In March 2014, the National Statistician recommended the 2021 Census should be predominantly online, making increased use of administrative data and surveys to both enhance the statistics from the 2021 Census and improve statistics between censuses. The government's response to this recommendation was an ambition that "censuses after 2021 will be conducted using other sources of data".
It is our mission to provide the best insights on population, migration and society using a range of new and existing data sources to meet the needs of our users. This is increasingly important in a rapidly changing policy context, where we know our users need better, more timely evidence to support decision-making at both national and local levels.
In 2021, we will continue to meet these needs largely through the census, while also increasing our use of other sources of data. As set out in our previous work on the Administrative Data Census project, a census provides granular data at the lowest levels of geography every 10 years. However, our census-based system delivers less detail throughout the interim years. Additionally, the quality of our population estimates declines as we move further away from the census year.
Therefore, we are working to put administrative data at the heart of our population, migration and social statistics systems. Enabled by data-sharing powers in the Digital Economy Act 2017 and guided by our data security principles, we are using the opportunity to make use of more data to give us a much richer understanding of how our population is changing. This report sets out progress towards achieving these aims since our previous report in June 2018.
Population and migration estimates
We have continued to work in partnership across the Government Statistical Service (GSS) to put administrative data at the core of our population and social statistics system. We have improved our administrative data-based population estimates (ABPEs), where our latest methods show promise for removing patterns of over-coverage seen in previous research.
Our migration statistics have been enhanced through applying a preliminary adjustment using administrative data from the Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We have reclassified these statistics as Experimental Statistics to support ongoing development and innovation.
In 2020, we will focus on delivering improved migration statistics by further refining our preliminary adjustment methods and continuing the development of our ABPEs.
Information on population characteristics
We have continued our research to understand the availability and statistical quality of information to support an administrative data-first approach to producing social statistics. Our collaborations with other government departments have allowed us to produce our first Research Outputs on fuel poverty (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DfBEIS)) and highest level of educational attainment (Department for Education (DfE)). We have also published administrative data-based income statistics (ABIS) as Experimental Statistics for the first time. Our future plans include updating our ABIS research and publishing a series of Research Outputs on housing characteristics from administrative data in 2020.
By making more use of administrative data, we have also improved our crime statistics as well as providing new insights into loneliness, deaths of homeless people and high streets. You can find out more about our work in our Public Policy Analysis Quarterly Review.
We are continuing to develop our vision for how social surveys will support the administrative data-first approach. This consolidates our requirements for a Population Coverage Survey (PCS) (to support the production of ABPEs) with our transformed social surveys. This will allow us to:
- fill gaps in administrative data where limited information is available on topics, such as religion and sexual orientation, as shown in Figure 2
- assess and adjust for definitional differences and under- or over-coverage to produce administrative data-based population, migration and household estimates
- improve the efficiency of our surveys by introducing an online mode of collection
- reduce the burden on the public through only collecting data once and reusing these data where possible
The Digital Economy Act 2017 provides a legal gateway for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to access data held by public authorities and commercial undertakings to support the production of official statistics and National Statistics, including the census. Access to data is essential for the transformation of our population and social statistics systems to achieve our ambition of a fully integrated administrative data-based approach in 2023. We continue to work with data suppliers across the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and in the private sector to understand the role their data can play in a transformed statistical system, but at present we do not have access to the full range of data we need to achieve this.
Our focus this year has been on working with data suppliers to develop clear, ongoing data delivery strategies, including:
- initial supplies of the main Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits data; these were shared with the ONS for the first time in October 2019, with future, ongoing supplies being planned
- more detailed benefits and income data from the DWP
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) data and Self-assessment data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC); we received initial supplies of Self-assessment data from HMRC, with further supplies planned to meet our transformation goals
- education-related datasets from the Department for Education (DfE) and Welsh Government
We have continued to develop our understanding of data through Statistical Quality Working Groups (SQWGs), where we discuss the data and the detail of the variables with data suppliers such as NHS Digital.
