Social Research Update: September

New Measure of UK Poverty

A new measure of poverty, developed by the independent Social Metrics Commission, is different from other measures because it takes account of all material resources, not just incomes, and accounts for the inescapable costs (e.g. childcare) that make some families more likely than others to experience poverty. It also includes an assessment of housing adequacy.

The overall message is that there are 14.2 million people in poverty in the UK, with poverty being especially prevalent in families with at least one disabled person, single-parent families, and households where no one works or which are dependent for income on irregular or zero-hours jobs. Looking forward, the Commission hopes that the new measure will help to target policy interventions more effectively and make it easier to hold politicians and others to account. It also calls for more research and for improvement in the collection and use of UK survey and administrative data.  

The Perils of Perception – Addressing Misinformation

The Perils of Perception study covers up to 40 countries and is a unique analysis of why people are so wrong about even the basic facts across a number of key issues. According to Bobby Duffy, the explanations for this perceptions gap are wide ranging and complex. Our beliefs about the world are shaped by biases and heuristics, rational ignorance, our statistical skills and level of critical literacy – as well as the influence of media and our own experiences. Perceptions are also moulded by ‘emotional innumeracy’ – the tendency to remember emotional, vivid narratives. Suggested solutions to the problem include better training in critical, statistical and news literacy starting in schools, more fact checking and an acceptance that ‘stories’ and research analysis do not need to be at different ends of the spectrum.

Explaining inequalities across the life course

In her inaugural lecture, Alissa Goodman explored the root causes of the economic inequalities in our society, and why they have been so difficult to budge. Level of education is a key explanation, but children’s mental health is emerging as another root cause of inequality across the life course.

UK Statistics Authority calls for better joining up of data  

A new report from UK Statistics Authority notes that successful examples of data linkage within government are the exception, rather than the rule, and that the potential significant benefits are being squandered as a result. It identifies six outcomes that need to happen. At the core is the need for a system that demonstrates its trustworthiness as a custodian of public data and uses this as a platform to support greater use of data sharing and linking to deliver insights. Other key points include a need for analysts to have the skills and resources required to carry out high quality data linkage and analysis. UK national statistician John Pullinger has agreed to respond to this work with a detailed action plan.

Methods and Innovation hub launched

The Methods and Innovation hub will be an independent source of best practice advice that facilitates innovation in social research methods. Led by Gerry Nicolaas it pools the vast and diverse experience of NatCen’s researchers and operational staff, collaborating to maximise agility and creativity at a time of accelerating change in the field. It will open up new opportunities for methodological research and enable greater cooperation with the wider research community, as well as establishing strong relationships with government, academic and private institutions.

New Mental Health Networks announced

Eight new Mental Health Networks have been announced by UKRI in order to bring researchers, charities and other organisations together to address important mental health research questions. The new networks will aim to embrace a collaborative ethos, bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including the social sciences, covering themes such as the profound health inequalities for people with severe mental ill health, social isolation, youth and student mental health, domestic and sexual violence, and the value of community assets.

Government responds to Commons report on Research Integrity

The Government has published its response to the Commons S and T committee report on Research Integrity. The response is broadly supportive of the recommendations and states: ’we will continue to work closely with UKRI to ensure that researchers are able to work in a culture which is conducive to the highest standards, and that those who use research, and the public at large, can have absolute faith in the quality and reliability of the UK’s world-leading base, now and into the future’.

Notes and Events

Sarah Foxen from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology highlights some of the benefits of engaging with Parliament through research and shares some practical ideas on how to do so.

Helen Kara will formally launch her new book ‘ Research Ethics in the Real World: Euro-Western and Indigenous Perspectives’ at an event being held in London on 8 November. 

The UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship scheme (FLF) aims to develop, retain, attract and sustain R & I talent in the UK. Providing up to seven years of funding, for at least 550 early-career researchers and innovators, the scheme will tackle difficult and novel challenges. The second round is now open (closing date 31 October).