Dear Steve

Confirmation of National Statistics Designation for Benefit Statistics produced by the Department for Work and Pensions

We have reviewed the actions that your team has taken to address the requirements in Assessment Report number 354: Benefit Statistics. On behalf of the Board of the UK Statistics Authority, I am pleased to confirm the continued designation of National Statistics for these statistics.

These statistics are valuable because they support understanding of the range of benefits administered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and show how the roll out of Universal Credit affects the provision of other benefits.

The team responsible for producing the statistics has responded very positively to the Requirements of our report. The team has made changes that enhance the accessibility and insight of the statistics and data for a wide range of users. We are pleased to hear how actions taken by the team to meet these requirements fit in to wider DWP initiatives ‚Äď including the creation of a DWP Statistics User Engagement Strategy and the introduction of user engagement champions and publication representatives.

We have included more detail about our judgement in an annex to this letter. I, or my team, would be happy to talk you or your colleagues through any aspects of this letter or Code compliance more generally.

National Statistics status means that official statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value and is something to be celebrated. We welcome that you already publish a statement alongside the statistics which reflects the National Statistics status, and we encourage you to update this on an ongoing basis as you continue to develop the statistics.

I am copying this letter to Judith Correia, Alan Gibson and Sarah Amis, the responsible statisticians.

Yours sincerely

 

Ed Humpherson

Director General for Regulation

 

Related Links:

Assessment Report: Benefit statistics

 

Annex: Review of actions taken in response to Assessment Report 354: Assessment of Benefit Statistics, produced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 

Requirement 1: To enhance accessibility of the statistics and summary bulletin, the statistics team should:

a) Improve signposting to individual benefits data by adding hyperlinks to the list of benefits on the benefit statistics landing page.

b) Include hyperlinks to the methodology and quality documents and the biannual statistical summary within StatXplore data tables. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • Updated¬†Stat-Xplore (SX)¬†front pages for every relevant benefit to link to metadata, statistical summary, methodology statement, quality statement, and related releases¬†(e.g.¬†benefit expenditure tables).¬†
  • Ensured¬†a¬†link to SX is on gov.uk landing page for the publication.¬†
  • Inserted a new ‚ÄúThings You Need to Know‚ÄĚ segment at the top of the¬†statistical summary¬†including links to SX.¬†

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

The changes made by the team have improved the accessibility of the statistics and the user-friendliness of the website, including clearer signposting to Stat-Xplore. 

 

Requirement 2: To ensure that the statistics keep pace with the roll out of Universal Credit, and meet user needs, the statistics team should:

a) Work closely with a range of users to understand their data needs and work with data suppliers to identify potential solutions to filling data gaps.

b) Set out publicly plans for addressing users’ need and provide a clear explanation where gaps cannot be addressed. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • The statistics team has instigated regular meetings with data suppliers to ensure both sides have a shared understanding of how data is produced and used. Regular meetings are also held with data suppliers and wider stakeholders to address any data issues or developments.¬†
  • A comprehensive DWP Statistics User Engagement Strategy has been created, which the¬†statistics¬†team fed into, ensuring that the feedback from the OSR was incorporated and addressed within the Strategy. As part of the¬†strategy,¬†the team plans to¬†participate in developing the DWP-wide survey to go out to the public this year, ensuring that the questions cover areas of development and interest for the publication. The team will publish the results and actions taken from any survey or user engagement activity on the statistics collection page.¬†
  • DWP has¬†created a network of User Engagement Champions (reporting to the wider government statistical community with regards to user engagement in DWP) and User Engagement Representatives (assigned to each statistical publication in DWP and reporting to the DWP User Engagement Champion). This ensures that both at the wider government level and individual statistical publication level, there is a community dedicated to ensuring user engagement remains a priority. Further, it provides a resource for support and skill sharing with regards to user engagement, to ensure that knowledge gaps do not prevent user engagement progressing both at the departmental and individual statistical publication level.¬†

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

We commend the team for developing its relationship with data suppliers and introducing regular meetings to identify potential solutions to filling data gaps. We are pleased to see that DWP has introduced a number of departmentwide initiatives to improve its approach to user engagement and we welcome the fact that the team intends to participate in the DWP-wide public user engagement survey. The team should ensure it publishes the results and actions taken following this engagement exercise.  

 

Requirement 3: To enhance the coherence of benefit statistics DWP, working with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), should ensure the work to develop the experimental benefit combinations statistics is given higher priority and is sufficiently resourced.

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • Heads of Profession for Statistics in DWP and HMRC have discussed and are supportive of the work to develop the experimental Benefit Combinations statistics.¬†
  • The team has provided details¬†in¬†DWP benefit statistics background note¬†of benefits administered by HMRC and signposted to relevant HMRC statistics.¬†
  • Benefit Combinations statistics now has a separate statistical summary¬†allowing increased context and detail.¬†¬†
  • Benefit Combinations statistics have undergone a range of methodological developments, such as including Industrial Injuries and Disablement Benefit and Child Disability Living Allowance.¬†¬†
  • Work is ongoing to further develop Benefit Combinations statistics, for instance on including Bereavement Support Payment and Maternity Allowance.¬†
  • Work¬†is ongoing¬†with HMRC analysts on a joint publication including Child Benefit and Tax Credits.¬†¬†

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

While this work is ongoing, we are impressed with the developments that have already taken place since the assessment was carried out and we are pleased to see the continued collaboration between DWP and HMRC. The additional information in the background note and the new standalone statistical summary has enhanced the coherence of the statistics by explaining clearly how the different benefits are administered and what they cover. 

