1. Introduction

This article summarises the findings of a scoping study to investigate existing and alternative ways in which “non-household” populations can be counted in measures of living standards, including poverty and destitution, and personal well-being (PWB). This is to complement existing statistics, which rely overwhelmingly on household surveys.

The non-private household (NPHH) population, which includes both institutional residents and people with no fixed abode, are of increasing policy interest, for example, in relation to severe poverty and destitution, homelessness, mental health, complex needs and migration.

The project envisaged two main stages:

  • a review of literature and data sources covering the populations and settings of interest

  • a detailed feasibility phase to test specific approaches to measuring the main characteristics and circumstances of a range of the populations of interest

Based on the results of both stages, recommendations will be made as to how best to measure these important aspects of life for everyone in the UK, regardless of their household circumstances.

This summary and the full report cover the first stage of this project. The second stage has not yet been commissioned.

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2. Collaborations

This work was commissioned by Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

It was carried out by Glen Bramley, Filip Sosenko and Jenny Wood from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University in association with Joel Williams and Peter Matthews of Kantar Public.

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3. Population and concepts to be measured

The non-private household (NPHH) population includes people living in communal establishments, some core groups of homeless populations, as well as those who fall between institutions and households and have an “absent or “temporary” household status. More specifically the NPHH population includes people living in:

  • care homes
  • long-stay hospitals
  • military accommodation
  • immigration removal centres
  • students in halls of residence
  • travellers in caravan sites
  • prisons
  • hostels for homeless
  • bed and breakfasts and unsupported temporary accommodation
  • homeless people sleeping rough
  • sofa surfers

Two core concepts to be measured for these populations are:

  • living standards, including degrees of poverty

  • personal well-being (PWB), an aspect of wider quality of life

These concepts are of interest given the existing evidence, which suggests that a range of non-household groups display serious levels of poverty, including destitution, and low well-being.

There are well-established frameworks for the measurement of these core concepts. Poverty measures draw on relative low income and widely agreed material deprivation indicators, at different levels of severity. However, these measures require some adaptation to non-household living circumstances. PWB can be measured through a harmonised set of subjective well-being questions.

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4. Measurement methodology

Currently, it is necessary to use survey methods to measure aspects of poverty and personal well-being (PWB). In future, administrative data may enable some types of data (for example, on income) to be obtained in a different fashion, but it is unclear that this can completely substitute for surveys in the immediate future.

A range of methodological issues are considered in the report, starting with the reasons why non-household groups are excluded from mainstream surveys. The main barriers may be cost and perceived difficulty; overcoming the challenges in extending measurement to non-household and “in-between” groups may have a significant cost.

The report assesses the scope and limitations of using existing data collection systems versus purpose-designed surveys and sets out the critical design decisions to be considered with the latter option. It also covers:

  • consideration of alternatives to accommodation-based sampling, such as “action-based sampling”, for example, sampling those using relevant services

  • use of mixed modes of data collection

  • the role of retrospective survey questions and longitudinal surveys

The report also highlights the challenges entailed in merging estimates from different sources, potentially covering overlapping populations.

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5. Existing data on NPHH population groups

The most detailed part of the research involved a structured examination of nine distinct categories of non-household (communal) residents. The report looks at existing data collection, the profiles of the populations and how structured surveys could be conducted, while identifying special problems and issues to be overcome in each case.

The report proposes that, while in one or two important cases this new requirement could be met by piggybacking on existing data collection, more generally additional surveys would be required. This leads on to a set of recommended approaches appropriate to each case, usually with one or more alternatives.

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6. Recommendations

In addition to sector-specific recommendations (see Chapter 6, Table 6.1 in the full report), the report makes further recommendations of a more general kind; these include recommendations around:

  • definition and scope (including homelessness and people not clearly attached to households)
  • poverty and well-being measures
  • additional quality of life factors
  • early steps in implementing proposed surveys
  • trade-offs between “ideal” and practical approaches
  • the scope for making use of administrative data to supplement survey measures

These recommendations flow out of the emerging policy priorities involving non-household groups, strongly informed by the detailed examination of the different sectors. They are also aligned with important developments in official statistics in the UK.

The main recommendation arising from this work is that Office for National Statistics (ONS) should include the main non-private household (NPHH) population groups within measurement of living standards and well-being by actively exploring the feasibility of suggested approaches (see Chapter 6, Table 6.1 in the full report) (Chapter 6, Recommendation 9).

The remaining recommendations relate to:

  • population groups to be covered

  • what is to be measured

  • measurement methods

Population groups to be covered

In the context of measuring the NPHH population, as well as homelessness policy, government and the statistical agencies should consider a measurement framework that recognises the concept of “core homelessness” alongside the established statutory framework, while also recognising the wider groups who may be at high risk of future homelessness (Chapter 2, Recommendation 1).

It would therefore be helpful if ONS undertook further research of this group (“sofa surfers” and other temporary household members). This could include the collection of data on prior sofa-surfing among its household respondents as well as collecting details from individuals staying with the household temporarily but who would ordinarily not be eligible to take part in, for example, the Labour Force Survey or other household surveys. The European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) survey 2018 may provide evidence on this group (Chapter 4, Recommendation 8).

What is to be measured

Poverty among the NPHH population should be measured in a manner consistent with the wider UK monitoring framework, using as important measures relative low income after housing costs against both current and fixed bases, combined low income and material deprivation, and persistent poverty over three out of four years (Chapter 3, Recommendation 2).

An agreed basis for routine measurement and monitoring of severe poverty applicable to both NPHH populations and household populations should be settled, after consultation with stakeholders, based on a combination of relative low income and material deprivations (Chapter 3, Recommendation 3).

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation definition of destitution should be adopted as a standard element within the poverty measurement framework applicable to household and non-household populations (Chapter 3, Recommendation 4).

The ONS harmonised set of PWB questions should form the core approach to measuring PWB of respondents to any survey targeted at the NPHH population (Chapter 3, Recommendation 6).

Consideration should be given to including measures of human capital (for example, qualifications) and social capital (social networks and support) alongside the harmonised personal well-being (PWB) questions in any survey of the NPHH population (Chapter 3, Recommendation 7).

Measurement methods

Extending measurement of living standards and well-being to the NPHH population will involve significant investment of time and resources. To maximise value for money, the data should be collected in a way that can meet a range of possible requirements likely to arise in the medium-term (Chapter 7, Recommendation 11).

This initiative could usefully be linked to the ONS review of data collection on household finances, which is in process (Chapter 7, Recommendation 12).

Before developing survey instruments to measure living standards in the NPHH population, appropriate equivalisation for family groups and adjustments to be made for “board”, heat and light, and other services that may or may not be provided or available to people living in different types of accommodation, should be agreed (Chapter 3, Recommendation 5).

In the homelessness and related sectors, it is proposed that a comparison should be made of results from a service user-based sampling approach with an accommodation-based sampling approach, in a range of particular localities, to establish the relative roles of these approaches and how their results can be combined (Chapter 6, Recommendation 10).

Given that some users and applications will require local-level estimates to inform service provision, for example, relating to homelessness, ways of modelling and mapping incidence across the country from a base of surveys that are likely to be clustered need to be considered (Chapter 7, Recommendation 13).

Administrative data linkage should be actively sought in future data collection, particularly in the case of measuring income and living standards for some NPHH population groups in the period before they came into their current institutional setting (Chapter 7, Recommendation 14).

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