories). Therefore ONS are considering moving these sections onto the Opinions survey (aka Omnibus Survey) – however the Opinions survey has a different design than the GLF; the survey is cross-sectional and currently selects one adult at random.  In contrast, the GLF is longitudinal and interviews all adults in the household. The achieved sample size of adults that provide a complete response is similar for both surveys.

We need your help – users of the health, smoking and drinking, and family information data, and the GLF in general asked to provide ESDS with information on:

–         what you use the GLF for and why it is important for your work

–          the impact of moving these topics to the Opinions survey and also the impact of not running these questions at all. If the impact is likely to be high then please give details.

 Any other comments that will help argue the case to keep the GLF are very welcome.to Vanessa.Higgins@manchester.ac.uk by December 8th.

UK government proposes to end its Citizenship Survey

Consultation ends Tuesday 30th November 2010 on the government proposal to end its Citizenship Survey which for 10 years has collected information relevant to teh past government’s ‘community cohesion’ policies. The survey has been the main and regular source of information about how people view their neighbourhood. It could also be seen as essential to the new Coalition government’s focus on both localism and voluntary neighbourhood action.

Users are asked to respond to the the consultation exercise on the FUTURE OF THE CITIZENSHIP SURVEY which is due to close next Tuesday; this consultation outlines the intention to cancel future Citizenship Surveys.

It is essential that we understand the implications of this proposal, therefore, the consultation seeks to identify:
-how the Survey data is used,
-what if any implications there are of stopping the survey, -if there are options for alternative information sources.

The consultation runs until TUESDAY 30 NOVEMBER 2010. Please take the time to look through this and consider how this might impact on you. The consultation can be found at:


Respond as guided in that link, and also to citizenship.survey@communities.gsi.gov.uk