How are the data underpinning research and policy around poverty? (autumn 2023)

Profile photo of James LockwoodIn this post we highlight some of the ways data in the UK Data Service collection is being used in research, reports and articles we’ve seen over the autumn. 

From the Autumn statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on November 20th to the welcome drop in inflation rates earlier in the autumn, the news has been full of stories around the topics of poverty, deprivation and the cost-of-living crisis.

Researchers, charities, politicians and many others rely on data to focus and underpin their efforts. The UK Data Service is in a unique position to make large amounts of high quality social, economic and population data available which can support people working in this area.

Moving into 2024, we will continue to build on our work on our Impact Theme work. As part of this work we want to highlight the impact some of the data available via the UK Data Service is having in research, policy and public conversations around the areas of poverty, deprivation and the cost-of-living crisis. To do this we’ve pulled together some research, reports and articles we’ve noted over the autumn that make use of data available in the collection as well as content from posts on the Data Impact blog and our most recent case study. You can see our summer summary in this previous blog post.

Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings

The latest Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) data was released at the start of November.

This release led to the publication of various pieces of analysis on earnings across the UK. For example the Resolution Foundation observe that the data, collected in April 2023, showed that real pay was falling and also delved deeper into looking how this is worked out across various demographics.

There was also several reports around the gender pay gap following the newly released data. One study showed that there has been little change in the gender pay gap and the ONS showed that whilst there was a drop by 0.1% for all employees, from 2022 to 2023 there was actually a 0.1% increase in the pay gap for full-time employees. Interestingly, the gap in Scotland fell to an all-time low of 1.7%.

The ASHE also allows for comparisons in each of the four UK nations, for example in Northern Ireland and Scotland where the median growth pay was the highest of the four. Other analysis such as the fastest growing jobs in the UK are also based on ASHE data.

In the Autumn Statement the National Living Wage was increased significantly, the third largest rise on record. This increase comes from recommendations by the Low Pay Commission, who make use of ASHE and other datasets. The increase will see around 1.7 million workers benefit. Previous work commissioned by the Low Pay Commission using data in the UK Data Service had explored any impacts of the introduction of the living wage.

The Low Pay Commission also made used of the 2022 ASHE in its report which highlights the issues around people being paid less than the minimum wage. Over 300,000 people were underpaid in April 2022 according to their analysis.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also made use of ASHE data in their report on the impact of the rising cost of living on women.

Labour Force Survey

October’s release of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) was initially delayed. This led to discussion around how vital this dataset is, and the impact any potential issues with it moving forward may have on wider government and economic systems, including the Bank of England. One of our Data Impact Fellows, Daniel Muir, a Research Economist at the Institute of Employment studies, wrote a blog about how using job search engines could offer an alternative source of data.

Over these months, the LFS has shown how the pace of wage increases has gone from near record levels in October as inflation fell, to slowing as the drop in inflation also decreased in November.

The Trade Union Congress also made use of the LFS in their work looking at the disability pay and employment gap and how BME women are far more likely to be on zero-hours contracts.

Other Datasets

A recently published study from researchers at the University of Liverpool used the Millenium Cohort Study data to investigate the impact of parental mental health and poverty on the health of children.

The 2023 Good Childhood Report was released in September by The Children’s Society. It used Understanding Society  data alongside interviews to highlight the latest trends in children’s wellbeing. This year they found that 10% of children aged 10 to 17 had low wellbeing, and almost a third were unhappy with at least one specific area of their lives.

The Health Foundation used the Wealth and Assets Survey to show how debt can affect health during the cost-of-living crisis. They found that being in problem debt is associated with worse health outcomes. People in problem debt are three times as likely to report that their health is ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ (21% compared with 7% for those not in problem debt).

Prior to the Autumn statement the Joseph Roundtree Foundation commented on the need for it to address the breath and depth of the hardship in the UK. Their analysis was derived from the Household Below Average Income Survey (HBAI) 2021-22.

HBAI was also used alongside Family Resource Survey by the Resolution Foundation in their “Intergenerational audit for the UK” which showed that “British millennials [are] still bearing scars of 2008 financial crisis”, as reported by the Guardian.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies made use of many datasets available in the UK Data Service catalogue in two reports they published during the last few months. One looked at the Housing costs and income inequality in the UK whilst the other looked at the changing geography of jobs.

From the UK Data Service Impact channels

Via the Data Impact blog and our Case studies we continue to showcase the wide range of impact that research is having that makes use of data in the UK Data Service collection.

We were privileged to work with the Health Case for Basic Income research group on a case study of their work. Through their research they aim to show how a universal basic income would have positive health benefits, is feasible and affordable, and help to reduce inequality and poverty levels. For an introduction you can read the accompanying blog post, or see the full case study here.

Dr Liming Li, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at King’s College London, shared about her research into welfare benefits, single mothers and the impact on children’s mental health on the Data Impact blog. She used the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) that is part of the Millennium Cohort Study to conduct this research which found that Lone Parent Obligation reform increased lone mother’s employment and income, but this failed to translate into improvements in mental health for their adolescent children.

Also using the SDQ for her research was Naomi Miall, one of our Data Impact Fellows. She was looking into children’s mental health in the wake of COVID-19. An interesting insight was that the gap between typically advantaged groups were those who experienced the most decline. Whilst this could be due to many things, one intriguing hypothesis Naomi poses is that this might indicate that the lockdowns and other measures made the lives of those children more in line with those children who experience similar disruption and disadvantage in their day-to-day life.

Another of our Data Impact Fellows, Rhiannon Williams, shared about how she seeks to build practical policy into data analysis. She shared an example of her recent research into the impact of Universal Credit rollout, and how building the complex policy landscape and timelines into her work aided her in producing more impact-focussed outputs.

Also on the Data Impact blog, we had Tej Nathwani introduce a new area-based measure of deprivation created by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). In the post he sets out how and why this new measure was formed, alongside the possible uses of the variable to those who utilise the UK Data Service.

Finally, in October we examined two recently published reports from the Open Data Institute and the Poverty Strategy Commission that look at the current cost-of-living crisis and poverty, and how data can aid in alleviating these societal issues.

About the author

James Lockwood is Research Impact and Engagement Manager at the UK Data Service.

You can find more about the UK Data Service training and events on our website.

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