National Statistician’s Commentary
I am delighted to present the first annual report outlining the progress we are making to increase the inclusivity of data and evidence across the UK statistical system. My commissioning of the Inclusive Data Taskforce (IDTF) led to its wide-ranging report and recommendations in September 2021, followed by the publication of the ambitious IDTF Implementation Plan in January 2022. Progress in improving data inclusivity was already being made, but the Taskforce’s recommendations have enabled us to focus our efforts more collaboratively and strategically across the UK statistical system. This review shares the progress made in 2022 to 2023, and outlines key activities planned for 2023 to 2024.
Good progress has been made, demonstrating the efforts being made across the UK statistical system to ensure that everyone counts and is counted. We have active contributors to the Plan from across UK Government departments, the devolved administrations and organisations outside of government. Indeed, the number of contributors has increased since last year, an indication that we are building momentum towards greater inclusivity more widely.
Colleagues in the devolved administrations have established new strategies, including the Welsh Government Equalities Evidence Strategy and the Scottish Government Equality Evidence Strategy 2023 to 2025. Welsh Government has also established the Equality, Race and Disability Evidence Units to develop more inclusive data.
Departments such as the Department for Education, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, HM Revenue and Customs, Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities as well as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), have work programmes underway to improve data inclusivity in both survey and administrative data collections on currently under-represented groups of people in UK statistics. These will fill data gaps on children and young people, refugees and migrants, people experiencing homelessness, and enable richer analysis, including intersectional analysis between population groups. During 2022, the ONS launched a pioneering programme of qualitative research providing insights into experiences of a number of currently under-represented groups. In the past year, we have published findings on disabled people’s experiences with private sector activities, goods and services, the educational experiences of young people with special educational needs and disabilities, and the lived experiences of Gypsies and Travellers. This work is all helping to inform policy-making and is being used directly by these groups as well as organisations working with them.
To address barriers to participation in surveys, the ONS has introduced an adaptive survey design for the transformed Labour Force Survey, as a forerunner to rolling out across the suite of ONS social surveys. In parallel, the IDTF’s recommendation to develop a ‘social contract’ for research participants to encourage greater trust and understanding in the use of data, has evolved into a larger programme of work than originally planned for 2022, to recognise that different population groups may require specific types of information to inspire trust. We are progressing this work with external partners as part of wider engagement strategies.
A number of statistical producers have improved their data offer and its accessibility to users, including the launch of new tools and dashboards by the ONS, Welsh Government, Department for Education, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Department for Work and Pensions, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Office for Standards in Education and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. The ONS released the England and Wales Census 2021 ‘Create a Custom Dataset’ tool in April 2023.
Within the ONS we are leading a number of strategic activities aimed to strengthen the quality, coverage and accessibility of data. In February 2022 we published a plan for reviewing the harmonised standards and guidance for collecting data across government on personal characteristics to ensure they reflect current social norms, as well as respondent and user needs. During 2022 to 2023, we updated a number of new standards including for ethnicity, socio-economic classification, national identity and religion.
The ONS has also continued development of the Integrated Data Service (IDS) which is now in its full public beta phase. This will provide a statistical methods library for accredited users, as well as data linkage and matching services across government, expected to be available later in 2023. Alongside this, new and improved methods for linking datasets across organisations are being developed by the ONS and others as part of the Joined-up data in Government Review, some to be used in the context of the IDS. The ONS also launched its new subnational statistics offer and local analytical service in 2022, with the ambition to cover all four UK nations.
The ONS is also currently undertaking an ambitious and radical programme of transformation, seeking to provide more timely population, migration and social statistics. I am incredibly proud of the range of insights delivered from the England and Wales Census 2021. However, the ten-year gap between Censuses leaves us having to make important decisions based on incomplete and potentially inaccurate estimates. We believe that we can make better use of data already available for administrative purposes to address these gaps. We know these data aren’t perfect, however, and we will shortly be launching a public consultation to help inform how we move forward to meet the needs of our users.
A number of initiatives to improve access to administrative data have been delivered in 2022 by releasing new or expanded datasets including by the Home Office, Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, the Department for Education and the Office for Students. Administrative data will continue to be an important factor in developing the inclusivity of UK statistics.
I want to express my thanks to Dame Julia Cleverdon DCVO CBE, who in 2022 took up the Chair of my new National Statistician’s Inclusive Data Advisory Committee, with representativeness from each of the four nations. Dame Julia and the other Committee Members are providing transparent, expert, independent advice and challenge on our priorities and progress across the UK statistical system. I am immensely appreciative of the time and expertise this diverse group of senior academics, equality data experts and civil society leaders are providing. This is an important step to ensuring we have the impact we desire.
So much progress has been made across the UK statistical system. However, this review also highlights some of the challenges faced and we know there will be more ahead. All departments and organisations are having to prioritise work in the current fiscal climate. Some of these decisions are being made as we publish this update, and for this reason the list of key initiatives for the year ahead is not exhaustive as departments finalise their plans.
I encourage everyone to read the IDTF’s original recommendations report alongside this progress report. I challenge you to consider whether there is more you can do to contribute to this important mission. We can only improve the representativeness of UK data and evidence if we all work together.
Professor Sir Ian Diamond
May 2023Back to top