Value means that the statistics and other numerical information are accessible, remain relevant and benefit society; helping the public to understand important issues and answer key questions.
Value is a product of the interface between the statistics or other numerical information and those who use them as a basis for forming judgements.
PIP is a benefit under high scrutiny and so the statistics are important
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a benefit replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people aged between 16 and State Pension age. The policy intent of PIP is to help towards some of the extra costs arising from having a long-term health condition or disability (ill health or disability that is expected to last 12 months or longer) and it is assessed on how a person’s condition affects their daily life, not the condition they have.
PIP began as a pilot in England in early 2013 and did not start to roll out in Northern Ireland (NI) until June 2016. PIP was implemented in NI under the Welfare Reform (NI) Order 2015, in which the Department for Communities (DfC) committed to carrying out two reviews of the process of implementation of the benefit. These reviews have both been completed and their findings published.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office has also been carrying out a review into the Management and Delivery of the PIP Contract in NI. These reviews, combined with the sensitivity of the subject which they concern, mean that PIP as a benefit is under high scrutiny. DfC told us it responds to lots of Assembly Questions concerning PIP.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on PIP has been less severe than for Universal Credit, due to the telephone assessment process already being established. However, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on disabled people means that the statistics continue to be of heightened interest.
Greater signposting would enhance the accessibility of the statistics and data
DfC publishes the NI PIP statistics quarterly through a bulletin and supplementary data tables. The bulletin presents a short summary of the latest data and includes a combination of infographics, charts and commentary. Users we spoke to were positive about the length and presentation of the bulletin and several users noted that the process map and glossary of terms made the statistics more accessible to users who may not have the domain knowledge.
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 without looking at the underlying data tables. For example, one of the charts in the bulletin groups together several disabling conditions as “Other” but the individual conditions are available in the data tables, which is not made clear to the reader. The accessibility of the bulletin would be enhanced if the relevant data tables were highlighted throughout the bulletin so that anyone reading it could easily find the data the charts refer to. This is particularly important for the charts that have an axis in absolute terms (e.g. the number of claimants) but where the commentary refers to the percentage of claimants.
The bulletin provides links to further information on PIP as a benefit as well as PIP statistics for Great Britain (GB). Where there is known interest in data that are not held by the statistics team, the statistics team could also signpost to these organisations to support users’ understanding of what data are available.
Taking a direct role in user engagement would ensure developments are informed by user need
The PIP statistics are used by a range of users across the advice and charity sectors, who are often supporting individuals through the PIP process, and also users within DfC working on PIP policy and operations. Users that we spoke to as part of this assessment are using the statistics to understand social policy, social security reform and outcomes for vulnerable groups.
The statistics bulletin, supporting tables and landing page contain a link to a survey that allows users to feed in their views on the statistics and outputs. However, users told us that they would welcome greater direct engagement with the statistics team so that their views are considered when prioritising developments of the statistics. Most of the user engagement concerning PIP is carried out through a quarterly consultative forum, led by the DfC PIP operations team and attended by advice and disability groups.
The statistics team told us that the Professional Services Unit (PSU), in which the responsible statisticians for PIP sit, is currently exploring setting up a user group covering several of its publications on benefits and it has met with colleagues in other branches to explore good practice that is taking place across the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) with regards to user engagement. Given the heightened interest in the PIP statistics, the statistics team should take a more proactive role in engaging with its users so that the statistics remain fit for purpose and developments are aligned with user need.
Users would value greater coherence of PIP statistics between NI and GB
The migration process for claimants from DLA to PIP was completed for NI by the end of November 2019 and user interest has since shifted from reassessments of individuals who were previously receiving DLA onto PIP, to award reviews (i.e. where a claimant’s receipt of PIP has ended and they must be reassessed). The statistics team should ensure the bulletin and data tables reflect the changing state of PIP in NI and draw out the relevant insights to help users understand these changes.
