Office for Statistics Regulation written evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry on Social Care: Funding and Workforce

Dear Mr Hunt,

I write in response to the Health and Social Care Committee’s call for evidence for the inquiry considering Social Care: Funding and Workforce.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is the independent regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority.

We provide independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK, including those in Devolved Nations and the NHS. Our regulatory work is underpinned by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.

We set the standards official statistics must meet through the statutory Code of Practice for Statistics. We ensure that producers of official statistics uphold these standards by conducting assessments against the Code. Those which meet the standards are given National Statistics status, indicating that they meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality, and value. We also report publicly on system-wide issues and on the way statistics are being used, celebrating when the standards are upheld and challenging publicly when they are not.

In January 2020, the OSR published findings from an in-depth review of Adult Social Care statistics in England. We are using this report as the basis for our submission to the Committee, the findings of which have never been more relevant as society adjusts to the rapid changes resulting from the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

There are gaps in the data and information that might tell us about the real cost of providing social care and ensuring good outcomes for people who need social care. Our review finds that this important sector of public policy is very poorly served by data. Social care has not been measured or managed as visibly as hospital care. The gaps in data and analysis make it harder for individuals and organisations to make informed decisions.

We want to see improvements to the existing statistics, as well as more fundamental changes. This will require a cross-government commitment to improvements. We strongly encourage the implementation of joined up data across health and social care to understand how the two systems interact, and what drives the best outcomes.

Our review highlighted three main areas for attention:

• Better leadership and collaboration across the many different organisations involved in the process of publishing official statistics on social care, that enables working across boundaries to join-up government departments, local authorities and between public and private sector providers.
• Addressing gaps in available data as most information available comes from local authorities with responsibilities for adult social services and does not cover private household expenditure, privately funded care, or the value of unpaid care, meaning the total cost of social care provision remains unknown.
• Improving existing official statistics through accessibility, coherence, quality, timeliness, and granularity of the data to provide insight and allow existing data to better meet user needs.

We have said for some time that there is no parity of measure between the health and social care sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on care homes and clearly shown that the approach to measurement in the social care sector has been lacking. In a response to the disease, there is now more data available on social care – this should continue after the pandemic ends.

The Committee may also be interested in our other work in response to COVID-19. This includes rapid regulatory reviews of new outputs from the Government Statistical Service, and statements advocating improvements to the presentation and availability of data on COVID-19.

We will continue to work with a range of organisations to make the case for improvements to social care statistics in England and more widely across the UK. We hope to raise the profile of these issues through this submission.

I look forward to seeing the conclusions of your inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Your sincerely,
Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation

 

ANEX

Overview

1. This submission is based on the findings from our review of Adult Social Care Statistics in England published in January 2020.

2. Adult social care is a large and important area which requires strong evidence to support effective policy development, delivery of care and personal choice. Better data infrastructure and outputs which address the gaps in existing data are essential for individuals and organisations to make informed decisions

3. Improved data matters in solving problems, supporting efficiency, and maximising outcomes. It is also important to inform decisions made by individuals about the care they receive or provide for themselves and their families. Collaboration across traditional boundaries, across public and private sectors, is necessary to deliver the coherent and complete picture of adult social care.
Better leadership and collaboration

4. There needs to be a strong voice to champion statistics that meet a range of user needs and strong leadership to implement the required changes. Many different organisations are involved in publishing official statistics on social care. Making improvements will require collaboration across government departments; local authorities; and between public and private sector providers.

5. In line with the introduction of new technologies to assist healthcare, we want to see progress made with proposed infrastructure that will support the integration of health and
social care data so that there is a better understanding of the interaction between health and care and an individual’s experience. We welcome plans set out in the government’s vision for digital, data and technology in health and care. We hope the establishment of NHSX, a body to ‘progress digital transformation of the NHS’, will allow government to deliver on this ambition while considering data needs. There is also potential for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to support the sector through innovative approaches to data analysis, such as data linking, and use of provisions in the Digital Economy Act.

Addressing data gaps

6. There are significant gaps in what adult social care data currently measures:

• Delivery of social care outside statutory control: Statistics on social care activity are primarily sourced from data provided by Councils with Adult Social Services Responsibilities (CASSRs). The established assessment criteria mean that many individuals privately funding care or receiving informal care have little or no contact with a local authority. CASSRs can therefore only measure part of the picture. These limited data have to act as a proxy for the whole social care sector. The information on unmet need and future demand is also limited.
• Funding outside statutory control: There are gaps in understanding of the scale of household expenditure on privately funded care and the value of unpaid care. There is no official estimate of the value of unpaid care provided by family and friends, but unofficial estimates that do exist vary between £100bn and £132bn per year, far exceeding HM Treasury spending*, giving a sense of the unacknowledged value of this support.
• Individual experiences and quality of care: There is little information on pathways and transitions between health care and social care – new infrastructure is required to effectively address this. There is also little information on the quality of care and outcomes for those who experience social care.

7. The gaps identified are significant and need to be addressed in order to support effective delivery and facilitate improved outcomes for those who experience social care. There is public and  policy interest in knowing about social care activity and spend wherever it happens, whether in the home, in a residential home or nursing home. The traditional route of relying on data collected by local authorities to complete official statistics is not enough.

Improving existing official statistics

8. Looking across existing statistics on adult social care we found some good examples of insightful analyses, However, there were many instances where we identified that improvements were necessary. There are improvements which should be made to the existing official statistics, around:

• Accessibility
• Coherence
• Quality
• Timeliness
• Granularity of the data

9. Changes in these areas could improve insight and allow the existing data to better meet user needs. We welcome the ONS proposals for a portal to signpost users to existing social care statistics, and want to see all producers of social care statistics take on the recommendations we have set out in letters to the relevant Head of Profession for Statistics following our detailed review of official statistics outputs as part of this review.

10. We will continue to work with a range of organisations to make the case for improvements to social care statistics. We hope to raise the profile of the  issues highlighted in this report and work towards parity of esteem between health and social care statistics.

11. Improved statistics can support policy makers who are developing proposals to reform delivery of adult social care, as well as individuals who will be able to hold government to account and make better informed decisions about the issues impacting their lives and their families.

Data and statistics on COVID-19 impacts on the care sector

12. Statistics on COVID-19 in the care sector – including care home outbreaks, the number of suspected COVID-19 cases in care homes, and registered deaths in care homes involving COVID-19 – are currently released through a variety of different reports including daily and weekly surveillance reports and within weekly registered death releases. These statistics start to provide a picture of the impacts on those receiving care and help decision makers to understand and manage COVID-19 within care settings. However, further analyses are needed to provide context and facilitate a better understanding of key areas for concern.

