Executive summary

This report draws together our casework from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 (2021/22). It focuses on the issues and themes in the 241 pieces of casework we investigated.

Casework is generated when someone raises a concern with us, or when we identify a concern ourselves, regarding the production and use of statistics.

Casework provides an insight into issues that matter to the public and those with an interest in statistics and data. Our casework interventions are therefore a key part of helping to ensure that data and statistics serve the public good.

Caseload remained high

In 2021/22, we investigated 241 cases (our total caseload). While this is a reduction in casework when compared with 2020/21, it is more than double pre-pandemic levels.

We believe this increasing trend in casework is likely to continue into 2022/23. We have already received more cases in quarter 1 of 2022/23 compared to quarter 1 of 2021/22.

The increased public interest in data experienced during the pandemic has been maintained. This public interest in data reinforces how important it is that statistics serve the public good, and the need to ensure that official statistics and data are trustworthy, and of high quality and value.

Most casework was about the pandemic

In 2021/22, just over half (52%) of all casework related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst this proportion of cases was lower than 2020/21 (76%), there remained significant public interest in data regarding the pandemic.

The majority (90%) of pandemic related casework was about health and social care statistics. However, there was also interest in data about the pandemic for other reasons, such as international travel restrictions and pilot events for the hospitality sector.

In the last quarter of 2021/22, we started to receive more casework that was not related to the pandemic. This highlighted the start of a shift in public interest away from pandemic to broader issues, like the Russian invasion into Ukraine.

Use/misuse of statistics was the most common type of concern raised

Using casework to target the misuse of official statistics helps to ensure that the public can have confidence in data and statistics and that the statistics serve the public good.

In 2021/22, the most common type of casework (41%) involved concerns about statistics being used inappropriately or incorrectly in public debate (whether deliberately or not).

An example of this type of casework was our public intervention with Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his continued claim that there were (at that time) more people in work than there were at the start of the pandemic. This claim was based on the number of staff on payroll. When looking at the available data on employment, including those who were self-employed, there were actually less people in employment (at that time) than at the start of the pandemic.

Intelligent transparency continued to be an issue

Intelligent transparency is fundamental in supporting public trust in statistics and is an issue that cuts across all our regulatory work, including our casework. Our intelligent transparency campaign aims to ensure an open and accessible approach to communicating numbers.

We continue to monitor transparency issues that come in through our casework function. A key principle of intelligent transparency is equality of access, i.e., data quoted publicly by governments, for example in parliament or the media, should be made available to all, including links to sources and appropriate explanation of context. Availability of statistics accounted for 18% of our casework this year.

In cases where a statement has been made and the underlying data is not already publicly available, we expect an ad hoc statistical release to be made as soon as possible after the statement has been made.

We continue to highlight our expectations around transparency with producers and have published a statement on data transparency and regulatory guidance on the transparent release and use of statistics and data. Intelligent transparency is also a key theme in our State of the UK’s statistical system 2022/23; we would like to see intelligent transparency being the default for all statistics and data.

Most casework came from the public, with social media playing a bigger role this year

Through our casework, we support the public use of data and analysis by UK governments and respond to issues raised by a range of users. Understanding who is raising casework issues with us and responding appropriately to them is a key part of ensuring that statistics serve the public good.

Of the 241 cases investigated in 2021/22, nearly half (49%) of cases came directly from members of the public who emailed us with their concerns. This is a slight drop from 2020/21 when casework from the public represented 53% of all cases. We also saw the increasing use of social media to contact us.

We will continue to monitor the impact of social media on our casework, and to explore how best we can use social media to promote our casework role to the public.

We saw impact from our interventions

We want to maximise the impact of our casework to ensure that statistics serve the public good, and that the public can have confidence in the statistics produced and used by governments. We have identified key outcomes of our casework this year. This includes (but is not limited to) outcomes where we have made significant impacts on statistical production and communication within departments, as well as references to our casework in the media, where appropriate, to demonstrate that we are taking appropriate action to support public confidence.

Impacts that we have identified through tracking our casework have included that: data have been released following our intervention; misleading tweets or blogs have been removed; improvements have been made to methodology information or referencing of the source of statistics; and analysts have been more involved in the drafting of blogs and press releases.

During 2021/22 there were several cases that received strong media coverage. These included:

We also benefit from a positive working relationship with Full Fact who will refer concerns they have to us and will highlight on their website when they have done so or where we have made an intervention.

In addition, during 2021/22, our casework interventions were mentioned in the House of Commons and House of Lords 15 times and there was one mention of an intervention in the Scottish Parliament.

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