We have also worked closely with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to understand how we can use their data to improve our statistics on veterans, to support local authorities and public bodies to enact the Armed Forces Covenant.
Information on Council Tax, in addition to helping quality assure the 2021 Census, will be used to inform housing, household income and poverty and inequality statistics, to produce new statistical outputs and to enhance our current statistics.
Next year, we will continue to work with data suppliers to understand how we can use their data in our statistics, including:
- more benefits data from the DWP to measure household income better
- Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme and record-level social rented data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and micro-level rental data from the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to produce new analyses on tenure
- further information on education and attainment for Wales
We are continuing to consult with our users via a series of events and request feedback from users in our publications. If you would like to get involved, please email SDR.Stakeholder.Engagement@ons.gov.uk.
In our research engagement report published in January 2019, we asked users for their feedback on our population and migration statistics transformation journey so far, to ensure our plans continue to meet users' needs. In addition to written responses to this report, we have also presented and discussed our plans with users at dedicated meetings, webinars, roadshows and round table events.
We summarised this user feedback in June 2019, which showed clear support for our ambition to put administrative data at the core of our population and migration statistics transformation, while acknowledging the ambitious and challenging programme of work. Users highlighted the important role that population and migration statistics have in informing a wide range of decisions, both nationally and locally (including in education, housing and health care) and welcomed the opportunities that exploring new statistical definitions and a wider range of sources could bring.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) continues to work closely and to collaborate with National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) on the use of administrative data and the 2021 Census. This includes the UK Population and Censuses Strategic Group as the main forum to discuss the harmonisation of the use of administrative data and improvements to the existing population statistics system, use of administrative data in the 2021 Census, and coordinating plans across the UK for future transformation of the population, migration and social statistics systems and improving the provision of UK statistics.
In addition, each of the four nations are represented at other groups, including the Administrative Data Research Group, which meets twice a year to share information and best practice on how to effectively integrate administrative data in the census process. At monthly Devolved Administration Joint Working Groups, the nations discuss the ONS's acquisition of data through the Digital Economy Act 2017 and how this may support the devolved nations.
We have continued to engage with other national statistical institutes on a bilateral basis, through the UN and other specially convened working groups. Many other countries recognise the opportunities in integrating data, and we continue to collaborate to help us address the challenges we face in using administrative data and transforming our statistical system.
The ONS Population and Public Policy (PPP) Annual Conference in July 2019 updated our users on our progress on our transformation journey and provided opportunities for further feedback. The 2020 conference will be an important opportunity for users to find out more about our progress and plans.Back to table of contents
In the coming year, we intend to:
- work with data suppliers across the government to ensure we have the full suite of data necessary to deliver the system
- refine, develop and evaluate our current methods for data linkage
- improve international migration statistics for the UK
- continue research into our approach for delivering ABPEs
- research and assess the impact of including adjustments made to international migration statistics in the mid-year population estimates for England and Wales (reference year 2019)
- assess how achieved response rates could affect bias in population estimates produced using these methods, using PCS test data
- research how we can integrate relationship information from different sources to meet users' needs for statistics on families better
- research the characteristics of people who do not live in private households
- continue our research and publish further ABIS to include components of income not currently included, for example, income for the self-employed
- continue our collaborative research on fuel poverty with the DfBEIS and highest level of attainment with the DfE, exploring how data for Wales can be incorporated into this research
- publish a series of Research Outputs on housing characteristics
- monitor the availability of information on characteristics in administrative data, exploring potential for multivariate analysis, driven by users' needs
- review how we engage with our users as we move towards a transformed population and social statistics system, looking ahead to our recommendation on the future of the census in England and Wales in 2023 and moving away from the criteria developed for our previous work on the Administrative Data Census Project
- continue to hold user events on specific topics, as appropriate, and seek feedback on our Research Outputs
We will continue to update users on our progress in transforming the population and social statistics system in 2020 through our publications and user events, including a conference in July. If you would like to get involved or provide feedback, please email SDR.Stakeholder.Engagement@ons.gov.uk.Back to table of contents