This is a case study for Principle V3: Clarity and Insight.
The Government Statistical Service (GSS) has been proactively responding to address user needs for both new data and enhanced insight during the pandemic. For example, HMRC statisticians have actively sought to answer society’s key questions about economic changes in a timely way through the preparation, production, and publication of new statistics on its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and its Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). And the ONS has adapted its Opinion and Lifestyles Survey (OPN) to provide new insights on the social aspects of the pandemic, through its Coronavirus and the Social Impacts on Great Britain.
Economic insights from HMRC’s worker support schemes
The CJRS is a scheme for employers who can claim support with wage costs for employees put on furlough during the pandemic, while the SEISS supports self-employed individuals. Before the statistics were developed, HMRC started Tweeting daily information on both schemes in response to public requests for information. Simultaneously, HMRC quickly developed Experimental Official Statistics, to transparently provide useful information on the status of the schemes.
The new CJRS statistics include a headline time series and detailed statistics on jobs furloughed at the end of each month, with analysis by employer size and sector. Also covered is analysis of jobs furloughed by geography, employees’ age and gender and breakdowns by type of furlough (full and flexible). To produce the statistics, HMRC combined data from CJRS claims with data from their Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) system. HMRC has further developed the statistics in response to user feedback and most recently added detailed industry breakdowns and figures for the total number of jobs put on furlough at any time since the start of the scheme.
HMRC’s February 2021 SEISS publication covers the third SEISS grant which was awarded by HMRC up to December 31, 2020. The information presented includes age of claimant; gender; sector of self-employment activity; and geography, with further breakdowns providing additional insights.
HMRC are open with users about aspects of uncertainty in estimates labelling the statistics and analysis by labelling them with a frank summary to ensure appropriate interpretations by users. The statistics are released in a timely manner at an interval that meets user needs, for both demographic and geographical breakdowns.
Social insights from the Opinions and Lifestyles Survey (OPN)
The OPN previously operated as a monthly telephone and online survey of British households, providing timely and relevant insights to its users. During the pandemic, it became an important source of information for understanding the social impact of the pandemic.
From 20 March 2020, the OPN became weekly and each week, some of the survey’s questions were changed to reflect changing circumstances and priorities. Since then, estimates measuring the impact of the pandemic on people, households and communities in Great Britain have been published on a weekly basis.
With a user group of a wide range of government departments, academics and charities providing input into the questions asked, the survey has been used to rapidly and flexibly provide information on areas of user interest such as: people’s compliance with government measures to stop the spread of COVID-19; people’s experiences of home-schooling and working from home; as well as people’s well-being and attitudes towards vaccination as the pandemic has progressed.
OPN summary results are presented with breakdowns by age, sex, region and country, and the published data sets include confidence intervals to enable their appropriate interpretation.
These examples demonstrate how the GSS is responding to the need for new statistics to enhance public insight and understanding around the economic and social aspects of the pandemic. HMRC have shown an understanding of the needs of different types of users, and have brought clarity and insight to the extent of the UK government’s economic response in support of workers during the pandemic. And by adapting the Opinion and Lifestyles Survey to focus on the social impacts of coronavirus, ONS has also proactively responded to the changing data needs of users and helped to provide robust and timely insights into public’s attitudes around coronavirus and government responses to it.