13. To further improve these statistics, we suggest producers continue collaborating to present a coherent picture of the impact of COVID-19 on those in care settings across the UK. For example, the ONS is collaborating with the Care Quality Commission in England and the Care Inspectorate Wales to publish early estimates of COVID-19 related deaths in care homes. We welcome these new data and efforts and recognise that producers are seeking to develop statistics provision in this area.

14. Producers also need to explain the wider context of COVID-19 and the large number of deaths for those in care settings. There is a need for information to contextualise the data and statistics on deaths in the sector as well as to support management of COVID-19.

15. Alongside this, producers need to understand and assess the impact of any changes in the circumstances and context of data sources, and any implications for use should be clearly explained. Within the varied landscape of statistics and data on those in care settings, producers should make the definitions within their outputs clear to users. For example, clearly identifying statistics as deaths involving COVID-19, deaths due to COVID-19, or deaths of those with a positive test result.

16. Producers should work closely with relevant parties, such as the Care Quality Commission, to understand and investigate any changes in the recording of COVID-19 on death certificates which may impact on the accuracy of the data on deaths in the care sector.

17. There is a need for producers to provide or enable regional comparisons where possible, with guidance and contextual information to support the interpretation of the statistics, as well as UK comparisons where possible. Guidance should be provided on whether the data from different countries of the UK can be compared to help users understand and interpret the statistics. The  similarities and differences between the country-level data should be clearly explained, particularly any differences in care provision, differences in the characteristics of the population of those receiving care, and data collection methods that could affect the ability to make comparisons.

18. The OSR has also published a full statement on data and statistics around the impact of COVID-19 on the care sector.

OFFICE FOR STATISTICS REGULATION, JUNE 2020

 

* Latest figures from HM Treasury show that public expenditure on personal social services in England (table 10.1 of that report) amounted to £24.5 billion in 2017/18, and this does not include the significant private expenditure on social care.

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the International Trade Committee’s inquiry on the coronavirus pandemic and international trade

Dear Chair,

I write in response to the International Trade Committee’s call for evidence for its inquiry on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and international trade.

As the Committee will be aware, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s National Statistical Institute, and largest producer of official statistics. We aim to provide a firm evidence base
for sound decisions and develop the role of official statistics in democratic debate.

We have focused our evidence on the new analysis we are doing to illustrate the impact of the pandemic on international trade, and how we are ensuring continuity of the data more broadly.

Continuity of the data

The ONS have prioritised assessment of data supplies to give early signal of potential data gaps and, or reduction in data quality. For Trade in Goods (TiG), the ONS works closely with HMRC colleagues to receive monthly data deliveries, including separate files for EU and non-EU data. The EU data is the imports and exports between the UK and each member state and is collected via a monthly survey called Intrastat. We are reassured that, as an online survey collection platform, HMRC can maintain business survey engagement and high response rates. Non-EU data are taken from the customs declarations which are timelier and have been used in the delivery of real time indictors (non-EU weekly packs) captured in the next section.

For Trade in Services (TiS) the challenges have been more immediate. Data from the International Trade in Services (ITIS) survey is the largest TiS data source, contributing around 50% of inputs into TiS. To date, ITIS data collection has not been moved online meaning the majority of businesses provide data via the paper survey. Our experience more generally is that businesses are  finding it harder to respond to paper forms during the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps as staff working from home have limited access to post. Our mitigation strategy to account for anticipated fall in response rates has been to ensure the techniques for dealing with missing data, known as imputation, remain robust; specifically, whether the existing methodologies cope with lower
response and produce meaningful estimates that can be used to produce TiS estimates.

One approach to developing imputation models is to identify relationships between ITIS data and other economic data. Our research shows that there is a strong predictive relationship between  the Index of Services (IoS) and Index of Production (IoP) turnover data, which are the two largest data sources that contribute to early estimates of GDP, and ITIS data. As such, models have been developed to estimate ITIS data based on wider movement in the economy. These estimates will be used alongside actual ITIS survey data, external indicators, and feedback from firms themselves to supplement and quality assure the survey data if needed. We will continue to review and refine this model, if required.

Alongside these steps, work is also underway to set up an online mode for the ITIS survey, which will enable companies to be sent spreadsheet-based surveys to complete and email back to us.

Planning is for this system to be set up in time for the quarter 2 2020 data collection cycle which begins in July 2020.

Data from the International Passenger Survey (IPS) makes up over 20% of TiS. With the IPS suspended, finding a new data source or statistical model has been high priority. Our investigations have concluded that alternative data sources for the IPS do not have the granularity and breadth of data that IPS have. For example, no data source looks at total travel expenditure so a number of sources will be required to provide a good working model. There is also a limited number of potential data sources, which poses a challenge to provide the variety of data that IPS is currently used for. This is a priority area for research.

New analysis to shed light on trade during the pandemic

In the short term, the priority for the ONS has been to ensure high quality trade data are available, while addressing the challenges set out above. To ensure transparency, additional briefing has been added to our statistical outputs to notify data source changes and to quantify their impact. Examples of additional communication can be found in the UK Trade February 2020 publication.

Our trade data publication is comprehensive, covering 234 countries and 125 categories of goods and services. This allows users to tailor their analysis to their own needs.

We are also aware that there has been significant demand for more timely information on how businesses are responding to the challenges of the pandemic. To further shed light on trade impacts, a series of trade related questions are included in the faster indicators weekly release.

The business indicators are based on responses from the voluntary, fortnightly Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS), which captures business’ views on impact on turnover, workforce prices, trade, and business resilience. The survey questions are available in Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey questions: 4 May to 17 May 2020.

Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS)

The BICS was established early on following the coronavirus restrictions and is sent out to a large sample of UK businesses each fortnight. We call each return period a wave, with wave 6 being the latest, running from 18 to 31 May. We have changed a number of the questions on the survey over that time, to reflect the changing situation and also the policy issues of the day. This online survey provides a timely and useful snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on business conditions and sentiment; we anticipate continuing with the survey, and refining it, for some time. The survey asked respondent questions on the financial performance of their businesses and on the challenges faced in the weeks prior, among other things. The importing and exporting questions in the BICS are designed to capture economic-based information only from businesses who are trading and whose financial performance is outside of normal expectations.

The latest BICs data shows that, of businesses who exported goods or services in the past 12 months and whose financial performance was outside of normal expectations, 78% reported exporting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Of businesses who imported goods or services in the past 12 months and whose financial performance was outside of normal expectations, 79%  reported importing during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, almost three-quarters (72%) of exporters during the coronavirus pandemic reported that they are exporting less than normal, compared with almost two-thirds (60%) of importers.

