While there is plenty of data relating to child poverty available in the public sector, it is spread between the health service, early years providers, schools, further education colleges, universities and the tax and benefits system. Because of the concerns over linking this data, it is impossible to use it to its full potential, says the report, which was commissioned by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.
Data and public policy: trying to make social progress blindfolded says that policy makers have limited knowledge about the problems they are trying to address and the potential impact of their decisions. The report makes the case for accelerating progress towards greater data sharing, and that where data can be shared safely, it should be shared. The RSS Data Manifesto is acknowledged in the report's introduction as one of a growing number of reports supporting data sharing.
Identified as a key barrier to greater data sharing is the proposed European Union Data Protection Regulation. Here, the report quotes from an RSS press release (PDF - issued jointly with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Resolution Foundation), which outlined why the EU proposals may threaten UK poverty research.
As well as identifying the problems that the sharing of data currently faces, the report also makes 19 recommendations to improve the current situation.
One of these recommendations urges the Cabinet Office to reconsider its proposed Data Sharing Bill. Currently the bill is in three sections, covering: research and statistics; a fraud, error and debt; and tailored public services. Since both of the latter require sharing personal data, they are more likely to attract criticism. However, research by Ipsos MORI for the ONS and the ESRC (as reported in StatsLife last year) found that the public supports administrative data being linked for research projects that have social value, provided that personal data is de-identified, is kept securely, and is not accessed by businesses for profit-making purposes.
For these reasons, the report recommends separating out the research and statistics section from the rest of the Bill and bringing it before parliament before the end of this year.
Mike Hughes, who chairs the RSS National Statistics Advisory Group, said: 'The RSS welcomes this report and supports the recommendation that research and statistics be separated from the more controversial issues included in the Data Sharing Bill.'
Other recommendations include the appointment of a Head Data Sharing Officer in each department, accountable to a Chief Data Sharing Officer, so that there is clarity about who, within in the relevant body or department, has data control responsibilities.
The report also recommends that the Social Mobility Transparency Board and the Administrative Data Research Network work together to establish national standards for data sharing, and that the latter be responsible for engaging with the public on the potential benefits of data sharing.