Statement from the Office for Statistics Regulation – COVID-19 Update

We welcome the work of analysts across a range of organisations in providing the public with information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pace at which these organisations have set up new data collection and dissemination processes has been unprecedented and enabled timely updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We warmly congratulate all those who are contributing to this effort.

Estimates for the number of cases and deaths for the whole UK are being published and each of the four nations within the UK should continue to collaborate to enable UK reporting as statistics are developed further.

In our discussions with producers of statistics, we have seen a commitment to continuously improve the information provided to the public. Following these discussions, there have been improvements to provide greater clarity, including:

  • clarification of what the daily figures published by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) do and do not include (those who have died in hospitals and who have tested positive for COVID-19);
  • improvements to the supporting information on the Public Health England (PHE) dashboard, including clearer explanation of the sources and coverage of these figures;
  • explanation in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly deaths statistics of how COVID-19 related deaths impact on the figures;
  • clarification of how ONS and DHSC figures relate to each other through the joint statement published by DHSC and ONS;
  • cessation of publication of a “patients recovered” figure by Public Health England because of data quality limitations.

Clear explanations of what the data mean for Northern Ireland and the commitment to regular publication times in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also support user confidence.

It is important that statistics producers continue to enhance the information available to the public. We have been assured that statistics producers are working to make developments, including:

  • further breakdowns of the data and more information about hospital admissions;
  • more information on the capacity of and demands on the health system, building on the analysis of NHS 111 calls published by NHS Digital;
  • further explanation of how the figures from the UK’s four nations compare to one another;
  • and, in the medium term, greater information about the demographic characteristics of people who are confirmed as having or having had COVID-19.

COVID-19 and the regulation of statistics

Today, The Director General for Statistics Regulation has made the following statement:

“This is a very difficult time for everyone as the UK adjusts to rapid changes in society and the economy. The priority is to protect the health and safety of individuals – including through changing working patterns and practices – and to support the information needs of society.

“Organisations that produce official statistics are rightly showing flexibility and adapting what they collect and publish to respond to this new environment. The Office for Statistics Regulation fully supports this flexibility and the responsiveness shown by producers of statistics.

“We have prepared a package of measures including guidance on factors that producers should consider when making changes to data collection, statistics production and release. We have also set out an approach to rapid regulatory reviews, potentially including National Statistics status, for any new outputs published by producers which inform the public about the coronavirus and its economic and social impacts. We will support sensible changes to existing production practices.”

UK Statistics Authority statement on Homelessness Statistics

The UK Statistics Authority has received complaints about the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s use of homelessness statistics on Sky News and BBC Radio 5 Live on Thursday 5 December.

In both interviews, the Chancellor stated that homelessness reached its peak in 2008, under the last Labour government, and that since then it has decreased by almost half. The Conservative Party has since said that the Chancellor misremembered the statistics.

 

So, what do official statistics tell us about homelessness?

There are a range of official statistics available, to help users understand trends in homelessness. We encourage users to take a broader view of the range of available homelessness data to appreciate the full homelessness picture in England.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) publish statutory homelessness statistics. These statistics show that statutory homelessness in England peaked in 2003 before falling to a low of around 42,000 households in 2009. Between 2009 and 2017, statutory homelessness then increased from this low point to around 58,000 households.

MHCLG’s separate statistics on homelessness prevention and relief activity undertaken by local authorities show that homelessness prevention support increased steadily between 2009/10 and 2017/18, with relief activity declining slightly over that period.

Other statistics show that there has been an increasing trend in the number of households living in temporary accommodation over the last decade, and MHCLG also publish estimates of the number of people sleeping rough.

Following recommendations made by the Authority in 2015, MHCLG have been improving the UK’s suite of homelessness statistics. However, we will continue to encourage the Department to bring together a range of statistics to provide a broader overview of homelessness.

