Improving the coherence and accessibility of income and earnings statistics

Statistical producers from across the Government Statistical Service (GSS) have today set out their plans to collaborate and improve the coherence and accessibility of income and earnings statistics for users. Here Debra Prestwood explains how the statistics will be improved.

Work plan

In June we published our Vision Statement (and an associated blog) which is based around the four core principles of the GSS Strategy: Statistics for the public good. We will be radical, taking an “administrative data first” approach to improve the coherence of our statistics and reduce duplication and survey burden. The vision is ambitious as we will determine the user need for a single data source on household income. By creating new user driven tools to navigate the statistical landscape we will be inclusive. Finally, we will be sustainable by being user driven and working collaboratively across the GSS.

The collaborative plan published today shows how we will collectively deliver this vision. It brings together the work of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) into a single place and is focused on making improvements in five key areas: coherence of narrative, coherence of sources, accessibility, quality and user engagement. This is a long-term plan and we will develop it further as we move through scoping and feasibility work stages. In addition, it will be updated to include progress information and a timeframe for delivery. We also need to take account of user needs, both within and outside government, as they evolve. Our work will continue to be informed by independent reviews of this statistical landscape (see below).

Our focus over the next 6 months includes:

  • Analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on household finances
  • Determining the user need for a single household income data source
  • Continuing to build on the use of admin data, including the use of HMRC’s Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information and Self-Assessment data, alongside the DWP’s administrative data sources
  • Delivering a new online interactive tool where users can explore the complex landscape of income and earnings statistics in one convenient location
  • Understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020/21 dataset quality, specifically the Family Resources Survey (FRS) and the Household Finance Survey. This includes considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on data collection, dataset production and analysis
  • Increasing the FRS sample to 45,000 households, starting in 2021/22 with a partial boost, and a full boost from 2022/23
  • Working collaboratively across the GSS to promote our coherence work with our users; actively seeking user views and improving the relevance and impact of our work.

Our longer term work includes exploring the feasibility of producing a single set of household income estimates, the ongoing development of our surveys and updating and engaging with users on plans to improve self-employed income data following HMRC’s ‘Making Tax Digital’ initiative.

Independent reviews informing our work

Poverty is an important social and economic issue in the UK and there have been several recent reviews looking at this topic. These include Income-based Poverty Review from the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR), the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s Children in poverty: Measurement and targets review and the report of the Inclusive Data Task Force.

These reports recognise the work statistical producers across Government are already doing to improve the coherence and accessibility of income-based poverty statistics, as well as income statistics more broadly. However, there is still more to do which is why we are working together across the GSS, to consider and address the recommendations. Today’s plan shows how we will address some of them, including determining the need for a single data source on household incomes. However, we are still considering the feasibility of work against many of the recommendations before capturing them in an updated version of the work plan.

In addition, in February 2015, the OSR published its review into the Coherence and Accessibility of Statistics on Income and Earnings. In response, producers delivered a host of new developments which have enhanced and transformed income and earnings statistics for our users.

I am pleased to report that the OSR has now closed this review, but as our plan shows, there is still much to be done.

How to get in touch

We will periodically publish updates on our progress. If you have any comments on our work plan, please get in touch.

We’re also calling on volunteers to test an alpha version of our new on-line interactive tool for income and earnings statistics.  Please email us if you are interested at:

Picture of Debra Prestwood

Debra Prestwood is Deputy Director of Statistical Coherence and Inclusion Division at the Office for National Statistics.