Informing the pandemic response: What’s next from the ONS?

In the months ahead ONS will continue to provide new information to inform the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. New analysis of the transmission rate will be included along with further insight on the social and economic impacts.  In this post Liz McKeown and Grant Fitzner, who are leading the analytical response, reflect on the progress so far and describe our plans going forward.

We have been working hard across the ONS to provide the public and policy makers with the information they need to manage the pandemic and its wider effects. In previous blogs our colleagues have outlined some of the new analysis we have delivered to understand  the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our society and economy.

In today’s blog post we wanted to take the opportunity to review all the progress we have been able to make over the last few months while also sharing our plans for the coming months.

Our forward analytical plan – which we are publishing today in an accompanying statement – provides the first overview of our analytical work from right across the office, encompassing health, social, labour market and economic dimensions. We hope that this will provide everyone who uses our statistics with helpful information about what future statistical and analytical products they can expect from us. It will also allow them to share their feedback on our plans and provide us with any further suggestions they may have for future analysis.

Taking stock

Firstly, though we want to reflect on the progress we have made over the last few months. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have created new indicators and surveys, brought in new data sources, shored up our existing data collections, and produced new timely analysis on key topics related to COVID-19.

We have been publishing more detailed analysis in our weekly death release in order to provide further insight into the number of people dying related to COVID-19, by age, sex, region and setting. Our additional analysis so far has also shown the differing impacts by local area and deprivation levels, ethnicity, occupation, as well as deaths within the care sector.

We also began publishing provisional results from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey pilot for England. This survey will help track the current extent of infection and transmission of COVID-19 within communities and helps address one of the most important questions the country needs to know – how many people in the UK have the coronavirus infection at a given point in time.

Within our Faster Indicator suite, we have been providing important information on how both people and businesses are coping with life during the pandemic. Two of our new surveys – the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN), and the Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey (BICS) – have allowed us to produce weekly data showing the differing impact as we move through lockdown.

We have also already published various articles on the labour market, including self-employment, working parentsolder workers and homeworking. As our usual labour market statistics having a lag of around 6 to 7 weeks, we have introduced a ‘flash estimate’ of the number of employees paid through the tax system for the previous month. We have also began publishing faster estimates on job vacancies, using data from Adzuna.

Finally our analysis has also allowed us to understand how different groups are affected by the pandemic – with analysis looking at the experiences of disabled people during the pandemic, how different groups are spending their time during lockdown, what access different groups have to green space and how exposed people in different occupations are to disease.

Looking ahead

With so much analysis being produced, we wanted to make it easier for our users to get a comprehensive overview of work already underway or planned.

That is why we decided to publish a statement on our future analytical work programme in response to COVID-19. In it we set out our plans to provide new and updated insights, and to fill important evidence gaps. This statement looks across the breadth of topic areas, to provide a more complete picture of our analytical priorities over the coming months.

The pandemic is affecting all areas of life, and we have grouped our future analysis plans into four areas. The accompanying statement provides further detail but in summary the plan covers:

  • Health – understanding the transmission rate and deaths related to COVID-19 by:
    • Continuing to provide statistics on weekly deaths related to COVID-19, and on infection rates in the community.
    • Providing updated insight on the characteristics of those dying from COVID-19, including by geography, occupation, sex, age, ethnicity, religion and disability.
  • Social impact – assessing how people are responding to the crisis and how society is changing by:
    • Continuing to produce weekly estimates from the OPN on how the country is faring.
    • Providing new insights into different groups in society, and their outcomes in terms of wellbeing, loneliness, financial stability and time-spent
  • Labour market – exploring how working life/patterns are changing as a result of the pandemic by:
    • Continuing to publish early indicators of employment and earnings, including data from HMRC’s PAYE Real-Time information system, and weekly data from the Labour Force survey.
    • Publishing analysis from our Labour Force Survey and new online Labour Market Survey to demonstrate how the labour market is responding to the pandemic.
  • Economic impact – studying how the economy is reacting by:
    • Analysing the impact of the pandemic on GDP and our other monthly economic releases.
    • Continuing to publish weekly estimates from the Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) to show how businesses are reacting to the crisis
    • Providing a better understanding the differential impacts of the pandemic on industries and businesses, as well as the impact on trade, productivity, business investment, and spending patterns

Our work across all four areas is already underway. Where publication dates are already set we have provided them in the statement; for the remainder we will make further announcements through our release calendar as to specific publication dates as soon as possible.  We will continue to publish all of our analysis on our dedicated COVID-19 page and provide edited highlights in our COVID-19 round up; you may wish to bookmark those pages!

Finally, it is worth noting that we expect our plans to evolve as the pandemic and its impacts change, and in response to emerging data requirements and new policy issues. We think it is really important for us to remain flexible and will update this forward plan regularly to reflect any changes.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions. Please do get in touch to share your knowledge, expertise or insights with us, during this time where  robust data, statistics and analysis has never been so important.

Liz McKeown is Director of Public Policy Analysis at the ONS

Grant Fitzner, Chief Economist and Director of the ONS’ COVID-19 response