 

Notes to Editors

  1. The UK Statistics Authority is an independent body operating at arm’s length from government as a non-ministerial department, directly accountable to Parliament. It was established on 1 April 2008 by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.
  2. The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. OSR provides independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK assessed against the Code of Practice for Statistics.
  3. Up until 31 March 2018 Statutory homelessness statistics measured households which were ‘unintentionally homeless’ and in a ‘priority need’ category (such as having dependent children), where the local authority had a ‘main duty’ to secure settled accommodation, and to ensure that suitable temporary accommodation was provided until settled accommodation is available. The definition of statutory homelessness changed from 1 April 2018, when MHCLG introduced a new data collection system to coincide with the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. Users cannot make direct comparisons between years before April 2018 and years following April 2018.
  4. MHCLG also publish statistics on the number of households living in temporary accommodation and the level of rough sleeping. Rough sleeping statistics provide a snapshot estimate of the number of rough sleepers on one night between October and November each year.
  5. Prior to the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act, MHCLG had also published statistics on prevention and relief activities undertaken in local authorities.
  6. For more information please contact the Authority press office on 07810 657 788 or the OSR press office on 020 7592 8659.

UK Statistics Authority statement on school funding information in Labour and Conservative manifestos

Statistics on school funding have been a contested area over the past year and in the current general election campaign. Two party manifestos have repeated earlier claims on which the UK Statistics Authority has already commented.

The Labour Party manifesto states that “83% of schools [are] still facing cuts next year.” When the UK Statistics Authority considered an earlier version of this claim by the National Education Union we found a number of issues with its presentation. Most significantly, the calculation is a comparison between 2015/16 and 2020/21. It does not refer specifically to changes due to occur next year. Following discussion with the Office for Statistics Regulation in January, the Union made changes to their School Cuts website to explain the methodology. Without this context, the headline statement is likely to give an unclear impression of future changes in school budgets.

The Conservative Party manifesto refers to past announcements of increased funding for schools in England. The section about investing in schools includes the statement that there will be “an extra £14 billion funding for schools”.  In October 2019, the Office for Statistics Regulation pointed out in a statement that this figure is calculated by adding together and then rounding increases across three years. The figure is not adjusted for inflation and represents the total increase in expenditure in cash terms across these years. In October, we therefore emphasised the need for clarity on what the figures represent. The manifesto fails to provide this clarity. The manifesto introduction mentions a time frame when referring to this increase, however when explaining changes in school funding dates or baselines are not given. The manifesto also translates the figure into a per week basis. The basis for the per week calculation is unclear.

Following the Office for Statistics Regulation’s previous work in this area, the Authority is encouraged by the Department for Education’s announcement that it will be publishing new summary statistics on school funding in January 2020.

 

Notes to editors

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. OSR provides independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK assessed against the Code of Practice for Statistics.

For more information please contact the Authority press office on 07810 657 788 or the OSR press office on 020 7592 8659.

UK Statistics Authority statement on Scottish Government’s use of the Labour Force Survey

Concerns have been raised with the Authority about the Scottish Government’s choice to highlight Labour Force Survey (LFS) estimates of the youth unemployment rate, rather than the more reliable Annual Population Survey (APS) estimates, in its recent Labour Market Key Findings report.

Data from the LFS at this level of detail are not considered reliable, and are not classed as National Statistics. The APS is the more reliable data source for estimates of youth unemployment, due to its larger sample size, particularly when considering a breakdown by age and country within the UK. It would be helpful to make this clear both in the summary published by the Scottish Government and any related use of the estimates, including on social media.

We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to improve the presentation of youth unemployment rates in Scotland, and its wish to consider whether it is appropriate to continue publishing estimates based on the LFS.

 

Notes to editors:

Official statistics assessed as fully compliant with the Code of Practice for Statistics are given National Statistics status. The National Statistics designation indicates that the statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value .

The Scottish Government’s Labour Market Key Findings report is available here.

The ONS Regional Statistics release, which Scottish Government drew from in their report, can be found here. The APS data used can be found here along with the LFS official statistics data used here.

In this report, youth unemployment refers to those aged 16 to 24.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. We provide independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK assessed against the Code of Practice for Statistics.

For more information please contact the Authority press office on 07810 657 788 or the OSR press office on 020 7592 8659.

OSR statement on EU settlement scheme statistics

The Home Office produce data and statistics on the EU settlement scheme – the application scheme, launched on 30 March 2019, for EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and their family to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.  These statistics are released as experimental statistics meaning they are going through development and evaluation.