Figure 1: Businesses exporting/importing goods or services during the coronavirus outbreak, who were continuing to trade, and those whose financial performance was outside
of normal expectations, UK, 20 April to 3 May 2020

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the International Trade Committee’s inquiry on the coronavirus pandemic and international trade

(Final results, Wave 4 of ONS BICS (Exports: n = 898) (Imports: n = 1,174). Bars may not sum to 100% because of rounding)
Source: Office for National Statistics – Coronavirus and the economic impacts on the UK

Alongside the weekly wider BICS publication, the ONS also published a complimentary analysis of the final results from Wave 4 of the BICS for the period 20 April to 3 May 2020, specifically on the impact of coronavirus on exporting and importing in UK businesses.

This illustrated that the transportation and storage industries had the highest percentage of businesses reporting that they are exporting and importing less than normal, at 81% and 80% respectively, followed by the wholesale and retail trade industry at 80% and 65% respectively.

Figure 2 show a breakdown by industry, of the effect on exporting and importing on businesses continuing to trade, whose financial performance was outside of normal expectations.

Figure 2. Effect on imported and exporting, businesses continuing to trade, whose financial performance was outside normal expectations, traded during COVID-19, reporting effects of
COVID-19 on trade, broken down by industry.
Office for National Statistics written evidence to the International Trade Committee’s inquiry on the coronavirus pandemic and international trade
(Final results, Wave 4 of the ONS Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS). UK businesses responding to the Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) who were continuing to trade domestically and internationally and whose financial performance was outside normal expectations (n=898 exp, n=1,174 imp). Results are removed where percentage less than 1% or industry count less than 10.)
Source: Office for National Statistics, Impact of coronavirus on exporting and importing

The BICS also surveyed respondents’ expectations for exporting and importing over the next two weeks. Of responding businesses who were continuing to trade and whose financial performance
was outside normal expectations, an identical portion (64%) reported that they expect exporting and importing to be the same over the next two weeks. Figure 3 shows that the majority of businesses expect importing and exporting to remain the same over the next two weeks.

Figure 3. Percentage of businesses continuing to trade, whose financial performance was outside normal expectations, traded during COVID-19, reporting expectations of trading in
the next 2 weeks, broken down by industry, UK, 20 April to 3 May 2020.
Office for National Statistics written evidence to the International Trade Committee’s inquiry on the coronavirus pandemic and international trade
Source: Office for National Statistics, Impact of coronavirus on exporting and importing Upcoming data

Our latest wider trade release covers trade for Quarter 1 (January to March) 2020, during which the UK9 and many of its major trading partners introduced measures to combat COVID-19. We will beable to start assessing the full effect on trade in services from quarter 2 of 2020 when data starts becoming available at the end of July 2020.

I hope this evidence is helpful to the Committee. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,
Jonathan Athow

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Dear Chair,

I write in response to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s call for evidence for its inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers.

As the Committee will be aware, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s National Statistical Institute, and largest producer of official statistics. We aim to provide a firm evidence base for decision makers and develop the role of official statistics in democratic debate. To do this during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we are regularly publishing detailed commentary on, and analysis of, the impacts of COVID-19 on the UK economy and society. Alongside our regular publications, a suite of COVID-19 related statistics are now available on the ONS website. These include faster indicators, social impacts , economic impacts, and furloughing of workers across UK businesses.

We have focused our evidence on the new analysis being published to highlight the immediate impacts of the pandemic on businesses and workers, and what the initial results of this analysis are.

We published the first of a new weekly series of faster indicators in response to COVID-19 on 2 April. The indicators use data from a variety of sources, including a new ONS Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey (BICS), which collects information on the financial and operational performance of businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey is voluntary, and therefore we caveat its results by noting that it may only reflect the characteristics of those businesses who responded. We have also introduced the Opinions and Lifestyle (OPN) Survey to help understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people, households, and communities in Great Britain. Together, these surveys provide a well-rounded view of the impact of the pandemic on both our businesses and our population. We have continued to add to the list of measures that are published as part of the faster indicators, reflecting the changing impacts of the pandemic as well as our ability to ring new data sources online and provide new and innovative analysis.

Economic activity

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 2.0% in the three months to March 2020 (Q1), signalling the first direct impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on the economy. All the headline sectors provided a negative contribution to growth. The services sector fell by 1.9%, production by 2.1%, construction by 2.6%, and agriculture by 0.2%. The impacts of COVID-19 were seen right across the economy, with nearly all subsectors falling in the three months to March.

Monthly GDP fell by 5.8% in March 2020, the biggest monthly fall since the series began in 1997. Services and construction also saw record falls in the most recent month. This reflects the first government advice on social distancing, published on 12 March 2020, and introduction of restrictions in movement across the UK, which began on 23 March 2020. It should be noted that monthly GDP is volatile and should therefore be used with caution and alongside other measures.

Figure 1. Index of services: Rolling three-month on three-month index, January to March 2019 until January to March 2020 (January to March 2019 = 100)

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – GDP monthly estimate

Analysis of our Monthly Business Survey (MBS) returns and external data, including comments from over 10,000 businesses, demonstrated that the arrival of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a significant and broad-based negative impact on output during March 2020, though some industries did see a positive impact. This was caused by a complex mix of factors, including the effects of social distancing, which led to a fall in consumer demand, business and factory closures and supply chain disruptions. The bulletin contains detailed industry analysis. To give one example, following a steady decline in growth from January 2008 to February 2020, COVID-19 had a significant negative effect on travel and tourism in March 2020.

Figure 2. Index of production: Rolling three-month on three-month index, January to March 2019 until January to March 2020 (January to March 2019 = 100)

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – GDP monthly estimate

Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS)

The BICS was stood up within the first two weeks of lockdown and is sent out to a large sample of UK businesses each fortnight. We call each return period a wave. We have changed a number of the questions on the survey over that time, to reflect that business impacts are changing and adapting in different ways. This new online survey provides a timely and useful snapshot of the impact of COVID-10 on business conditions and sentiment; we anticipate continuing with the survey, and refining it, for some time.

Business operations

Initial results from Wave 4 of BICS (the period from 20 April 2020 to 3 May 2020) showed that over a fifth (22%) of businesses that responded had temporarily closed or paused trading, while less than 1% had permanently ceased trading.

Of the businesses that responded, 77% reported that they were continuing to trade during this period. Of those, only 6% responded that they had started trading again during the reference period. Of those who had paused trading, 99% reported that they had done so prior to 20 April.

