What impact did Authority casework have in 2020/21?
The purpose of our casework function is to support our vision of statistics that serve the public good by protecting the role of statistics in public debate. While we intervene on specific issues, we aim to use our actions to support this broader ambition and drive sustained improvement in the production, publication and use of statistics. We measure our impact in a variety of ways:
- The publication of previously unverifiable data used in the public domain as a result of our intervention
- A change in the production practices, methods or behaviour as a result of our recommendations
- Improvement in the presentation or communication of the statistics
- An identified gap in available data and statistics filled
- A correction or clarification made to the public record
Our primary purpose is not to achieve media coverage, but we do monitor our media coverage as a way to understand the impact of our interventions.
Our interventions policy and casework frequently asked questions set out the considerations we make in making our interventions public. Where we feel an issue is substantial, has a high likelihood to mislead, or is heavily in the public interest, we are more likely to share our views publicly, for example through a public letter or blog. To increase impact, on the most significant issues we may combine a public letter with a written statement, or a social media campaign. We will also vary the scale and approach we take depending on whether it is our first intervention on an issue, or part of a repeated issue or longer-term campaign. As such, each intervention is tailored to the issue being investigated, but is always guided by our overarching principles. For transparency we will always list all issues we consider on our published issues log, whether or not having looked into the issue we consider there to be a concern which requires further action.
One way we can understand the impact of our interventions is by monitoring our mentions in the parliaments of the UK. Where issues are discussed at this level, it raises their profile and can contribute to positive change. An example of this during 2020/21 was Sir David Norgrove’s letters to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in May and June 2020 on COVID-19 testing data. These letters were mentioned in four separate debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords between 2–10 June. Annex B to this report includes full details of casework mentions in parliament.
In November 2019, we launched our own Twitter account (@StatsRegulation) and in July 2020 we launched a separate website for the Office for Statistics Regulation. Prior to this, we shared a digital footprint with the UK Statistics Authority. This has helped reinforce our identity as an independent regulator.
Throughout 2021/22, we will be exploring the impact of our work and casework outcomes in more detail, including a new programme of work on evaluation.
Examples of our impact
This box sets out examples of casework investigated in 2020/21 for each of our identified areas of impact.
The publication of previously unverifiable data used in the public domain as a result of our intervention:
In September 2020, we looked into statistics on the distance that people were traveling to obtain coronavirus tests. The data to verify claims being made were not, at the time, published. We engaged with officials in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) who committed to publishing the data as an ad-hoc publication to ensure equality of access. We followed up with a public letter welcoming publication and setting out our expectations. The data were later incorporated into the main Test and Trace statistics.
A change in the production practices, methods or behaviour as a result of our recommendations:
In late 2020/early 2021, we handled multiple items of casework regarding population estimates and projections in areas of England including Coventry and the Wirral. This casework led to a formal review of these statistics, and the producer department (ONS) agreed to review aspects of its methods and user engagement practices for the statistics.
An improvement in the presentation or communication of the statistics:
Throughout the pandemic, we have engaged with health bodies across the UK to recommend improvements to data and statistics. An example of this is our concerted campaign to push for improvements in Test and Trace statistics. As well as individual interventions such as letters to health officials, we also conducted a rapid review of the statistics and an associated statement. Over time we have seen great improvements in the way these statistics are produced and presented, and continue to push for the best statistics possible to help monitor and understand the pandemic.
An identified gap in available data and statistics filled:
In June 2020, we responded to a letter from Stephen Timms MP about the availability of statistics on the number of people who were given leave to remain in the UK in 2019 subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. We engaged with the Head of Profession for Statistics at the Home Office who committed to investigate how available administrative data held by the Home Office could provide meaningful information to best support public debate on hardship faced by migrants in the UK. Statistics on No Recourse to Public Funds, specifically applications to change conditions of leave, were first published in July 2020. We continue to engage with the Home Office on these statistics.
A correction or clarification made to the public record:
In January 2021, we investigated claims about the impact of a trade deal on UK fisheries which were found to be inaccurate. We discussed these with the relevant department, and a revision was made to the Government website in February.
Example of media coverage of our casework
In July 2021, we wrote to the Scottish Government about a press release that used unverifiable figures on antibody testing, urging publication of the data to ensure equality of access. This letter was picked up by several media outlets including The Times.