The Home Office is continuing to work to improve these statistics to ensure they meet the needs of users. At present, the statistics focus on the number of applications. This will differ from the number of applicants as the process may require repeat applications for an individual to be granted ‘settled status’. The Home Office is aware of the need to provide statistics not only on the number of applications to the scheme but also on the number of individual applicants.

Statistics are vital to support public debate and evaluation of government policies and programmes. Statistical producers must understand and respond to the key questions being asked in a topic area and seek to produce statistics that are at their most valuable to support this need for data and statistics.

As experimental statistics are developed, openly encouraging user feedback and fully considering the value of the statistics is essential. Providing users with information on development plans and timescales will help maintain user confidence throughout the process.

OSR statement on school funding announcements

It is vital that data and information on school funding published by the Department for Education are presented clearly and not open to misinterpretation. In light of enquiries we have received around the Department’s recent funding announcement “Prime Minister boosts schools with £14 billion package” we are setting out our view. This follows our previous letter to the Department on its education funding statistics.

We recognise that the Department’s statement is supported with appropriate context. The £14 billion is a cumulative figure in cash terms over three years of funding to 2022/23, compared to 2019/20 funding levels. The £14 billion figure is calculated by adding together and then rounding increases of £2.6 billion in 2020/21, £4.8 billion in 2021/21, and £7.1 billion in 2022/23. It is not adjusted for inflation and represents the total increase in expenditure in cash terms across these years.  It does not mean that the annual budget in any year will increase by £14 billion.

We are satisfied that the publicly available material contains this context and that what the figures represent is reasonably explained.

There is however a risk that the figures could mislead: for example, people who read no further might expect that the headline figure of £14 billion refers to an annual increase.

We therefore encourage the Department and Ministers to continue to provide appropriate context when making statements on school funding.

We will be undertaking further work with a view to publishing our expectations more broadly on best practice in describing public spending.

 

Notes to Editors

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is the regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority. We provide independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK assessed against the Code of Practice for Statistics.

For more information please contact 020 7592 8659 or 020 3741 1742, by email, or visit the OSR website.

OSR statement on fraud statistics

There are two main statistical sources which report on fraud: police recorded crime and the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is clear that the CSEW provides the best indication of the volume of fraud offences experienced by individuals. Most of these offences do not come to the attention of the police and as a result police recorded crime gives a limited picture of fraud. Police recorded crime figures include fraud offences recorded by Action Fraud. The CSEW, as a household survey, records crimes experienced by individuals. The Times article published this week, illustrates the complexities of fraud and recording it as a crime.

The ONS quarterly crime statistics bulletin for England and Wales section nine, highlights the various sources and their strengths and limitations. The bulletin clearly sets out key differences and provides insight on which source provides the better measure for each situation. It includes reference to data collected by UK Finance which gives a fuller picture of card and bank account fraud. It is clear in this publication that the best indication on the number of fraudulent offences committed against individuals, such as those highlighted in the article, is provided within the CSEW.

In 2014, the UK Statistics Authority removed the National Statistics designation from police recorded crime statistics to signal to users their limitations in terms of quality. The CSEW remains a National Statistic. Concerns about the administrative recording of fraud highlighted by the article are consistent with these judgements about National Statistics status.

UK Statistics Authority Safeguards Statistics

The UK Statistics Authority has today published its Annual Review of Casework.

Making public statements about the dissemination and use of statistics has been an important part of the Authority’s work since it began. In this work, the Authority is guided by its statutory objective to promote and safeguard official statistics.

The Office for Statistics Regulation investigates all cases reported to the Authority by members of the public, politicians, the media and third sector-organisations, as well as issues we identify ourselves.

This year’s annual review finds:

  • Although the number of cases investigated by the Authority has risen, there have been fewer cases in which we have identified a clear misuse of statistics;
  • Across some themes, including economic statistics, we are seeing fewer concerns raised about statistics production, suggesting improving trust in official data;
  • There continues to be concern about the production of health and social care statistics; and
  • Over the course of the year we have seen an emergence in concerns raised regarding education funding data.