 

Requirement 4: To ensure that the statistics best meet the needs of users, the team should work closely with users to reconsider the trade-off between the timeliness and accuracy of the data. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • Held regular meetings with data suppliers to discuss technical limitations and other issues impacting timeliness of data.¬†
  • Added discussion of data limitations and the trade-off between timeliness and accuracy to¬†quality statement.¬†
  • As part of the DWP¬†Statistics User Engagement¬†Strategy, the Benefit Statistics publication now has a Statistical Publication Representative for user engagement.¬†The¬†representative will remain an active member of the¬†User Engagement Champions and Representatives community in DWP, ensuring that best practice is¬†shared¬†and we continuously seek out opportunities to develop opportunities to more effectively conduct user engagement.¬†¬†
  • Potential to develop a survey specific to Benefit Statistics with questions around particular development areas, for instance the timeliness vs accuracy trade-off. This would go out to users around summer 2021.¬†

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

It is good to see the additional information regarding the trade-off between timeliness and accuracy in the quality statement. The Benefit Statistics publication representative for user engagement will allow the team to share and learn from best practice on user engagement within DWP, which should help guide any development decisions concerning the trade-off.

 

Requirement 5: To maximise use of the statistics and ensure their development is informed by  users, the statistics team should: 

a) Embed regular communications (such as mailing lists or page alerts) to keep users updated of planned developments and to promote the statistics more widely. 

b) Form a more strategic relationship with the Parliamentary Questions (PQ) and Freedom of Information (FOI) team to identify new users and to discuss priorities for developments. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • Created a team email to be used for mailing list,¬†in accordance with GDPR,¬†and¬†to¬†provide an easier point of contact for user queries.¬†
  • Instituted quarterly meetings with the PQ and FOI team to appraise them of any notable changes in the statistics and discuss themes in questions received by PQ and FOI teams.¬†
  • Identified areas of work to prioritise based on questions received by PQ and FOI¬†team.¬†
  • Created an email address/inbox for the Benefit Statistics publication, accessible by all members of the team.¬†Plan to provide¬†this as¬†the¬†contact detail for future publications, on SX and other platforms as appropriate.¬†
  • DWP has¬†created an email address/inbox for the purpose of DWP wide user engagement. This email address will be linked to the external publication of the DWP Statistics User Engagement Strategy, to be published on gov.uk.¬†

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

These positive changes made by the team should make it easier for users to raise queries and to ensure these queries are guided to the right team. 

 

Requirement 6: DWP should review its quality and methodology information to ensure that it is  comprehensive and clear, to enable users to understand the terminology and appropriate use of the statistics. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  1. Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD) framework. 
  2. Discussion of timeliness vs accuracy considerations. 
  3. Discussion of limitations of data. 
  4. Explanation of steps taken if data issues arise. 
  1. Section on HMRC administered benefits. 
  2. Explanation of why DWP benefit statistics are not comparable to DWP expenditure tables. 
  3. Explanation of how 5% sample data relates to 100% sample data.  
  4. Discussion of operation changes due to the COVID pandemic that affect the statistics. 
  5. Regular reviews and updates of the background documentation are embedded in the publication plan.   

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

The updated and expanded quality and background documents are clear and accessible. They help users better understand how the data are processed and gives them confidence in the quality of the statistics. We also welcome the plans to regularly review and update this documentation.  

 

Requirement 7: To reassure itself and users of the quality of all administrative data, DWP should apply our Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD) framework.

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

Included QAAD assessment in the quality statement, with an A2 level rating. 

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

See response to requirement 6. 

 

Requirement 8: The commentary and supporting information on data sources and methods needs to be embedded alongside the statistics, to help users use and interpret  the statistics. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • Added commentary to the¬†statistical summary¬†around COVID implications on the statistics.¬†
  • Where there were obvious drivers of trends in benefit caseloads¬†(e.g.¬†introduction of new benefits), these¬†have been¬†included in the¬†discussion.¬†
  • Reviewed design of graphs to include any relevant annotations,¬†e.g.¬†beginning of COVID pandemic.¬†
  • Inserted a new ‚ÄúThings You Need to Know‚ÄĚ segment at the top of the statistical summary, signposting to background documentation, SX, and benefit combinations, and discusses any data issues.¬†
  • Reviews of the statistical summary are embedded in the publication plan.

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

The expanded commentary and the new annotations to graphs add insight for users by explaining how and why benefit caseloads have changed over time. We welcome the plans to regularly review the statistical summary to ensure it remains relevant to users. 

Requirement 9: To demonstrate transparency in user engagement, DWP should:

a) Ensure users who participate in consultations, surveys or other engagement activities are informed of the outcome.

b) Embed regular reviews of frequently requested data to feed into its development plans.

c) Produce guidance for submitting data requests including information on the differences between management information and official statistics. 

Actions taken by DWP to meet the requirement 

  • Instituted quarterly meetings with the PQ and FOI team to appraise them of any notable changes in the statistics and discuss themes in questions received by¬†PQ and FOI teams.¬†
  • Worked with PQ and FOI team to review logs of relevant PQs.¬†
  • Plan to work with PQ and FOI team on signposting to guidance around putting in an FOI.¬†
  • Publish the results of any specific survey or user engagement activity on the statistics collection page.¬†

OSR’s evaluation of evidence 

We are pleased to hear that the team has developed its relationship with the PQ and FOI team to ensure regular requests are considered in development plans. Introducing signposting to guidance on submitting FOIs would be welcome by users.