The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Research Excellence Awards 2020 recognise and celebrate outstanding innovative research carried out using our secure data and/or secure data we make available on behalf of others, to deliver a public benefit to the UK, while protecting data confidentiality.

This year, there were 20 applications on a variety of subjects, including research that was instrumental in shaping government coronavirus (COVID-19) decision-making and analysis.

The winners were chosen by an independent panel, with the exception of the People's Choice award, which was chosen by public vote. The panel were:

  • Sarah Henry (Chair) – ONS

  • Clare Griffiths – Public Health England

  • Kelly Beaver – IPSOS Mori

  • Andromachi Tseloni – Nottingham Trent University and Data First

  • Stephen Aldridge – Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Winner – Research Excellence Award

Awarded to Dr Gurdeep S. Mannu et al. of the University of Oxford for their research on Invasive breast cancer and breast cancer mortality after ductal carcinoma in situ in women attending for breast screening in England, 1988 to 2014.

The ONS is very pleased to award this project, as it will have important future implications for the management of patients with this kind of early stage breast cancer. The research was originally published in the leading medical journal The BMJ and has gained widespread attention from the medical community and the press. Further articles were published widely, including by The Nuffield Department of Population Health, The National Institute of Health Research and AJMC. Press attention was international and included articles from ITV News, The Times of India and Aunt Minnie Europe.

Winner – Programme (Special Recognition)

Awarded to Professor Sir Richard Blundell et al. at the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy (CPP) at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and University College London for their work on informing policies to tackle inequalities.

In the period covered by this application, there are examples of all types of outputs in the four inequality-related strands of work using ONS SRS data that are highlighted, including:

  • Intergenerational differences in income and wealth

This is a report, a journal article with a non-technical summary, and a report with an accessible summary.

  • The role of firm-level innovation in boosting the wages of those in low-skilled occupations

This is a technical discussion paper aimed at an academic audience, a blog piece on the IFS and LSE websites, and another blog piece published on the widely read VoxEU website.

  • The consequences of potential post-Brexit trade barriers on the distribution of wages

This is a technical working paper that has been accepted for publication in the journal Economica and a presentation given at a free-to-attend event in Westminster in the run-up to the March 2020 Budget that had 174 attendees, with the event being live streamed and made available for subsequent download.

  • The impacts of automatic enrolment on the workplace pension membership of different groups

This is a peer-reviewed article that was published in International Tax and Public Finance.

Winner – People's Choice

With 23% of the online vote, this is awarded to Oliver Hugh of the Perinatal Institute for his research, "An investigation into the effect of implementation of the Growth Assessment Protocol (GAP) on stillbirth rates in England".

An article on this research has been accepted for publication by Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which is the main, high-impact journal of the maternal fetal medicine speciality. This research was also presented at the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology World Congress during October 2020.

The article with an abridged summary of the main findings have been circulated by the Perinatal Institute to midwives, obstetricians and sonographers in the 119 Trusts and Health Boards in the UK that are in the GAP programme, and the findings have been incorporated into the guidelines that are being taught in regular, fortnightly video-conference workshops presented by the Perinatal Institute's GAP team, for NHS as well as international GAP users.

The main aspects of the findings are also included in the updated GAP e-learning module, which has 30,000 registered users across the UK and abroad.

Professor Jason Gardosi, Executive Director of the Perinatal Institute, commented:

"Oliver showed initiative and innovation in his approach, ran the project with diligence, and ended up with an authoritative analysis which will not only help in the understanding of stillbirth rates, but will also help stimulate further clinical and health service efforts towards prevention."

Commended for the considerable impact on government decision-making in response to the coronavirus pandemic

ONS researcher Heather Bovill in partnership with the University of Oxford, University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust are commended for their work on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey. With weekly publication of a bulletin and more in-depth analysis published every month, the impact is significant with immediate and ongoing impact on government policy and decisions. The research has also attracted substantial attention from the media and general public.

Examples of media coverage include a BBC News article on extending the survey and the importance of the survey (and analysis) to government decisions on the virus.

The research has been the subject of a BMJ article featuring expansion of the survey and use of its results to identify and address local outbreaks, and it can also be found in a SAGE paper on the impacts of COVID-19 on excess deaths and morbidity presented at a SAGE meeting that used results from the survey.

Commended for the considerable impact on government decision-making in response to the coronavirus pandemic

Fergus Cumming and the Bank of England with the Bank of England's Interim Financial Stability Report, May 2020.

This analysis by the Bank of England has had immediate and ongoing impact on government policy. This analysis supported HM Treasury in the thinking behind Chancellor Rishi Sunak's "bounce back loan" announcement. Mr Sunak announced an offer of 100% guarantees on "bounce back loans" of up to £50,000 for the smallest businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The scheme has been praised as "transformational" by CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn and received extensive media coverage.

Similar analysis was used in the design of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS). Total lending under CBILS and CLBILS by 7 June was £11.2 billion.

Commended for collaboration and impact

Lucy Bryant of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) is commended by the panel for her research project, "The socioeconomic distribution of alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour in England and Wales".

This research was published as an IAS report in May 2020, and two-peer reviewed journal articles with more detailed analyses are expected to be published in the coming months. The research has also been raised in the House of Lords.

Andrew Brown of Public Health England (PHE) commented:

"The positive reception to this work, not only within Public Heath England but amongst wider stakeholders and policymakers, is indicative of the significance of its findings and the direct implication these have for alcohol policy development."

Special recognition

Special recognition is given to Emily Murray of University College London for her project, "Looked-after Children Grown Up". This project was well scored by the panel and was also popular in the People's Choice vote. The research has been published in BMC and The European Journal of Public Health and has been presented at several conferences. The research has also gained media attention including an article in The Observer and The Guardian.

The ONS and the award panel would like to make special recognition of the work of Frankie Smith for the project, "Getting in and getting on: Class, participation and job quality in the UK Creative Industries".

Frankie worked for the Secure Research Service as a Statistical Support Officer while this research was undertaken. Frankie has since passed away, and the nomination for a Research Excellence Award was made by the charity, Work Advance (who sponsored this research), posthumously in her honour.

Heather Carey of Work Advance commented:

"I feel it important to acknowledge her [Frankie Smith's] exceptional efforts to this vital research ... I found Frankie's work to be to an exemplary standard ... I have no doubt that her engagement in this research enhanced our approach and helped to ensure the research was delivered in a timely manner. Her contribution will deepen our collective understanding of the picture of participation and advancement of those from working class backgrounds in the creative industries."

If you have any questions about the awards, or would like further information, then please email us at

Related downloads