Debt of work and pensions invites us to explore it's open data

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

Since proposed reforms of the welfare system were announced two years ago, we have regularly heard reference to Universal Credit, the new benefit set to replace six of what are currently the main means-tested welfare benefits and tax credits. But without a sense of how levels of existing claims have changed over time, how many people are claiming in each authority, the age profile of claimants etc…without having access to DWP’s data, it’s been hard to gain a big picture sense of the impact the new benefit would have. The government’s Open Data initiative is beginning to turn this around.

Last week, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) launched ‘People and Households claiming Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment and other benefits’ a consultation on proposals to change the way its statistics are collected and disseminated. The consultation sits alongside the introduction of the new credits and payments and ties in with the government’s White Paper on Open Data which states that departments will “get more data into the public domain and make sure that data is trustworthy and easy to use”.

DWP managers plans to use what users tell them to shape DWP statistics through to 2017 and beyond. The consultation document includes a series of proposals on which views are sought. Key amongst them is how to further develop Stat-Xplore, an online interactive data analysis and visualisation tool that allows users to explore benefit data and see results in the form of interactive charts and graphs which they can navigate, download and share.  DWP sees Stat-Xplore as a key tool in modernising DWP’s statistical output (see the DWP Open Data Strategy).

For now Stat-Xplore only contains data on housing benefit claimants but there are plans for it to soon cover Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment data. Also data on those affected by the Benefit Cap once it is introduced. These, and other statistics, will be produced monthly and published three and a half months after the reference date. The intention is to enable Stat-Xplore users to create their own sets of data and compare official claims data by date, local authority, parliamentary constituencies, regions and claim type.

If you would like to feed in your views of Stat-Xplore, the deadline to get back to DWP is 24 April 2013. If you have wider views on open data, share them via this website or via the RSS’s StatsUserNet website


Extrapolations don't make good forecasts

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Adverts for financial products say – though usually in tiny print at the bottom of the page – past performance is no guide to how things will be in future. Stuff happens, such as banks collapsing, stock markets imploding, wars, pestilence (and their opposites, too, booms and prolonged prosperity included).
Put the point in the sort of language statisticians use and you might say extrapolating from yesterday’s trends makes for a dubious forecast of what is to come.

Top of the managers league: is it simply a game of averages?

Written by Rob Mastrodomenico on . Posted in Features

In the BBC Sport website article ‘Managerial league table 2012-13: Who leads the way?’ each manager in the top 4 divisions is ranked using an approach based on the points per game record they have obtained this season.
Top of the league is Sir Alex Ferguson (his team, Manchester United is at the top of the Premier League table). Whilst it would be hard to argue that Sir Alex is not the best manager in the business, can we argue the approach used is best to rank managers?

Tax, football and number-puzzled radio callers

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“New figures tell us that the richest 4,000 taxpayers in the UK, the total number of UK income taxpayers who earn more than £2million a year, pay 4.5 % of the UK’s income tax. Discuss.”
At the end of last month, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) released data on Income Tax Liability Statistics and shortly after, discussion around a headline statistic from the report kicked off ‘heated debate’ on a late night London’s Biggest Conversation call-in radio show.

Keep calm and carry on debating

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Think back…how often in debate – on the radio, on TV – have you heard people state that “x is linked to y”?. ‘y’, for example, could be cancer or the economic slump and ‘x’ anything from pollution levels to bacon consumption, low confidence to the weather.  In saying that the two are linked, they are really only referring to an association, a statistical pattern, between them. But the implication, sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit, is that ‘x’ causes ‘y’.
But where is the evidence? The job of statistical tests is to tell us whether correlation between two measurable things (what statisticians term ‘variables’) is down to coincidence or otherwise significant. But even when there seems to be strong correlation, this still does not prove causation.

Big revision in estimates of what doctors and nurses are producing

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Though the government has promised to maintain real-terms spending on the NHS, healthcare managers are under severe pressure to find savings, in order to find room to cope with growing demands for care and the costs of the massive reorganisation the government has pushed through.
Attention turns to ‘productivity’. Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, has demanded NHS trusts in England find £20billion worth of productivity gains. They do more, keeping costs the same or cut costs while doing the same.

Do not insult our intelligence

Written by Web News Editor on . Posted in Features

So bad that comments are unnecessary …
The story in brief: a 16-year-old girl has scored 161 on the Mensa IQ test.
Einstein never took an IQ test as none of the modern intelligence tests existed during the course of his life, but experts believe he had an IQ of around 160.
And a ‘helpful’ gloss: the IQ test is designed to test a range of abilities to determine the level of intelligence of the student – in the UK the average score is 100.
goodStats (communicating the information in numbers)
Some great and some not-so-great stats and thoughts on how bad stats can be made good
Neil Sheldon has taught at The Manchester Grammar School for 40 years. He is a Chartered Statistician and Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. He has been an RSS Guy Lecturer since 2007.  He is also course leader for the Certificate in Teaching Statistics offered by the RSS Centre for Statistical Education

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