Judgement on National Statistics Status
These statistics provide relevant and trusted information on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in Northern Ireland (NI). They enable users to better understand PIP as a relatively new benefit and its role in social security reform.
In requesting this assessment, the statistics team at the Department for Communities (DfC) is demonstrating its commitment to produce PIP statistics that meet the standards required of National Statistics and the Code of Practice for Statistics. We have identified four actions for DfC to address in order to enhance the public value and quality of the NI PIP statistics and to achieve National Statistics status. These are described in chapters one to three of this report.
Once the statistics team demonstrates that these steps have been undertaken, OSR will recommend that the UK Statistics Authority designate the statistics as National Statistics.
The PIP statistics are used by a range of users across the advice and charity sectors, as well as within DfC, which is interested in how PIP as a relatively new benefit is performing and its role in social security reform. The key user engagement activity is coordinated by the PIP operations team through a quarterly consultative forum, attended by advice and disability groups. However, we found that users would welcome direct engagement with the statistics team to ensure developments to the statistics are prioritised in line with user need.
The majority of users we spoke to highlighted that the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) PIP statistics contain more breakdowns for Great Britain (GB) than are available for NI, even though the data are sourced from the same system. The statistics team needs to engage more actively with users to communicate its ambition to better align the statistics in NI with what is available for GB. Where data gaps can’t be addressed, this should be communicated clearly to users and reasonable alternatives should be explored.
We found that user interest has begun to shift away from reassessments of individuals who were previously receiving the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) onto PIP, towards understanding award reviews and how these may impact individuals’ entitlements. The statistics team should ensure the statistical bulletin and data tables draw out the relevant insights to help users understand where NI is in its journey of rolling out PIP.
Users we spoke to were positive about the length and presentation of the bulletin. However, we found that accessibility could be improved by better signposting between the bulletin and the supplementary tables as some of the detail can be missed if the underlying data tables are not viewed.
The statistics team maintains a good working relationship with the PIP operations team and engages with it regularly. The users we spoke to have no concerns with the quality or methodology of the statistics, as the data for the PIP statistics are sourced from the PIP Computer System which represents a 100% population of PIP claimants with a postcode in NI on the reference date.
The statistics team has carried out a self-assessment of its understanding of administrative data against our Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD) framework. The statistics team should bring out the relevant information from its QAAD self-assessment to expand the methodology and quality notes in the bulletin and tables, to support the appropriate use of the statistics.
The Professional Services Unit (PSU), in which the responsible statisticians for PIP sit, is currently exploring the use of Reproducible Analytical Pipelines (RAP) in the production of its statistics, with a view to improving the quality of the statistics by reducing the risk of human errors associated with its current software packages. Once RAP has been fully implemented, PSU anticipates that this will free up resources, which can be reallocated to address developments requested by users.
The statistics team told us that although it has access to the same data as DWP, there is not currently a process in place for sharing code needed to produce statistics which are comparable with DWP. The statistics team needs to build stronger links with DWP to ensure a common understanding of the quality and priorities of PIP statistics and of the PIP Computer System.
The statisticians working on PIP are well established and users we spoke to said the team is always helpful and knowledgeable when responding to their queries. DfC has a dedicated webpage about its statistics protocols and compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics and users in DfC told us that pre-release access is controlled well and that the statistics team are not influenced by senior authority within the organisation.
The statistics team could enhance its trustworthiness by being open about its statistical development plans and its progress towards achieving these developments, even if the timescales are uncertain. Whilst PSU does not routinely publish a development plan, some users we spoke to felt that the lack of transparency around development priorities can lead to data gaps being perceived as DfC withholding information.
We expect the DfC statistics team to report back to us by September 2021 outlining the steps that it has taken to address the requirements. The UK Statistics Authority will take advice from OSR based on the evidence received and decide whether to award the National Statistics designation.
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