Of all business trading during the period, 61% reported that their turnover had decreased to some extent when compared with normal. A quarter of trading businesses reported their turnover decreased by more than 50%, while 32% reported that turnover was within the normal range.

International trade

Businesses exporting goods and services reported that the most common challenges faced in exporting during the period were COVID-19-related transport restrictions (44%), followed by reported increases in transportation costs (28%). However, almost two-fifths (39%) of exporting businesses reported they did not experience any challenges in exporting.

Transport restrictions due to COVID-19 were also the most cited challenges for importing business (50%), followed by increasing costs for transportation (29%). Similarly to exporting businesses, 33% of importing businesses reported they did not experience any challenges in importing.

Figure 3. Businesses (exporting/importing goods or services) continuing to trade and with financial performance outside of normal expectations, UK, 20 April to 3 May 2020

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey

Figure 3 refers only to businesses continuing to trade, who reported their financial performance was outside normal expectations between 20 April and 3 May and were continuing to export or import. It does not include businesses whose financial performance was within normal expectations. 72% of exporting businesses reported that their business was still exporting but less than normal, while 59% of importing businesses said they were importing less than normal. ( Initial results, Wave 4 of ONS Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey. (Exports: n = 701 Imports: n =927))

Government support schemes

For the businesses that responded to BICS Wave 4, the two most popular government support schemes to apply for among businesses that had not permanently ceased trading were the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) (76%) and the Deferring VAT Payments Scheme (59%), (Figure 4).

Around 91% of business who had paused trading applied for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, compared with 72% of businesses who were still trading.

Figure 4. Percentage of all government schemes applied for, businesses continuing to trade and paused trading, UK, 20 April to 3 May 2020

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey
Bars will not sum to 100% as businesses are able to select more than one government scheme
‘Initial results, Wave 4 of ONS Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey that are either continuing to trade or who have temporarily paused or ceased trading.

Workforce impact

Employees of businesses that are still trading or have paused trading will experience different impacts, whether furloughing staff, working as normal, or operating in other scenarios. Table 1 identifies the proportion of employees within businesses that have been furloughed, been made redundant, or are continuing to work, broken down by industry and apportioned by employment size.

Estimates of workforce proportions for each industry were based on the employment recorded for that reporting unit on the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR). While this method is likely to provide broadly accurate industry estimates, they cannot be grossed up to provide representative UK-wide estimates.

Table 1: Proportion of the workforce that had been furloughed, made redundant, are continuing to work or any other reason, for responding businesses that are continuing to trade or temporarily paused trading, apportioned by employment size, UK, 6 April to 19 April 2020

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

  • The apportionment of workforce methodology used for these data does not involve grossing for UK wide estimation.
  • This table of data represents the proportion of responses to each question from businesses. This is apportioned using the employment recorded for each Reporting Unit on the Interdepartmental Business Register (IDBR).
  • Real Estate Services, Other Services and Mining and Quarrying have been removed due to their low response rate, but their totals are included in ‘All industries’.
  • Final results, Wave 3 of ONS Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey that are continuing to trade and
  • temporarily paused trading, apportioned by employment size.
  • The percentages in this chart may not sum to 100% due to rounding
  •  Businesses who responded as temporarily pausing trade, were not asked to report levels of staff sickness or selfisolation, whilst Businesses who responded as continuing to trade were. To enable comparison between businesses who have paused trading and who have continued trading, the categories “Other” and “Off sick or in self-isolation due to coronavirus (COVID-19) with statutory or company pay” have been summed together into “Other (including sick pay and self-isolation)”.

In the reference period 6 April to 19 April 2020, 19% of the workforce had been furloughed across businesses continuing to trade, compared to 81% of those who had temporarily closed or paused trading. Less than 1% of the workforce had been made redundant across responding businesses.

The proportion of the workforce that had been furloughed across responding businesses varied substantially between industries, and it depended on whether the business employing them was still trading or had temporarily paused its activities.

Figure 5 shows that the highest proportions of workforce being furloughed, of those businesses continuing to trade or having temporarily paused trading combined, were recorded in the  accommodation and food service activities industry (73%) and in the art, entertainment, and recreation industry (70%).

Figure 5. Rates of businesses on furlough leave (under the terms of the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), 6 April to 19 April 2020

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey

Business cash flow

Businesses that had not permanently ceased trading were also asked how long they thought their cash reserves would last in Wave 4. Initial results were that businesses which had temporarily closed or had paused trading were much more likely to report having less than six months’ cash reserves (59%) than more than six months (11%). For businesses continuing to trade, two-fifths (40%) reported they had less than six months’ cash reserves, while around two-thirds (32%) said they had more than six months. Around a quarter of responding businesses were unsure how long their cash reserves would last. (These are initial results and may be revised. Final results for Wave 4, with more detailed breakdowns, will be published in Coronavirus, the UK economy and society, faster indicators)

Figure 6. Cash reserves, businesses continuing to trade and paused trading, broken down by trading status, UK, 20 April to 3 May 2020

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey

Labour Market Statistics

The ONS statistics on the labour market include both detailed but less timely survey data from the Labour Force Survey, and more up to date indicators including administrative data from HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions. We have also rolled out a new on-line Labour Market Survey, and initial results from that are due to be published in the coming weeks.

In March, there was little sign of significant change to employment or unemployment. However, we are able to see how the COVID-19 restrictions affected the labour market using some new and experimental singleweek data from the Labour Force Survey. These data, which only cover the first few weeks of lockdown restrictions, show hours worked fell by around 25 per cent in the last week of March compared to usual, as workers were either furloughed or saw their hours reduced.

Throughout April there were signs of falling employment as real-time tax data show the number of employees on companies’ payrolls fell by around 450,000 compared to March. There was also a large rise in the ‘claimant count’ though care needs to be taken with this figure as it is possible to still be working and included in the claimant count. We also saw vacancies fall sharply in April.

The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN)

The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) is a regular omnibus survey. In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we have adapted the OPN to become a weekly survey used to collect data on the impact of the coronavirus on day-to-day life in Great Britain. The survey results are weighted to be a nationally representative sample for Great Britain, and data are primarily collected using an online selfcompletion questionnaire.

Working from home

Final results for Wave 6 of the OPN (covering period 24 April to 3 May 2020) showed the same proportion of adults in employment saying they had worked from home at some point this week (44%) compared with the previous week.

This consisted of 36% of adults who had only worked from home, and 9% who had both worked from homeand travelled to work (both key workers and non-key workers). A further 26% of adults In employment said they had travelled to work in the last seven days and had not worked from home.