Commenting on the publication of this annual review Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said:

“This year the public, politicians and the media all played their part in raising cases with the UK Statistics Authority about the use and dissemination of statistics. But what we have found – and this may surprise some – is that the blatant misuse of statistics among politicians and members of the media is really quite rare.

“Of course we are looking carefully at those instances in which concerns persist. Reflecting on our casework, as well as our wider knowledge, the UK Statistics Authority will continue to think carefully about how it can improve the UK’s evidence base, including in important areas such as health and social care, and education funding.”

Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation, added:

“Casework is an extremely important element of our daily regulatory business and this report highlights the key issues we have identified proactively and reactively to independently stand up for statistics as a public asset. The Office for Statistics Regulation remains dedicated to enhancing public confidence in the trustworthiness, quality and value of statistics as set out by the Code of Practice, celebrating when the standards are upheld and challenging publicly when they are not.”

 

See also:

Annual Review of Authority Casework, 2017 to 2018

UK Statistics Authority Statement on the future of the RPI

The Advisory Panel on Consumer Prices provided advice to the National Statistician on the composition of the Retail Prices Index (RPI) in light of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report Measuring Inflation, published in January 2019.

Taking account of that advice, the then National Statistician concluded that the current position was unsatisfactory and put options for the future of the RPI to the UK Statistics Authority Board on 26 February 2019.

After receiving this advice, Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote on behalf of the Board to the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer on 4 March 2019 with the following recommendations:

  • that the publication of the RPI be stopped at a point in future; and
  • in the interim, the shortcomings of the RPI should be addressed by bringing the methods of the CPIH into it.

Today the Chancellor has announced his intention to consult on whether to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI between 2025 and 2030, effectively aligning the measures. The UK Statistics Authority will consult on the method of making this change.

Speaking today, Sir David said:

“The role of the UK Statistics Authority is to promote and safeguard official statistics.

“We have been clear that the RPI is not a good measure, at times significantly overestimating inflation and at other times underestimating it, and have consistently urged all – in Government and the private sector – to stop using it. However, the RPI is unique as we need consent from the Chancellor to make certain changes, such as the one we have proposed.

“Although we regret that no change will occur before 2025, we welcome the Chancellor’s intention to consult on resolving current issues with the RPI.

“We continue to urge the Government and others to cease to use the RPI. It would be wrong for the Government to continue to use a measure of inflation which it itself accepts is flawed, where it has the opportunity to change.”


 

Notes to Editors

  1. Under Section 21 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, before making any change to the coverage or the basic calculation of the RPI, the UK Statistics Authority must consult the Bank of England. Where proposed changes to the RPI are deemed material and detrimental to relevant gilt holders by the Bank of England, changes cannot be made without the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  2. Under Section 21, Sir David Norgrove wrote to the Governor of the Bank of England on 18 February and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 4 March, proposing:
    1. that the publication of the RPI be stopped at a point in future; and
    2. in the interim, that shortcomings of the RPI be addressed, by bringing the methods of the CPIH into the index.
  3. His letters drew both on the formal advice of the UK’s National Statistician, and on the advice of the National Statistician’s Advisory Panel on Consumer Prices.
  4. The Bank of England responded on 4 March to confirm changes proposed were material and detrimental to holders of relevant gilts.
  5. Following the appointment of a new Chancellor, Sir David Norgrove wrote to the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP on 30 July 2019, highlighting the importance of the issue and the need to resolve at the earliest practical occasion.
  6. The Chancellor responded to the UK Statistics Authority’s proposals on 4 September 2019. In his response, the Chancellor announced his intention to consult on the timing of when to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI, effectively aligning the measures, to give users time to prepare for the many complex effects such a change will have.
  7. Sir David has responded to the Chancellor welcoming the intention to consult, while expressing regret that no change will occur before 2025.  He has also urged users to cease using the RPI.
  8. In 2030 the requirement for the Authority to consult the Chancellor before making changes to the coverage or calculation of the RPI falls away.
  9. While the current Authority Board cannot commit its successors, the statistical weaknesses of the RPI make it unlikely that the Authority would take a different view from our recommendations in 2030
  10. The Authority has also published its response to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

 

 

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