OSR review of the transformation of the Labour Force Survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

UPDATE: In November 2022, we published the first in a series of letters covering our emerging findings and recommendations for our review of the ONS’s transformation of the LFS.

Background 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is in the process of improving labour market statistics through survey transformation and increasing the use of administrative data and other data sources. As part of this, ONS is seeking to improve the quality, coverage, adaptability and responsiveness of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) to ensure it continues to meet user needs.  

The LFS is the main household survey that provides labour market information in the UK. This is ONS’s largest regular household survey, outside of the Census, and has been running since the 1970s. It is used to provide the official estimates of employment and unemployment and the data collected from the LFS are published in a number of statistical publications, including the monthly ONS labour market overview, UK 

Over the last few years, ONS has been developing a different version of the LFS using an online-first multimode approach. This version has been running live since March 2020. ONS intends to start incorporating transformed LFS data into regular market data releases from September 2023.  

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected the way survey data were collected, with organisations adapting their data collection and dissemination processes at pace. Face-to-face interviewing was suspended and the LFS moved to telephone only, which affected the response rate and representativeness of the achieved sample. There were concerns around the quality of the labour market estimates from the survey and ONS has worked since then to mitigate these impacts, whilst accelerating the survey transformation. 

Our aim and approach 

In parallel with ONS’s endeavours, we have agreed to review the transformation process of the LFS. The aim of our work is to ensure that the new survey continues to meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and value, in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics. We will advise, challenge and support ONS and be fluid in our engagement and reporting, to ensure that any recommendations that we make are well timed and valuable. We are encouraged by ONS’s positivity and appetite to improve the LFS to meet changing user needs. We look forward to working with the team over the coming months. 

Our first phase (starting April 2022) will focus on the design and development work ONS has planned before transitioning over to the new survey approach. The second phase will be an assessment of the labour market statistic outputs that rely on the transformed LFS data, with a series of regular publications planned from September 2023.  

We are keen to speak with people and organisations who use data from the Labour Force Survey to understand more about the potential impact of the proposed changes. Please do get in touch if you are interested in sharing your views and would like to hear more about this work.