Key workers

The ONS recently published analysis giving an indication of the number of people who were employed in 2019 in key worker occupations and key worker industries. The key worker occupations and industries are based on an interpretation of UK government guidance that defines who is eligible for childcare places. Key workers are also defined in Department of Health and Social Care guidance on testing eligibility. The ONS’ analysis is based on various sources: The Annual Population Survey, the Labour Force Survey and the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

In 2019, around 10.6 million of those employed (33% of the total workforce) were in key worker occupations and industries. The largest group of those employed in key worker occupations worked in health and social care (31%). Figure 7 shows the number of key workers by occupation group.

Figure 7: The largest group of key workers worked in health and social care.

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on businesses and workers

Source: Office for National Statistics – Annual Population Survey

Among key workers, 58% were women and 42% were men. These proportions differ to that of women and men in non-key worker roles (42% and 58% respectively). However, the gender split was very different within different occupation groups. Women were most represented in education and childcare (81%), and health and social care (79%). Conversely, the majority of workers in transport occupations were male (90%).

The majority of key workers were of White ethnicity (86%), with 14% belonging to an ethnic minority. The ethnic minority categories included Black/African, Asian, mixed and other. Of these  categories, Asian and Black/African had the highest proportions of key workers at 8% and 4% respectively. Key workers who were of an ethnic minority were most represented in health and social care (16%).

When surveyed in the OPN, 75% of all key workers said they are very or somewhat worried about the effect the coronavirus is having on their life. The most common issue affecting key workers was the impact on their work, with 46% saying this was the case, and 35% saying concerns with their health and safety were a
reason for this. The most cited reasons for concerns around health and safety were difficulty in following
social distancing advice (86%) and a limited amount of or no protective clothing being available (41%).

Deaths related to COVID-19

The ONS has published additional analysis looking at how deaths in England and Wales related to COVID19 vary by occupation, and also on the occupations in the UK that have the highest potential exposure to COVID-19. The two articles show that, generally, occupations with the most frequent and close interaction with others have greater exposure to disease and some of these occupations also have high rates of COVID-19 deaths.

There was a total of 2,494 deaths involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the working age population (those aged 20 to 64 years) of England and Wales were registered up to and including 20 April 2020. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths were among men (1,612 deaths), with the rate of death involving COVID19 being statistically higher in males, with 9.9 deaths per 100,000 compared with 5.2 deaths per 100,000 females (882 deaths).

Compared with the rate among people of the same sex and age in England and Wales, men working in the lowest skilled occupations had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19, with 21.4 deaths per 100,000 males (225 deaths); men working as security guards had one of the highest rates, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000 (63 deaths).

Men and women working in social care, a group including care workers and home carers, both had significantly raised rates of death involving COVID-19, with rates of 23.4 deaths per 100,000 males (45 deaths) and 9.6 deaths per 100,000 females (86 deaths).

Healthcare workers, including those with jobs such as doctors and nurses, were not found to have higher rates of death involving COVID-19 when compared with the rate among those whose death involved COVID-19 of the same age and sex in the general population.

Among men, a number of other specific occupations were found to have raised rates of death involving COVID-19, including: taxi drivers and chauffeurs (36.4 deaths per 100,000); bus and coach drivers (26.4 deaths per 100,000); chefs (35.9 deaths per 100,000); and sales and retail assistants (19.8 deaths per 100,000).

This analysis does not prove conclusively that the observed rates of death involving COVID-19 are necessarily caused by differences in occupational exposure; we adjusted for age, but not for other factors such as ethnic group and place of residence.

Potential exposure to COVID-19 by occupation

We have obtained an estimate of exposure to disease (generally) and physical proximity for UK occupations based on US analysis of these factors, using 2019 data. While working practices and
conditions may be slightly different in the US for similar occupations, these estimates offer valuable insight into occupations that involve working in close proximity with others and those that are regularly exposed to diseases. This is a useful indication of which roles may be more likely to come into contact with people with COVID-19, based on what these roles normally entail.

There is a clear correlation between exposure to disease, and physical proximity to others across all occupations. Healthcare workers such as nurses and dental practitioners unsurprisingly both involve being exposed to disease on a daily basis, and they require close contact with others, though during the pandemic they are more likely to be using PPE.

Our analysis also looks at the characteristics of workers in occupations which are more likely to be in close contact with people and also frequently exposed to disease. Three in four workers in these roles are women. One in five of those working in these occupations are 55 or older, the same as in the working population generally. However, around half of those employed as care escorts are 55 or over. Also, one in five workers in these occupations are from black and minority ethnic groups, compared with just over one in 10 of the working population.

Challenges for economic statistics

The disruption from COVID-19 has made for challenges in measuring the economic and compiling many of  our regular economic statistics. These challenges broadly fall into three main categories:

• Conceptual challenges; how should the various phenomena we are observing be accounted for in our economic statistics?
• Data collection problems; how do we keep collecting data when some companies are not trading or when we cannot send people to interview households or record prices from shops?
• Methodological concerns; how do we adjust our raw data, given the way our economy functions has changed so significantly?

Conceptual challenges

There are multiple conceptual challenges that the ONS has needed to consider separately to produce meaningful statistics. These include:

• Determining the correct treatment of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in the National Accounts. After considering the Scheme and National Accounts guidance, we have decided to count the scheme as a subsidy to business, netting it off the income measure of GDP, as the furloughed employees will continue to count as employed and the payments they receive from their employer as wages and salaries.
• How to measure education output when children are not in school? Our approach is to calculate output including a new measure of remote learning, with appropriate adjustments for teacher input and parental support.

• Measuring inflation when some goods and services are not available, or where the number of prices collected is small. We will be using methods such as assuming their prices would have moved in line with the average movement for related goods and services, or the overall index. This is the simplest approach that comes as close as possible to reflecting that the supply of certain goods and services has been interrupted.

Data collection challenge

Many economic statistics produced by the ONS are underpinned by business and household surveys. For example, we survey firms to measure GDP and to collect prices to measure inflation, and survey individuals to understand their employment status. A number of our surveys have been understandably disrupted due to businesses temporarily closing or having employees work from their homes. For shops and services that are closed or under restricted operation, we can no longer send people there to collect their prices. All of this means we are relying more on remote-data collection, over the phone or online. Such sudden changes can result in a lower response rate.

Methodological challenges

In general, one of the most common issues we deal with is when firms or businesses do not respond to our survey, or where data are late for other reasons. When that happens, we must fill in gaps in our data collection, technically known as imputation. Normally, we can do this by using historical relationships between different data sources. But those historical relationships may not hold given the current crisis.