The users we spoke to told us that any statistics that can make the claimant journey through PIP more transparent would be welcome. We found that the statistics team has worked hard to develop the statistics publication from scratch since the introduction of PIP in NI, where it is still a relatively young benefit compared to PIP in GB, and that the statistics have been developed substantially in this time.
However, the majority of users pointed to the fact that Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) PIP statistics contain more breakdowns for GB than are available for NI and some users said that this can be perceived as DfC trying to hide something. Similarly, users told us that the lack of coherence between outputs in NI and GB prevents them from being able to compare the performance of PIP in different nations which damages the trustworthiness of the statistics.
We identified several common data gaps that the users we spoke to would like to see in the NI PIP statistics:
- Duration of awards
- Information on award reviews and whether the award has been disallowed, increased, reduced or maintained following the review
- Success rates by main disabling condition
- How often Capita advice is overruled and why
- More-granular geographical breakdowns
As well as these breakdowns, several other data gaps about the PIP process were highlighted by individual users we spoke to. For example, some users were interested in data on appeals, independent advice, tribunals, complaints and how often carers and companions are present for assessments. We also spoke to users who were interested in more data on the characteristics of claimants ranging from the ethnicity of claimants to more-granular data on the main disabling condition and comorbidities.
The statistics team told us that it is working to develop the statistics in line with what is available for GB but that not all of the data gaps highlighted could be resolved with the current source data available to PSU. For example, PIP is not covered by Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (in which Public Authorities are obliged to carry out their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality) and therefore ethnicity data are not collected routinely. To enhance the public value of the PIP statistics, the statistics team must work with users to understand their interests and how developments might add value. The statistics team should take forward the feedback from users and work with its data suppliers to implement these developments.
Where data gaps cannot be addressed, the statistics team should communicate clearly to users why this is the case and what alternatives the team might explore. For example, where sample sizes are restricting the team’s ability to report data at a more granular level, the team could consider producing thematic analysis on a particular aspect of PIP or specific disabling condition to inform users’ understanding without the need to publish a new breakdown of data.
 In Northern Ireland, Capita provides the PIP consultation service for DfC. These consultations include a qualified Capita Disability Assessor carrying out an assessment of the claimant’s condition and how it affects their daily life and ability to work. The assessor then writes a report for DfC setting out their findings and judgement regarding entitlement to PIP. These reports are then reviewed by PIP case managers in DfC who are able to overrule the judgment made by Capita if they have evidence to disagree with the judgement.
DfC does not directly link the charts in the statistical bulletin to the corresponding data tables and therefore the detail of the data can be missed if the reader does not view the supplementary data tables.
- The data tables contain a lot of useful breakdowns which are not referred to in the bulletin.
- Some of the charts have an axis in absolute terms (e.g. the number of claimants) but the commentary refers to the percentage of claimants which is not labelled on the chart.
To enhance accessibility of the statistics, the statistics team should:
a) Improve signposting between charts in the bulletin and the data tables which they correspond to.
b) Make it clearer what other breakdowns can be found in the data tables and draw out insights in the statistical bulletin where appropriate.
DfC does not use strong user engagement to inform all the decisions it makes with regards to the development and production of the statistics. There are several data gaps concerning the claimant journey for PIP which prevent users from understanding how the policy is performing.
- The statistics team is seen as helpful when approached but it does not proactively engage with users.
- Now that reassessments are complete in NI, the political debate on PIP has shifted to award reviews which are not covered by the statistics.
- Many users noted that the DWP publishes more breakdowns in its PIP statistics than DfC.
- Data gaps on duration of award and appeals were seen as important gaps to users for being able to support claimants to PIP effectively.
To maximise use of the statistics and ensure their development is informed by users, the statistics team should:
a) Participate in user forums coordinated by the operations team, so that it can engage directly with users to discuss priorities for developments.
b) Work closely with a range of users to understand their data needs and the type of insight they require.
c) Work with data suppliers to identify potential solutions to filling data gaps.
d) Publicly set out plans for addressing users’ need and provide a clear explanation where gaps cannot be addressed.