The Office for Statistics Regulation has today published a review of income-based poverty statistics. 

The concept of poverty means different things to different people, which makes it difficult to define and measure. However, official statistics on income-based poverty play a vital role in helping central and local governments to understand the prevalence and nature of poverty, supporting policy decisions and targeted service delivery.   

Whilst the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are the primary producers of official statistics on income-based poverty, there are also a number of other official statistics producers working in this space. These include the Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh Governments. The recommendations in our report pertain to these producers. There are also several prominent organisations outside of government that contribute to the wider evidence base on poverty.   

Information needs in the poverty space are multi-faceted and encompass a range of specialist interests and priorities. To meet these broad needs, we found that poverty is most helpfully viewed as a basket of main measures. One measure could not adequately meet all the differing needs that users have for poverty statistics.   

We found that there is untapped potential within administrative data to augment and improve existing income-based poverty statistics – something which is already being explored by DWP and ONS. However, there remains a substantial role for sample-based surveys to ask the questions that administrative data cannot capture such as family structure and housing costs. 

It is important that decisions around development of the statistics are communicated openly to enhance public confidence in the data. Government departments need to take a wider view of user interests and look beyond immediate policy needs. 

Poverty is, and always will be, a complicated statistical landscape to navigate. We want to ensure though that official statistics provide a robust evidence base for individuals and organisations to reach informed decisions, answer important questions, make the case for change and hold government to account. We hope that the publication of our review today will inform the wider public debate on poverty and drive the positive change and innovation in the official statistics that is required to meet the needs of users.