Addressing the challenges

To address these issues, we have been looking to develop new data sources that shed light on specific economic issues, such as how businesses are changing their employment practices. They can also help us cross-check our core economic data and inform the judgements we need to make. As discussed above, we have created new surveys that can help us fill the gaps and are using administrative data such as information from HMRC on employees being paid through ‘real time information’. We also continue to work with businesses to gain access to valuable economic data.

Secondly, we have been drawing on expertise within the ONS, international statistical bodies and the academic community. There are skilled methodologists in the ONS who are helping us develop approaches to dealing with missing data. We also have, for example, an expert technical panel which supports us on inflation measurement and can look to international guidance and practice to inform decisions.

Lastly, we are being as transparent as possible about the issues and how we are addressing them. We have published detailed articles laying out how we will continue to produce GDP, labour market, and prices data to ensure transparency in these processes. These are unprecedented times and there is scope for more revisions than normal. We have made some changes to our publication schedule to account for the challenges we are facing, and these are included in the articles too.

As the ONS continues to publish analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and workers, we would be happy to keep the Committee informed. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,
Jonathan Athow
Deputy National Statistician and Director General, Economic Statistics Office for National Statistics

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry on UK science, research and technology capability and influence in global disease outbreaks

Dear Mr Clark,

While providing evidence to the Committee on 7 May, for the inquiry ‘UK Science, Research and Technology Capability and Influence in Global Disease Outbreaks’, I promised to provide further information to the Committee on excess deaths, and to clarify the release schedule of the results of the COVID-19 Infection Survey. I have also been informed the Committee would be keen for  ore
detail on the potential of timely electronic recording of deaths, and whether we have responsibility for publishing a value of ‘R’.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publish provisional weekly deaths registrations, which are currently published for deaths registered up to 1 May 2020. National Records Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) are responsible for publishing the number of deaths registered in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.

Figures from the weekly ONS deaths bulletin show that the recent overall increase in deaths compared to the five-year average is not solely due to deaths involving COVID-19, known as excess deaths.

The ONS is publishing a report on the increase of non-COVID-19 deaths observed in weekly deaths statistics later this month, which I will send to the Committee when released. The report will analyse how the number of non-COVID-19 deaths occurring in different places of death, for different age groups and for different causes of death differ from previous years’ data and will suggest how these findings correspond with possible reasons for the increase.

I stated that electronic recording of deaths would be useful to increase the timeliness comprehensiveness of our mortality statistics, which while among some of the most timely recorded, have an 11 day lag. The timing of those registrations would still have to be balanced with the need to provide cause of death, and ensure our death registration remains informative and valuable, as opposed to a simple count. However, electronic registration would be a vast improvement, particularly when noting the ONS still receives some paper registrations, and the average registration takes  etween 4-5 days.

On the COVID-19 Infection Survey, we have now produced and published the first estimates. We will produce estimates on a weekly basis to begin with and publish these each Thursday. Over time, as the Infection Survey develops, we aim to produce and publish estimates twice a week. We will do this once we are sure that publishing twice weekly maintains quality, relevance and coherence of the data to users.

Moreover, the Infection Survey is vital for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to calculate estimates of R. The ONS will assist SAGE, but will not provide, produce or publish any
alternative estimates of R. I hope this is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact me further with any additional questions. I am copying this letter to the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Sir Ian Diamond

Related Links:

Professor Sir Ian Diamond’s oral evidence (May 2020)

Office for National Statistics and Office for Statistics Regulation oral evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry regarding COVID-19 data

On Wednesday 13 May 2020 Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK National Statistician; Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation, UK Statistics Authority gave oral evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry regarding COVID-19 data.

A transcript of which has been published on the UK Parliament’s website.

Related Links:

Professor Ian Diamond to William Wragg MP, Chair PACAC regarding COVID-19 (April 2020)
Ed Humpherson to William Wragg MP, Chair PACAC regarding COVID-19 (April 2020)

Office for National Statistics oral evidence to the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry on UK science, research and technology capability and influence in global disease outbreaks

On Tuesday 7 May 2020 Professor Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician  gave evidence to the Science and Technology Select Committee as part of their inquiry: UK Science, Research and
Technology Capability and Influence in Global Disease Outbreaks.

A transcript of which has been published on the UK Parliament’s website.

Related Links:

Professor Sir Ian Diamond’s written evidence (May 2020)

Office for National Statistics oral evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on unequal impact: coronavirus and the impact on people with protected characteristics

On Wednesday 13 May 2020 Liz McKeown, Director of Public Policy Analysis, Office for National Statistics gave oral evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on unequal impact: Coronavirus and the impact on people with protected characteristics.

A transcript of which has been published on the UK Parliament’s website.

Related Links:

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee (May 2020)

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on unequal impact: coronavirus and the impact on people with protected characteristics

Dear Ms Nokes,

I write in response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee call for evidence for the inquiry “Unequal impact: coronavirus and the impact on people with protected characteristics”.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces data and statistics to support decision-makers in the UK and our trusted, impartial information is more important now than ever. The coronavirus illness (COVID-19) is a significant challenge for the UK and we are working to ensure that the UK has the vital information needed to respond. This means we will seek to ensure that information is provided faster, using new data sources and changing how our surveys operate, to ensure we provide necessary information as the situation unfolds.

In response to the Committee’s call for evidence, we have reviewed the data we have published relating to the impact of Covid-19 on people with protected characteristics. The following provides
a summary of the existing evidence we have on this issue and highlights some planned relevant future work.

From our recent publications to date, some of the key findings on the impact of the illness or the responses to it on specific protected characteristic groups include the following:

• As has been widely reported, deaths from Covid-19 are disproportionately affecting older age groups, with rates increasing significantly as age increases, starting from age 55 to 59 years in men and age 65 to 69 years in women. Death rates from Covid-19 are also significantly higher for men than women.
• Over a third of those living alone, and therefore vulnerable to the isolating effects of lockdown, are aged 70 and over, a group that is already more worried than the rest of the population that they or their family will be infected. This is also the age group that is more likely than the general population to regularly stop and talk to their neighbours and to rely on adults outside the home to provide them with food or essentials, activities which will have been affected by social distancing measures.
• Households headed by the youngest, those aged 16 to 34 years, were less likely to have sufficient financial funds to cover a drop in household employment income. We also find that younger workers were least likely to work from home prior to the lockdown period, which in part is driven by the occupations young people are employed in.
• Concerns over the pandemic are higher among disabled adults than non-disabled adults and, with more disabled adults self-isolating, there is evidence that it is having a negative
effect on their well-being. Since the start of lockdown, disabled adults are also significantly more likely to say that they are spending too much time alone than their nondisabled counterparts and are reporting much higher rates of loneliness.

