Policy in Practice believes that administrative data has the power to transform social policy.
Our new research team works to explore the potential of administrative data through our reports, evaluations and academic partnerships. We also support cutting edge in-house analysis. Here we preview our plans for 2023, and what we are excited about.
What’s new in the area of data lead research?
We have always had experienced researchers working as part of our team at Policy in Practice.
The day-to-day delivery of our impactful work hinges on the performance of our analysts and policy experts. They work behind the scenes to make sure our award-winning Better Off Calculator is accurate, our (also award-winning) Low Income Family Tracker (LIFT) plaform incorporates the late evidence and our best forecasts, and that when we are asked to provide comments or write reports on a given topic, we do so based on sound methods and analysis.
With our growing list of research partners, several ongoing research projects, increased capacity among our research staff and exciting opportunities in the year ahead, we can take the step of organising our researchers into a team with its own goals and research agenda.
What’s on the agenda for 2023? We have asked our three senior researchers to give us a briefing on what they are working on, and what they would like to work on.
What data lead research are you currently working on?
My focus right now is on getting our team set up. This incorporates making sure we have the systems and internal documentation in place to deliver our work efficiently and setting out our plans for the year ahead. I am also focussing on finding ways to share our work by speaking at and attending events and meeting researchers with aligned interests.
Aside from this, I’m continuing work to use local benefits data for real-time poverty estimates, and comparing its strengths and limitations against more traditional data sources, like the Family Resources Survey.
I am currently working on three projects that explore the potential to link administrative data on living standards, to other social policy outcomes. The first looks at the relationship between household deprivation and referrals to social care
The second evaluates how we can use welfare data to reduce the demand for health services. Together with The Health Foundation we are examining whether household deprivation is associated with a higher need for emergency department visits
The third project explores how income deductions to Universal Credit payments such as sanctions and repayments are affecting household poverty.
Closely linked to my PhD research I am working on a project commissioned by the Justice Lab and the Legal Education Foundation. We are exploring how we can use the administrative benefits data that we process at Policy in Practice to analyse the multidimensional impact of law centres’ work.
The access to justice literature severely lacks impact evaluation studies because it’s so hard to quantify what they do. There is no doubt that legal advice and assistance can have a significant impact on the circumstances of households dealing with life-changing legal problems, such as evictions.
We know we can’t fully capture their impact with numbers, but what we can do is try to understand which outcomes the administrative data is good at capturing, and which it isn’t. That’s what we’re currently exploring.
The project I am managing could have never taken shape without the expertise that Policy in Practice has developed with both benefits data and the social security system.
I am looking forward to speaking at the Socio-Legal Studies annual conference 2023 at Ulster University in early April.
What data led research would you like to do in 2023?
One area that I think has huge potential but has not yet been fully explored is to use the high-frequency, longitudinal nature of administrative data to understand families’ economic trajectories, how their financial resources vary from month to month, and how this interacts with the benefits system.
On joining Policy in Practice, I was excited to learn that the administrative data we use is updated daily with income fluctuations and other changes in circumstances. While research is currently restricted to council tax support recipients, analysing this data longitudinally can help local authorities to better understand what’s going on in residents, and the dynamics of how local taxes and benefits interact with residents’ financial lives.
More generally, I’m also interested in building capacity for other researchers to work with this data, to facilitate research that is useful and actionable to local authorities.
In the year ahead, I would love to present our work within the research team to wider audiences.
I also hope to build new partnerships with academic and non-academic researchers to identify those research and policy questions that need to be answered, contributing to understanding the population’s needs.
Regarding new research ideas, I would like to evaluate the impact of the non-take-up of welfare benefits on household financial resilience. With this information we could work with local authorities on strategies to more effectively target services.
The evidence base we are building also creates the pressure needed to influence slow-moving legislation on data governance, which I hope will one day allow wider use of administrative data across government.
I would also like to assess how deductions affect households’ economic trajectories, especially for households with non-dependents who move in with them, or who are impacted by sanctions.
We help local authorities make sense of their administrative benefits data which sees about £1 billion of support going to residents in need. In addition, our Better Off Calculator also helps around two million people each year to maximise their income and check their benefits entitlements. We estimate about £720 million of unclaimed benefits is put into people’s pockets as a direct result of them using our calculator.
One of the future research projects I am the most excited about is to use the calculator to better understand the drivers behind why people don’t take up benefits.
A second area I would like to investigate is how the tools we offer can help in local areas where there is a lack of social welfare advice providers. My question is what differences do our tools make in advice deserts and how could they be even more effective?
Please get in touch
To discuss any of our current research topics, suggest new ideas for us to explore, or invite us to speak at your event please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.