This update provides an assessment of current progress towards meeting the six outcomes necessary to build a safe and effective data linkage system outlined in our September 2018 report Joining Up Data for Better Statistics.
We have highlighted progress towards achieving the six key outcomes in several areas. These include:
- the sharing powers of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) are increasingly being used to support new data linkages for statistics and research purposes
- new technical solutions have been developed to address data security issues associated with large-scale data shares
- cross-government work to improve data quality, led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), is underway
- the Economic and Social Research Council’s new investment in administrative data use via Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) has been launched and is developing a suite of research-ready datasets to support projects designed to answer cross-government, policy-relevant questions
- the ONS Secure Research Service is increasing its visibility and reach following new investment from ADR UK that has enabled it to provide a more extensive cross-government secure data access resource
- the process for accrediting data processors under the DEA is underway, and the infrastructure is now in place for researchers to apply to access data under its provisions
- a new National Statistician’s Quality Review (NSQR) of data linkage methodology has been announced and will feature at the October 2019 cross-government data linkage symposium.
However, there are still notable gaps and some fundamental problems that must be addressed:
- ONS has yet to receive the data it requires from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) to deliver major areas of its work programme, which also has consequences for devolved administrations who rely on ONS to acquire data from these departments on their behalf
- there is a lack of cross-departmental, clear and coherent information for the public as to how data are shared and used safely to deliver public benefit, and no apparent plans to develop this
- with a few exceptions, meaningful public engagement on data use is not yet a routine or core activity for statistics producers
- the potential to pursue significant cross-departmental infrastructure investment to improve data quality has been delayed following the cancellation of the 2019 Spending Review
- many of the positive developments noted above lack transparency and, in some cases, have progressed at a slower pace than is ideal.
We welcome and share the new National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond’s stated ambitions to improve people’s lives by delivering better insights from statistics and research via data sharing and linkage. We will work with him to identify areas where we can add our support to his efforts to address the current challenges. We will also continue to identify opportunities to champion the value of data sharing and linkage to deliver insights and answer society’s important questions.