Stats that then! A look back at 2019

2019 was another big year for the Office for National Statistics (ONS), filled with better data, new headlines and exciting innovations. As we enter 2020, Simeon Bowen takes a look back at the ONS’ key items of new analysis from the last 12 months.

In the world of data time never stands still. At the ONS, we are constantly striving to find new insights from the ever expanding world of data to ensure our statistics continue to reflect modern life. So, what are the key things from 2019, and what have they told us about the people of the UK?

Faster economic indicators

The quick pace of the modern economy makes it more important than ever to have timely data on economic activity. In 2019, our Data Science Campus began publishing new faster economic indicators to give policy makers early warning of any potential changes in the UK economy. Published on an experimental basis, the new indicators make use of innovative new data sources, including VAT returns, road traffic sensor data and ship tracking records.

Regional GDP

GDP is one of the most important statistics the ONS produces – often used as a proxy for the health of the economy. In 2019, we focussed on increasing the coverage of GDP, producing the first ever quarterly GDP estimates for each of the English regions and Wales. This was made possible using almost two million VAT returns, allowing the new estimates to be produced twice as quickly as current estimates.


As the UK seeks to negotiate its own trade deals post-Brexit, detailed and accurate trade statistics will be invaluable.

In 2019, the ONS worked on ambitious plans to improve the way we produce trade statistics. At the start of the year, we already had detailed estimates of trade in physical goods, but much less information on trade in services, something which Britain excels in. A new quarterly services survey, as well as new insights into regional trade and services trade by industry, have helped bolster our statistics in this important area.


In December the ONS, working with the Cabinet Office,  drew together a range of data for the first time which showed disabled people’s experience of different aspects of life in the UK. These included education, housing, employment, earnings, crime, social participation and loneliness and well-being. This work signalled the start of a new research programme on improving disability data in the UK to explore the limitations of existing disability data, and identify ways to improve the evidence base throughout 2020.

New analyses

ONS strives to provide new analyses on the big issues of the day. In 2019 we published new analyses on everything from the economy and labour market to the environment and mental health. Below are 10 of the most impactful articles we published this year:

  1. Which occupations are at high risk of being automated?: As discussions around Artificial Intelligence begin to grip the public imagination, we took a look at how jobs in the UK are likely to be affected.
  2. Milestones: Journeying into Adulthood: Growing up is a difficult process but our attitudes and behaviours are changing. We took a look at the trends to say what are the new norms in our society.
  3. Highstreets in Great Britain: As online shopping increases we took a look at what is happening on our high streets.
  4. Living longer and old-age dependency: It’s no secret that we are becoming an aging society. We took a look at what current data trends can tell us about what the implications might be for our society and what might happen in the future.
  5. Sandwich Carers: With increasing life expectancy and more people deciding to have children at a later stage, up to 3% of the UK population now look after both sick, disabled or older relatives and dependent children. We looked at what the effect of this is on their wellbeing.
  6. People who have never worked: This year has seen record high levels of employment however there are still millions who have never worked at all. We looked at what reasons are given to explain this.
  7. Ethnicity pay gaps in Great Britain: This year we provided the first measure of what income inequality there was between different ethnic groups in Britain.
  8. Drug related deaths and suicides in prison custody: Working with HM prison and Probation service, we found that people in prison are more at risk of drug related deaths or suicide.
  9. Graduates overeducated for their job: for the first time this year, we published data which showed that nearly a third of graduates are too well educated for their current job.
  10. Gender differences in commute time and pay: What’s the difference between men and women’s commuting attitudes and journeys?

Looking ahead

As we enter 2020, we will continue working hard make our statistics more timely, relevant and accurate than ever. Here’s to answering many more policy questions next year.

Simeon Bowen is an External Affairs Manager at the ONS

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