The state of the statistical system 2021/22

The State of the UK’s Statistical System 2021/22

18 July 2022
Last updated:
6 September 2022


To provide public value, statistics must support society’s needs for information. This means that the statistics and data are useful, easy to access, remain relevant, and support understanding of important issues. Value includes improving existing statistics and creating new ones through discussion and collaboration with stakeholders, and being responsible and efficient in the collection, sharing and use of statistical information.

Key Findings

Responsiveness and timely data

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

Whilst there remain important questions around vaccination rates and potential new variants of Covid 19, the focus of analysis has moved beyond the immediate pandemic to topics such as climate change, the cost of living and the war in Ukraine.

New statistics have been published on a variety of topics, either as official statistics or management information, and there continued to be good examples of voluntary application of the Code of Practice for Statistics.

During the pandemic there was a huge push to more timely, even real time, data. The system is continuing to work responsively and delivering established and new statistics on daily or weekly basis to meet users’ needs. For example, at the start of the fuel crisis in September 2021, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy started publishing weekly experimental statistics on regional fuel stock levels. The Department for Transport has also developed a faster indicators of transport activity page to monitor transport activity on a timelier basis for topical issues relating to transport.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there was user demand for a range of statistics to understand the social and economic impact. The system responded quickly producing the number of Ukrainians living in the UK, number of applications and approvals to come or stay in the UK and the latest trade and investment statistics. Surveys were rapidly set up to understand the experiences, characteristics and needs of Ukrainians who were now living in the UK.

During the COVID-19 pandemic it was important to understand the population and its characteristics. To meet this need, early data from the 2021 Census was used to understand more about vaccine uptake by occupation.

A key current Government policy is ‘levelling up’. As the government highlights in the White Paper, many of the metrics that will be used to measure the success of Levelling Up are either not yet available or of insufficient quality. The clarity of what is being measured is important if people want to track progress through data. As the statistics regulator, reviewing the statistics used in Levelling Up, we will be tracking the implementation of the GSS Sub National Data strategy and new tools such as the ONS Sub National Indicators Explorer, ensuring statistics are the best quality they can be and clearly focussed on measuring the outlined Levelling Up missions.

To be responsive and proactive, the system needs to be able to identify the topics of interest quickly. In last year’s report we highlighted the need to horizon-scan to identify and fill future and existing data gaps. This continues to be important in order to be responsive.


What we want to see:

  • Continued timely data on the topics that matter most
  • Proactive horizon scanning for potential data gaps

Making statistics accessible to a wider audience

The system has widened its use of dashboards, portals and data tools to make statistics accessible to a wider audience. Producers must ensure that these provide insight through answering society’s key questions

During the pandemic there was a need for statistics to be made more accessible and insightful to the public and to find ways to communicate them directly. Over the past year the system has built on this to find ways to bring insights to a wider range of audiences on other topics. The development of interactive dashboards, data tools and maps as means of disseminating statistics has enhanced understanding, use and reuse of the statistics. These types of tools are helping make the statistics more accessible to a wider range of users, including non-specialists.

In last year’s report we recommended that the system continues to improve its communication and presentation of statistics and data, with a focus on adding insight. Over the last year dashboards and interactive reports are being increasingly used to help answer key questions. The COVID-19 dashboard has remained a source of good practice. In particular, the ability for others to easily download the data from the Covid-19 dashboard to produce visualisations and bring further insight has been a key strength. Whilst the use of new ways to communicate statistics and bring insight is to be commended, we would also caution that producers fully consider the question that a dashboard or data tool is seeking to answer, the intended audience and how quality information will be communicated. Whilst we have seen good examples of dashboards, we have also seen examples that serve more as ‘data dumps’ and may not be the best ways of communicating these messages and bringing insight.

In the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in October 2021, there was a lot of interest in climate change statistics. The UK climate change statistics, data and analysis landscape is broad, complex and changeable. With many new official statistics developed over the last decade about climate change, the development and launch by ONS of the Climate change portal has delivered insights in a clear and accessible way, by pulling together a range of data on this topic.

A number of interactive products have been developed by ONS to support Census 2021 data for England and Wales. These include a tool to allow users to generate bespoke tables from Census 2021 data to meet specific requirements. This tool uses innovative methods to ensure data is subject to disclosure control by running three disclosure checks on the bespoke tables before releasing the data. The development of this tool should significantly improve the flexibility and timely outputs offering from ONS for Census 2021.

ONS is also planning to use data visualisation of Census data to allow users to aggregate data to different geographies and to produce a view format that users can scroll to zoom into different levels of geographies and see how the data and narrative differ at each level.

Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (NISRA) has also worked collaboratively with ONS and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in the Republic of Ireland to utilise new tools which will increase the accessibility and flexibility of Census data and official statistics more widely.

The NISRA ‘Tech lab’ has rolled out a number of innovative solutions across a range of topics such as a Baby Names interactive tool and a ‘scrollytelling’ article on Employee Earnings. They have also developed an accessible HTML exemplar for use by production teams.

Statisticians continue to be involved in developing content for the dissemination of statistics in the media. This is bringing insights to new and wider audiences, for example through Ofcom’s development of content for social media, and the functionality for ONS interactive elements to be embedded in third party sites including those of media organisations such as the BBC.

What we want to see:

  • Producers continuing to use innovative ways to make statistics more accessible to deliver insight to a wider range of users.
  • When developing dashboards and other data tools, producers to consider the questions they seek to answer, and the audience, to ensure that they provide insight.

Innovation and collaboration to share and link data

Innovation and collaboration to share and link data continued, building on the successes of 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

In last year’s report we highlighted improvements to collaboration, particularly in data sharing and linkage. Whilst this has not become the norm, further progress in this area has continued in 2021/22. However, greater external collaboration across a wider range of stakeholders is still needed to drive the maximum benefits.

A major innovation during the past year has been the launch of the first stage of the Integrated Data Service, a cloud-based platform giving analysts and researchers greater access to data from a range of sources. The private beta version allowed a selection of government analysts to compare and combine data held by the ONS and other departments. The aim is to unlock the full potential of data, inform policy decisions and encourage collaboration across government. Three projects were selected for the private beta: wage growth, energy efficiency and regional issues. Within the next year, we hope to see the planned launch of a version that can facilitate a larger number of users, especially those outside Government, in order for greater value to be realised from the Integrated Data Service.

Whilst we have seen greater collaboration to share and link data, significant barriers still exist. In particular, we have seen differences in risk appetite around the sharing and linkage of data and delays to projects due to issues with getting data sharing agreements signed. Producers have reported the need for a cultural shift that understands the possibilities and public benefits of data linkage.

There continues to be strong collaboration between the statistical system and the Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK). This has supported linkage and sharing of datasets within and across departments through projects such as the Data First project, and also provided funding to enable independent research to be carried out on key areas of strategic and policy interest.

Data sharing and linkage between Ofsted, the Department for Education, UCAS and ONS has allowed for data on qualifications, UCAS applications, pupil characteristics and prior educational attainment to be linked. This GRading and Admissions Data for England (GRADE) project has shared data with accredited researchers via the Secure Research Service and provides a wealth of potential insight into the achievements of young people and has huge potential to form the backbone for research analysis for many years to come. Ofqual also collaborated with ADR UK to make funding available via ADR UK fellowships to enable independent research to be carried out.

In the coming months, OSR will be engaging with key stakeholders involved in data to gather examples of good practice, and better understand the current barriers to sharing and linking. This will be used to champion successes, support positive change and provide opportunities for learning to be shared. Promoting data sharing and linkage, in a secure way, is a priority in our 2022/23 business plan.

What we want to see:

  • A continued move to a culture within government of a willingness to share data and overcome barriers
  • Collaboration throughout the whole process to ensure definitions and methodology are consistent
  • Expansion of the Integrated Data Service to provide value for a range of stakeholders

Collaboration with wider stakeholders

The system has improved collaboration between statistics producers and wider stakeholders including in areas beyond data linkage. This needs to continue and be expanded further

We have seen greater collaboration in areas beyond data linkage. For example, in responding to the war in Ukraine, official statistics producers across the UK and topic areas got together to identify the data needs and work together to meet them. This enabled the system to be more responsive and deliver outputs in a more coherent way. This has been seen in the collaboration between the Home Office, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and devolved administrations in publishing information on the Ukraine sponsorship scheme by country and region.

There has also been extensive collaboration across the system in responding to the recommendations of the Inclusive Data Taskforce. One of the recommendations of the report was the need to take a whole system approach, working in partnership with others to improve the inclusiveness of UK data and evidence. producers have collaborated with each other to provide a response to the findings and an implementation plan. Achieving the aims set out in the report will require substantially more collaboration, both within the system and more broadly, over the long term.

ONS have also collaborated with individuals who have raised concerns about how well inflation statistics reflect changes in the cost of living for different groups of the population. This led to an article on how prices of low cost grocery items have changed using experimental and innovative data.

What we want to see:

  • Greater collaboration between statistics producers and wider stakeholders to enable statistics to better meet user needs.
  • Improvements in the inclusivity of statistics through collaboration both within the system and more broadly.
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