Ripe for development: Building better housing statistics for the UK

Few issues are more important than housing. Now statisticians from across government have begun a new initiative to bring harmony and coherence to figures currently published by more than seven different departments and public bodies. As Iain Bell explains, the new approach is designed to put the needs of users first.

Statistics on housing are vital for the UK. Are we building enough houses to sustain our growing population? Is housing affordable and how does this compare across areas? Can I afford a home locally? All are major questions for policy makers, the housing sector and private citizens.

Housing policy

Housing policy is devolved across the four nations of the UK.  Over recent years, statisticians in each country have been leading developments which have had significant benefits for users, for example:

In Scotland, access to data has been improved through the provision of data on the Scottish Government open data website. Statistical publications have been brought to life with the use of infographics and greater emphasis placed on providing commentary on sub-national results and comparisons. Collection of record level homelessness data, along with a data linkage project involving 1.3 million records, is leading to new insightful analysis on the relationship between health and homelessness and experiences of people in temporary accommodation.

In Wales, the commencement of the Housing Conditions Evidence Programme has enabled the first Welsh Housing Condition Survey in nine years, alongside development of linked administrative data about housing stock. This will provide improved evidence on housing conditions, energy efficiency and fuel poverty to enable better policy-making decisions and targeting of resources to help home owners and tenants.

In England, the English Private Landlord Survey has been launched to provide more detailed information on landlords’ circumstances, properties, tenants, and the possible impact of legislative and policy changes. There has also been extensive provision of open data via the Open Data Communities platform, allowing users to link and interact with housing data.

In Northern Ireland, the suite of housing statistics publications has been improved in line with user needs and best practice on dissemination, introducing infographics to improve presentation and aid understanding, while retaining all key information.

Coherent framework

How does this all fit together though?  Many users cannot quickly and easily answer the questions they have. Statistics on housing are published by 7 different Departments plus various other Government Arms Length Bodies, on numerous different websites. There is no coherent framework which sets out the concepts we are measuring or how we consistently measure them. Definitional differences between different estimates make cross-country comparisons harder.

The Office for Statistics Regulation highlighted there were problems with housing statistics. Our work programme picks up that challenge and goes beyond it. Statisticians working on housing statistics from across government have come together to steer a programme of work to meet these demands. There are five key areas we are taking forward:

  • We will improve coherence by developing a common framework for measuring the housing landscape.  We will develop UK-based analysis to provide insight on topics of user interest.
  • We will improve quality and coverage of existing statistics: researching new ways and data to improve quality and fill gaps where we currently have limited official statistics.
  • We will harmonise the data definitions used, where feasible and where there is a clear user need, taking into account costs and potential burden. Where this is not possible, we will improve transparency or provide information to allow across UK comparisons.
  • We will improve data accessibility by addressing the lack of a single entry point to across government statistics generally, building on the open data initiatives in individual countries, and working with external partners.
  • We will put all users at the heart of the system.  Our User Engagement will focus on topics of interest across the UK. This will help in deciding priorities and allocating resources as part of our plans to meet the wide range of needs.

This work plan sets out the high level timetable and we will update with more detail over the coming months as we develop the work plan more.

I recognise that others may also have expertise to bring to this programme and will work with all parties interested in improving the evidence base on housing.

Iain Bell is Deputy National Statistician for Population and Public Policy