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ONS updates annual progress on digital Census data drive

Neil Merrett Published 20 June 2017

Acting head of organisation’s Admin Data Census programme notes impact of new Digital Economy Act on broadening Whitehall information it can pool together

 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has begun making use of new powers in the Digital Economy Act to gain access to an expanded number of data sources to better meet aims to reform the Census and how key information can be recorded and disseminated online in coming years.

With the 2021 Census expected to be the first in the UK to be “predominantly online”, ONS is pushing forward with work over the next four yours to refine how its gathers and makes use of administrative data that is supplied to other government agencies in order to produce data and findings.

In a blogpost, Becky Tinsley the acting head of the Admin Data Census for ONS’ Census transformation programme, touched upon ongoing work to bring together departmental data and surveys to highlight patterns and trends that can better inform policy making.

Tinsley outlined findings of the organisation’s second annual assessment that details it progress towards creating an Administrative Data Census beyond 2021 that will provide a wider number of statistics and findings.

 “Understanding where we expect to be by 2023 is important as that’s when the National Statistician will make the next recommendation about the future of the census and population statistics,” she said.

“Our expected assessment shows the real potential to move in a different direction after the next census in 2021. We also show the direction of our progress from last year, and the progress we expect to make in the coming year.”

In considering key changes over the least twelve months to the programme’s work, Tinsley noted that a major development had been in an expanded access to data afforded by the Digital Economy Act, which became law in April.

“The Act gives ONS a right of access to information held by government departments, other public bodies, charities and large and medium-sized businesses, for statistics and research purposes. This is an important step forward in our ability to access the range of data needed to produce Administrative Data Census outputs,” she said.

“While this is the only criteria we’ve changed our assessment for since 2016, we’ve made good progress towards improving our assessment for other criteria.”

As ONS seeks to overcome a challenge in producing important regular outputs on national characteristics and housing stock, the organisation has been trying to study what administrative data it can use to detail core Census topics outside of traditional surveys.

Based on an initial assessment of coverage and data quality, Tinsley said that administrative data on topics such as age, gender and accommodation type were widely available for most of the population.

“For example, almost all of the data sources we have access to include date of birth and sex. These include the NHS Patient Register, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Customer Information System data and School Census data. The Land Registry and Valuation Office Agency data sources both include ‘type of property’ and ‘number of bedrooms’ information that covers most of the housing stock in England and Wales. We therefore expect to be able to produce our outputs directly from administrative data for topics like these,” she said.

“For other topics (such as the amount of unpaid care provided), there is very limited administrative data available. We would expect to rely more heavily on surveys to produce these outputs.”

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