1. Introduction

The National Statistics Quality Review (NSQR) of the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF) was published in May 2016. The review started in January 2014 and reported its findings in May 2016. The review was led by ONS methodologist Jeff Ralph; with independent external expertise provided by Professor Thomas Crossley, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex; and Paul Smith, Associate Professor from the University of Southampton.

The review had a broad scope, assessing the degree to which user requirements are met and whether the data produced is of sufficient quality for the purposes to which it is put. It reviewed various methodological aspects of the survey, including the sample design, data collection instrument, the collection process, coding, imputation and weighting. The review provided a wide range of recommendations, covering both how the current survey can be improved as well as possible alternative data sources to be explored.

This article provides a formal public response to the NSQR, outlining the steps being taken to address the recommendations.

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2. ONS response

The overall assessment of the review was that the LCF needs improvement to make it entirely fit for purpose for expenditure estimates; however, it is still the best source of expenditure information for most expenditure categories. The NSQR recommendations outline further work needed to make necessary improvements to the survey, as well as outlining packages of work to explore the potential use of alternative sources of expenditure data.

The NSQR recommendations are categorised into 5 main areas:

  1. Sample design and estimation
  2. Data collection
  3. Processing
  4. International comparison
  5. Future developments

Overall there were 30 recommendations, with the following priorities assigned: 12 high; 15 medium; and 3 low. The recommendations will be taken forward in one of 3 ways, through:

  1. the ONS Data Collection Transformation programme
  2. establishing a number of research projects within the LCF Research team
  3. projects led by other experts in ONS, in particular ONS Methodology and Prices

ONS accepts the relevance of all recommendations made. A summary of the actions that will be taken in response to each of the recommendations is outlined in Annex A.

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3. Governance

The LCF Steering Group will provide high level oversight of the actions to address the recommendations. To enable them to fulfil this role, more detailed plans to address the recommendations will be presented to the group (these papers are available to other users on request). The group comprises of cross government and external users of LCF data and meets bi-annually.

Progress against the actions outlined will also be monitored by the ONS Quality Centre.

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4. Summary

Work has started on a number of recommendations, particularly those being addressed within the Data Collection Transformation Programme as part of the project to harmonise the LCF and the Survey on Living Conditions.

For some projects led by the Research and Methodology teams, funding is being sought to progress recommendations more quickly through commissioning external Research Agencies, for example the project to redesign the existing paper diary.

Therefore, progress with recommendations is dependent on securing resource from outside of the LCF Research team, as well as priorities set within wider ONS initiatives/programmes- both factors will impact on the speed at which progress can be made.

We will continue to keep users informed of the methodological improvements made to the LCF survey via the published methodological notes linked from the Family Spending publication.

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5. Annex A

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Contact details for this Methodology