Without data we are lost without a map

Today the Public Administration Select Committee joined a growing list of people deeply concerned about the government’s proposal to scrap the national census. The Government’s proposal to not hold a census in 2021 poses a big risk for the future of the UK. The Census is the largest survey in the UK and provides a huge amount of very useful basic information. Not only does the census tell the government who lives where and exactly how many people there are, it also provides a valuable source of information for research.

A small portion of census results are anonymised and this sample is used by social scientists to study a vast variety of subjects. Due to the size of the census, even this small portion allows researchers to find information that would otherwise be massively impractical to gather on small subsets of the population. A survey needs to ask a huge number of people to be able to guarantee that a sizeable number from any particular group would be found. For example if a researcher wanted a representative sample of low income households of a certain ethnicity the census is the one of the few places they can go to get that information. Without this information it can be difficult to know that problems exist or how large they are. Without knowing that there is a problem we can’t even begin to start understanding how we can solve it.

One difficult to study group that should concern all of us are the highly paid definition the 1% or 0.1% are such a small part of the population that it is very difficult to know much about them. Only though the excellent work by Thomas Piketty and his collaborators do we have the World Top Incomes Database and theChartbook of Economic Inequality which provide some information on what the incomes of the top 1% are compared to everyone else. Gathering this information has led to Piketty’s recent book which has shone a spotlight on increasing inequality and begun to suggest possible solutions.

As it stands we still don’t know enough about high incomes and how they relate to others. As Piketty and others freely admit their data are probably underestimates and don’t allow us to match individuals to occupations or other important factors.

One area that we know much too little about is company pay ratios. Due to recent reforms companies now publish figures for total remuneration for their chief executives however they don’t say how this compares to the rest of the work force. Pay Compare are doing an admirable job in collecting this information for many public sector organisations but there is no obligation for private sector organisations to release this information.  Without knowing what the pay gap is within companies we can’t know to what extent inequality exists as a difference between employers or within any single employer. This difference would have a massive effect on finding the best way to reduce inequality. This is why we are asking government to require medium to large organisations to publish their pay ratios so that the public can understand what inequality exists and so that then we can begin to reduce it.

Tim Stacey, Policy and Campaigns Officer.