Statistics serve the public good when they enable a wide range of users to answer important questions. We have identified that the following strategic recommendations are needed to support and deliver the development of income-based poverty statistics that fully meet users’ needs. Where we refer to ‘statistics producers’, this includes all of the producers who contribute to the income-based poverty statistics landscape that are highlighted earlier in this report. Where recommendations apply to specific producers, we will refer to them by name.
These strategic recommendations represent a step-change in the way the statistics on income-based poverty are produced and will require continued joined up, collaborative working, to be achieved.
- The GSS Income and Earnings Coherence Steering Group needs to continue to collaborate and demonstrate leadership of the income-based poverty statistics landscape, to move away from producing a series of individual outputs to a more coherent and comprehensive evidence base.
- Statistics producers need to better understand how the income-based poverty statistics are being used across policy and service provision and how the evidence base can be improved.
- Innovation is needed for the statistics to deliver their full potential and serve the public good. Opportunities for data linkage should be maximised and data gaps should be addressed, building on work already underway in the GSS to explore the use of administrative data and its integration with social surveys.
In addition to these strategic recommendations, we have identified the following more detailed recommendations.
Improve the accessibility of language and guidance
- Producers should look to provide clearer and more detailed signposting to other income-based poverty statistics in their bulletins.
- Producers should ensure supporting guidance is accessible to lay users and clear on the appropriate uses and quality of the statistics.
- Producers should consider the helpfulness of the language used in the poverty bulletins and accompanying guidance, to ensure that it does not risk confusing or misleading less-experienced users.
- DWP and ONS should ensure they are clear about the strengths and limitations of household surveys, particularly with regards to missing groups, and clearly set out the implicit and explicit assumptions that underline them.
Address data gaps to enhance insight
- Producers should do more to draw out the necessary insights to allow users to understand the nature of poverty and how this varies between groups at differing levels of poverty, as identified above.
- DWP and ONS need to understand why experts are funding their own data collections and analysis and consider whether this reflects weaknesses in the existing official statistics.
- To increase the public value of the existing statistics, DWP should:
- review the current set of questions which underpin material deprivation and determine a way to compare material deprivation across groups, in collaboration with other producers across the GSS who use these questions.
- increase the consistency in the way it reports material deprivation, as it currently reports material deprivation of children in households with less than 50% and 70% of median income but not at 60%.
- DWP and ONS should address the ethnicity data gap, as part of the wider GSS response to the findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report.
- DWP should consider the potential to extend the low-income families at a local area level analyses to working-age adults without children and pensioners.
Review existing methods and maximise use of administrative data
- DWP and ONS, building on existing work to explore the feasibility and potential of social survey and administrative data integration, should explore whether integration can help improve the timeliness and robustness of income-based poverty statistics.
- DWP and ONS should prioritise work to address under-reporting at the bottom end of the income distribution. They should consider a multifaceted approach to solving this problem, such as data linkage and making greater use of administrative data.
- DWP and ONS should look to understand and address concerns about access when introducing administrative data into the production of income-based poverty statistics.
- DWP and ONS should determine the user need for a single data source on household incomes by exploring the feasibility of consolidating the existing social surveys, as part of their existing plans in the new combined strategic vision and GSS Income and Earning Coherence Work Plan. This could either be used to inform different publications, or to form the basis of a single set of statistics constructed from a consolidated data source, based on an understanding of user needs.
- DWP and ONS should look to better understand the non-response bias of their surveys, and ensure they are transparent with users about any potential bias.
- DWP and ONS should consider leading a review of equivalisation methods, in collaboration with other producers, building on the initial work conducted by ONS.
Command confidence in the statistics through trustworthy production
- DWP and ONS should assess how the SMC recommendations can be implemented in their own work to enhance the public value of their statistics. Any planned developments to the statistics should also be communicated in an open and transparent way.