The ONS is also planning the following new pieces of analysis to be published during May to increase the evidence base:

• Using new data linking Census 2011 to health data, we will publish Covid-19 deaths by ethnicity in early May, extending this analysis as more data become available to adjust for a range of different characteristics to add context to any differences found. The aim is then to extend this work to explore deaths from Covid-19, outcomes of hospital admissions and length of stay, by a range of characteristics including age, sex, disability, ethnicity and religion.
• Updated measures of personal and economic well-being will be published, including breakdowns for protected characteristic groups where possible. We will also be exploring the different characteristics that matter most to personal well-being and groups that are most susceptible to loneliness.
• We will publish separate articles, drawing on a range of different sources, including the redesigned Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, to explore the experiences of different protected characteristic groups in relation to Covid-19, specifically, differences between the sexes, differences among those of different ethnic groups and experiences of young people. The timeframe for the publication of these articles will depend on being able to pool a sufficient number of responses across waves to be able to draw robust conclusions.
• We are also exploring an analysis of workers and occupations that require the closest proximity to other people and therefore could be at higher risk of Covid-19 infection. We will look to publish analysis on these occupations by a range of protected characteristics. We are also looking to publish an article on the population and characteristics of key workers, including their protected characteristics where possible.
• More broadly we will continue to release labour market statistics and will be able to consider the impact of Covid-19 on different groups and their labour market status. We are also looking to produce analysis on those who could be considered key workers, including their characteristics and demographics.
• We will publish analysis on access to outside space and, separately, analysis on household composition and type of accommodation people are living in, including housing types, living conditions, tenure and cramped accommodation. Both pieces of work will include breakdowns by protected characteristic groups where possible.
• We are exploring the possibility of using provisional data from our suite of household
finance surveys to understand the impact on incomes during the early stages of the coronavirus emergency. With a focus on changes in income inequalities for those groups most impacted by changes in employment status alongside different household characteristics.
• By the end of May, the first estimates from the Online Time Use Survey will be available covering the period from 28 March to 4 April, which will explore how respondents in different protected characteristic groups spent their time over a 2-day period.

Alongside our immediate analytical plans, we also have plans in relation to new survey data sources, which include:

• Working with Oxford University, Manchester University and IQVIA, we have begun a Covid-19 prevalence/incidence of infection survey. Analysis will present a measure of population prevalence of infection, which will include breakdowns for protected characteristic groups where data allow.
• During May, we will be starting a telephone version of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which will provide information on a variety of topics across a range of protected characteristic groups. Alongside questions on criminal victimisation, topics are likely to include; violence in a domestic setting, hate crime, experiences of threats or harassment and perceptions of the police and crime and will capture the period before the introduction of measures to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak as well as since then.
• ONS is working with NHS Digital and NatCen Social Research to develop a study of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Subject to funding, this proposed online study in England will interview children and young people who took part in the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People study. It will collect information on children’s mental health and wellbeing and allow some basic breakdowns by ethnicity and sex.

As more data become available, we will continue to explore the impacts on different protected characteristic groups at a greater level of granularity, not only during the pandemic itself, but also
investigating the equalities impacts in the longer term. We would welcome exploring with the Committee the potential to collaborate and contribute to this evidence base and are keen to take
into account the Committee’s priorities when developing our future workplans in these areas.

I hope the Committee finds this evidence to be helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,
Iain Bell
Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Population & Public Policy

Related Links:

Office for National Statistics oral evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee (May 2020)

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Treasury Committee’s inquiry on the economic impact of coronavirus

Dear Mr Stride,

I write in response to the Treasury Committee’s call for evidence for its inquiry on the economic impact of coronavirus.

As the Committee will be aware, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s National Statistical Institute, and largest producer of official statistics. We aim to provide a firm evidence base for sound decisions and develop the role of official statistics in democratic debate.

We have focused our evidence on what new analysis we have developed and deployed to highlight the immediate impacts of the pandemic on the economy, and how we are overcoming the challenges of data collection during this time to ensure the UK remains as well-informed as possible, in line with the Committee’s interest.

New data and analysis to illustrate the impact of COVID-19

The ONS has been responding to the need for new data sources in a number of ways. We have deployed three new online surveys, the first being the Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey (BICS), which is being used to collect information on the financial and operational performance of businesses during COVID-19 outbreak. This survey is voluntary and therefore we caveat its results by noting that it may only reflect the characteristics of those businesses who responded. A new individual/household survey has been developed, the Opinions and Lifestyle (OPN) Survey, to help understand the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on people, households and communities in Great Britain. This illustrates how the impact on the economy is being felt by the population too. Finally, we have also introduced a new Labour Market survey which is an online only survey of households that went live at the end of March, to collect key labour market information plus some specific questions around the impact of COVID-19.

In addition, we can rely on existing administrative data such as VAT turnover data, which so far appear unaffected by the restrictions related to the coronavirus. We also continue to pursue a number of new administrative data sources. One valuable set of data is from the Real-Time Information (RTI) Pay-As-You-Earn, which could provide insights on the labour market. The benefits of this include being more timely than current, survey-based approaches. For example, estimates of employee employment for March were published alongside regular labour market statistics on 21 April.

Moreover, we are considering private sector data sources where they are relevant. We have been able to use our experience on web-scraping – the extraction of data from websites – to produce measures of price change for a basket of high-demand items. In addition, we continue to develop data-sharing arrangements with retailers to get access to scanner or ‘point-of-sale’ data to better measure inflation.

While some of these data sources are more relevant to the understanding the effects coronavirus in the short term, our future data sources strategy will be a mix of traditional survey-based collections and sources such as administrative and private sector.

It will take some time for the overall picture to emerge as more detailed statistics are published. The main insights we can draw at the present are from the Business Impact of Covid-19 Survey (BICS).

A table from Wave 2 of that survey is set out below, which covers firms who are continuing to trade. It shows that Accommodation and Food Services and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation are the industries reporting the greatest share of firms reporting lower than normal turnover. By contrast, Information and Communication and Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities report the smallest share of firms reporting falls in turnover.

Effect on financial performance, percentage of firms that continue to trade, UK, 23 March to 5 April

Office for National Statistics written evidence to the Treasury Committee's inquiry on the economic impact of coronavirus

Note: Other services and Mining and Quarrying data have been removed from the industry breakdown due to the quality of the response rates, but these industries are included in the industry total.

