This report draws together the findings from our regulatory work in financial year 2021/22 to provide a deeper insight into the state of the UK’s statistical system. We have supplemented our insights with reflections from government statistics producers, others within government and external stakeholders. We want to celebrate areas where the system consistently performs well and has improved over the past year as well as highlighting both continued and emergent areas for improvement. Where relevant, we have reflected back on the issues that we raised in last year’s report and the progress that has been made.
This report is aimed at producers of official statistics and is structured using the pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics, Trustworthiness, Quality and Value. We set out our findings and highlight what we would like to see from producers in the future.
What is the statistical system?
This section was edited on 6 September 2022 to more accurately reflect the data presented on the 2021 study of public confidence in official statistics
In the first of our State of the Statistical System reports we set out that official statistics are produced by a wide range of public sector bodies, including government departments, the devolved administrations, arm’s length bodies and the Office for National Statistics (ONS). When statistics produced by these public bodies (called official statistics producers) meet the standards set out in the Code, as judged during an OSR Assessment, they are designated as National Statistics. A database of National Statistics, which we update regularly, is available on our website. Our latest published figure for the total number of National Statistics is 821, 7 of which were designated in the year 2021/22. We also estimated in our first report that there were more than 900 additional official statistics. This figure is more difficult to determine as statistics producers do not need to inform OSR of every new or discontinued publication. Together, National Statistics and other official statistics are a rich source of evidence that can be used to explain and understand life in the UK. We define the statistical system as the community of producers who publish these statistics.
During the pandemic we have seen a widening of the sources of evidence used to explain and understand life in the UK. Many official statistics producers set out collections and publications at speed and there has been an increased use of management information. Users do not see a distinction between these different types of statistical information produced by government. This has led to a widening of the statistical landscape to include these sorts of data.
In addition to official statistics producers, there is a wider ecosystem of statistics and data. Many of these other sources of statistics and data inform policy and public debate and it is important that they are used for the public good. We encourage producers outside of the official statistics producer community to apply the Code of Practice for Statistics on a voluntary basis. Our annual award for Statistical Excellence in Trustworthiness, Quality and Value recognises those who voluntarily apply the core pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics.
There are also a variety of organisations and individuals commenting on the use of statistics by government. As we set out in a May 2020 blog, the pandemic has been associated with an increase in the role of citizens as ‘armchair epidemiologists’. Since the pandemic there has been an increased interest in and scrutiny of statistics. This is a positive for the statistics system but also brings risk. Much discussion of statistics takes place on social media with increased risks around misuse and misinterpretation and ‘echo chambers’. Official statistics producers need to be aware of these changes in the use of statistics.
Despite this changing landscape trust in official statistics remains high. A 2021 study of public confidence in official statistics found high confidence in the statistical system with 87% of respondents trusting ONS statistics and 79% of respondents agreeing that COVID-19 statistics are accurate. The public value of statistics has also been shown through 92% of respondents who used COVID-19 data reporting them being useful. Similarly, an ESCOE paper on the value of economic statistics found the benefit of economic statistics most likely far outweighed the cost of providing them.
Over the last year the statistical system has continued to deliver more timely, even real time, data and has shown it can respond quickly to the need for statistics on a range of topics. The system has widened its use of dashboards, portals and data tools to make statistics accessible. Producers must ensure that these provide insight through answering society’s key questions. Innovation and collaboration to share and link data has continued, building on the success of the statistical system’s response to the pandemic, helping the system to be more responsive and provide better insights into the key questions for society. However significant barriers remain to maximising the benefits of linked data. The system has improved collaboration between statistical producers and wider stakeholders including in areas beyond data linkage. This needs to continue and be expanded further.
During this year there have been innovations in how statistics are collected and produced, with new data sources and data collection methods being used and greater embedding of Reproducible Analytical Pipeline (RAP) principles. There has been greater use of technology and additional data sources, and statisticians have worked with others, both inside and outside the statistical system, to enhance the quality of statistics. Yet to bring effective insight, it is important to communicate uncertainty around the estimates. Improvements are needed in this area.
Over the last year the statistical system has demonstrated that it has a greater understanding of the need for intelligent transparency around statistics and data, and that this message is reaching beyond statistical teams. However, lack of transparency continued to be an issue on occasion. Greater transparency is needed around development plans for statistics to enable users to understand upcoming changes and help prioritise developments.
There has been an increase in government statisticians challenging the inappropriate use of statistics and engaging directly with users to support understanding of statistics. Pressure on resource is increasing strain on the statistical system and threatens the embedding of the positive developments we have seen.Back to top