Economic statistics data collection during a pandemic

The ONS set five priority areas of economic statistics production while the UK is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic: GDP, inflation, labour market, public sector finances and trade. With the exception of trade, which has some relatively minor issues, the other areas are all experiencing significant effects from COVID-19 and the measures taken to combat it. As we are still working through these issues, and data are still being collected, exactly how it will affect our statistics in terms of quality is unclear.

Regarding the timeliness of our main headline monthly economic statistics, we do not envisage any significant changes, but may need to make minor changes to the publication timetable. In addition, we are streamlining our statistical publications to ensure the headline figures are maintained. Where there are changes to timing, scope or quality of our statistics, we are clear with users. For example, we published plans for changes to our labour market statistics on 3 April.

Restrictions associated with COVID-19 have, understandably, limited our ability to collect data in a number of ways. Many of our economic statistics draw on a wide range of different sources, and have been more affected than others. For example:

• Collection of prices for inflation. Around 45 per cent of the inflation basket (by weight) is collected locally, whereby price collectors visit businesses such as shops to collect prices directly. This is no longer happening, and collectors are intending to collect these data remotely, either by telephone or internet. In addition, some goods and services are no longer being sold, so the ability to collect prices has been constrained. We are developing methods to deal with situations where no prices are being collected, where the number of prices collected is too small to be statistically robust, or the good or service is not currently available. I would note, too, that the UK Statistics Authority and the ONS are fully aware of their duties on RPI as set down in Section 21 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.
• Interviews for the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which underpins many of the labour market statistics. The LFS uses a combination of face-to-face interviewing in people’s homes and telephone interviews. Following the restrictions on movement, we have stopped face-to-face interviewing and are now relying solely on telephone interviews. This is may result in a reduction in the number of interviews and therefore increase the uncertainty around the estimates. We are continuing to monitor this and develop strategies for increasing response rates.
• GDP statistics rely on a large number of data sources, including business surveys. There are some challenges with business surveys, as response rates may fall for a number of reasons (businesses are not operating, business owners do not have access to the information to respond or individuals are being directly or indirectly impacted by illness etc.) In addition, there are numerous conceptual and methodological challenges given the widely anticipated fall in economic activity, and we are considering how to best compile estimates of GDP in these circumstances.
• Public sector statistics rely on data from central and local government, both of which are under pressures from the coronavirus itself. In addition, there are more than 25 new government schemes that need to be accounted for, significant changes to payment profiles that makes accruals adjustments challenging, and the need to properly capture public sector outputs. We are working closely with local and central government, including the Devolved Administrations, to prioritise and work through issues as they arise.

Looking at regional data, many of our regional statistics are based on surveys of individuals or businesses. Where there are reductions in sample sizes, this will reduce the quality of UK-wide statistics. The effect on statistics by country and region of the UK could be much more pronounced, as broadly speaking, statistical quality is related to the absolute size of the sample. In some cases, regional data may no longer be of sufficient quality.

Alongside surveys, we also use administrative or other sources of data; for example, VAT turnover information is used to measure GDP across the UK. This data collection will be much less affected by lower response rates. On the other hand, changes in administrative systems can affect the data we receive from government.

A further factor is lower levels of capacity in the ONS, and increased demands on our people. As in many other workplaces across the UK, we have some members of staff unwell, and others who have caring responsibilities that mean they are not able to work as normal. At the same time, the demand for data, statistics and analysis – including of some of the new data sources discussed – is putting further demands on us. We are working on how – and whether – we will need to prioritise UK-level data over sub-national breakdowns.

Ultimately the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates, more than ever, the importance of good data and evidence to assist with policy decisions and to serve the public good. The ONS is working extremely hard to ensure we are at the forefront of informing both policy-makers and the public during this time, working at pace to develop new sources of data and disseminate insights from this, while dealing with the challenges in data collection I have set out above.

Please do let me know if I can be of any further assistance to the Committee.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Athow
Deputy National Statistician and Director General, Economic Statistics
Office for National Statistics

Office for Statistics Regulation written evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on online harms and disinformation’s inquiry of the same name

Dear Chair,

I write in response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation call for evidence.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) provides independent regulation of all statistics produced by the UK Government, Devolved Nations and by all related public bodies. The OSR is the independent regulatory arm of the UK Statistics Authority (the Authority), which was established by the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (the SRSA).

We set the standards producers of official statistics must meet through the statutory Code of
Practice for Statistics. We assess compliance with this Code, and designate statistics as National Statistics. There are three pillars of the Code:

• Trustworthiness: trusted people, systems and processes
• Quality: robust data, method and statistics
• Value: statistics that serve the public good

Our role is to ensure that statistics serve the public good. In a world in which data and information are abundant, people can feel bombarded by information. We focus on the government as a provider of information and statistics, disseminating a reliable, impartial evidence base.

While we also have an important role in challenging instances of statistical misuse (misinformation), most of our regulatory work focuses on what it means to inform society. We help the public to identify the statistics that meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value and we challenge producers to fill data gaps to better inform society.

This is a very difficult time for everyone as the UK adjusts to rapid changes in society and the economy. Organisations that produce official statistics are showing flexibility and adapting what they collect and publish to respond to this new environment. The pace at which these organisations have set up new data collection and dissemination processes has been unprecedented and enables timely updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as the economic and societal impacts of the pandemic.

In response to COVID-19 we have developed a package of measures including guidance on factors that producers should consider when making changes to data collection and statistics. We have carried out short regulatory reviews of new COVID-19 questions added to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Opinions and Lifestyle survey, and of new experimental faster indicators constructed from rapid response surveys, novel data sources and experimental methods.

In accordance with our interventions policy we have responded to concerns about the publication of data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, and have called on the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure management information on Universal Credit used in daily briefings is published and accessible to the public. We have undertaken a review of all the data releases on COVID-19 cases and deaths – at a UK level and for each country within the UK – to help understanding of the available sources and to highlight strengths and areas for improvement.
Following our interventions regarding data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, there have been improvements in the information provided by government. In particular, there is now much greater clarity that the daily deaths data is incomplete and does not include deaths in all settings. It is a leading indicator, however, with the weekly figures from the ONS (and National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) providing a more complete picture of deaths associated with COVID-19.

However, in order to maintain public confidence in these crucial statistics, we are encouraging producers to continue to clarify the nature and extent of the uncertainty around the UK estimates of deaths associated with COVID-19, and what the figures do and not include. We also continue to state our expectation that any management information used as part of daily public briefings is published and accessible to the public.

In summary, while combatting misinformation is crucial, it is also essential that the public receives information from government that is trustworthy, high quality and valuable – and enabling that outcome is the heart of OSR’s mission.

I hope the Committee finds this evidence to be helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely
Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation