About gillianrsmith29

I have been editing (and writing) the Social Research Association's fortnightly e-newsletter for a number of years. Previous to this I worked for over 30 years as a government social researcher, including as the Head of Social Research at the UK Department for Transport. I have a real passion for ensuring research is taken seriously by decision makers.

A Healthy Nation?

A number of reports published last week raise questions about whether improvements in the nation’s health are starting to stall and pose some interesting questions about how far the changes observed are linked to public policy changes and levels of funding.

A report from the Nuffield Trust presents data on health and wellbeing for early childhood in the UK and 14 comparable countries, recognising the particular influence that a child’s development in this period can have on his or her future health and quality of life.

It concludes that whilst the UK is doing well on many of the indicators, in other respects progress has stalled or worsened over the past 2 – 3 years. This is true of childhood mortality, immunisation rates and low birth weight. And on life expectancy a girl born in the UK can expect to live to almost 83 years; three years less than a girl born in Spain, and the lowest of all European comparators. For both boys and girls, improvement in life expectancy has plateaued since 2011.

The author notes that these are the very indicators that are most susceptible to public health interventions and ‘therefore most at risk in the face of increasing threats to children’s (and particularly early years) services’.

Other research discussed on the ‘conversation’ website suggests that 12.4% more people died in the first seven weeks of 2018 than is usual for this time of year. Moreover, the first available data finds that flu only accounted for a very small part of the overall rise in mortality in early 2018, though it would be good to see more information about the data behind this claim.

The summary report also notes that on March 1, 2018, ONS announced that there had been noticeable falls in female life expectancy at birth in the 20% most deprived populations in England”. Also ‘it’s not just the poor who are affected. The rise in life expectancy for better-off groups of men and women had abruptly slowed compared with the 1890- 2010 norm’.

Indeed, the slowdown in life expectancy for the average person in Britain is worse than anything seen since the early 1890s, and no other country in Europe has witnessed a similar fall


Finally, the ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ research group published a report on the challenges that Brexit poses for the NHS and public health more generally. This was not picked up by the UK media preoccupied with other issues, but it paints a worrying picture.

Apart from funding pressures which are likely to be exacerbated, Brexit is also likely to worsen existing staff shortages. There has already been a fall in the number of EU-origin nurses, attributed at least in part to uncertainty about their future status. Longer term, the NHS and the social care sector are dependent on immigration but as yet unclear what this policy will be. ‘The risks, however, are evident’.

It is too early to say what degree of alignment will exist between the UK and the EU but there are numerous health systems and databases, such as the Clinical Trials Database and the Rapid Alert System for Blood and Blood Components (RAB) that will require specific agreements in order that the UK retain access.


Social Research News update March 2018

Some of the live issues, research findings, methodological developments and social research related consultations are briefly summarised in this planned monthly round up.


UK Research and Innovation – 20 days away

On 1 April the new UK Research and Innovation comes into being and will bring the nine UK research councils together under one umbrella. Whilst the individual councils will remain as separate bodies there is a great deal of nervousness within the social science community about the changes.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) winter 2018 edition of ‘Society Now contains a timely interview with Professor Jennifer Rubin, ESRC’s new Chief Executive. Jennifer sees one of her first priorities as being to make a success of the new arrangements. She says she wants the ESRC to be global in outlook. There is also likely to be a major push for inter-disciplinary research. Many will also be relieved to learn that Rubin also confirms a belief in the value of long-term research which “is not limited to one set agenda or one policy cycle.”

Refreshed Code of Practice for Statistics
The UK Statistics Authority has published a revised Code of Practice in order to reflect the changing environment of statistics and data more generally, and the growing interest in how statistics are used in public discussions.

It aims to provide users and producers with a set of principles that need to underpin independent statistics production and presentation in the new environment and is organised around three key pillars:

  • Trustworthiness – including independence, honesty and integrity,
  • Quality – including sound methods and assured quality,
  • Value – including relevance, clarity and insight.



Analysis of the ‘Children of the 90s project’ data concludes that the ‘locus of control’ of mothers (ie. a belief that their fate is in their own hands) is key to explaining children’s performance in GCSE exams, even after other factors influencing exam results, including mothers education, family background, and children’s IQ at aged 9 were held constant.

A recent paper from IPSOS MORI shows how expectations about the NHS have been managed downwards, meaning that although levels of satisfaction are falling, people’s expectations are more likely to have been met compared with 20 years ago, though pressure is mounting.

A project from the Fatherhood Institute found significant gaps and weaknesses in data available about fathers despite the potential importance of child – father relationships to explaining long term outcomes. The sixteen large-scale repeated cross-sectional and longitudinal studies investigated were found not to have kept up with today’s diversity of fathers and the final report makes a number of proposals for improvement.


A recent article from the Pew Research Center concludes that even the most effective adjustment procedures were unable to remove most of the bias in opt-in sample surveys. Moreover, very large sample sizes do not appear to fix the shortcomings of these surveys. The extensive testing revealed that choosing the right variables for weighting is crucial and for many of the topics examined the ‘right’ adjustment variables go beyond the standard set of core demographic variables.

Capturing a non-linear journey’ summarises a Project Oracle discussion about some of the challenges of applying a ‘Theory of Change’ approach to evaluation in the children and young people sector.

A series of three short video tutorials from NCRM cover the rationale and research design of community studies, methods used and the building up of a cumulative body of knowledge.


Consultation on 2021 Census outputs and dissemination channels
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has launched a consultation about their initial proposals for the design of Census 2021 outputs and dissemination channels for England &Wales.

Following feedback from users, ONS plan a number of improvements. These include greater flexibility in outputs through a web based interactive dissemination system, faster delivery of key statistics and the development of ‘enhanced census outputs’ eg. links with administrative data. As in 2011, ‘Output Areas’ and ‘Workplace Zones’ will be the building blocks for other census geographies and ONS propose to maintain as much stability in geographical boundaries over time as possible. The closing date for comments is 23 May


Is Britain less cohesive than other countries?

Levels of social cohesion in the UK are average, overall, compared with five other countries (the US, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden) and in some respects we appear to be most similar to Germany according to analysis carried out by Nuffield College.

Despite the pervasiveness of the idea of a ‘divided nation’ in the Brexit debate, the analysis suggests divides between liberal elites and more traditional non-elites are not a peculiarly British phenomenon.

Where the UK does stand out is that we are the least ‘pro immigration’ of the countries examined but, interestingly, we are no more divided on this issue than people living in the other countries studied.

But what does cohesion mean? It is of course a complex issue measured here along three dimensions

  • The cohesive forces that bind us together, namely shared values, norms and identities.
  • Divisive forces, such as public opinion on divisive issues such as immigration.
  • Opting-out of political and community life and live atomised lives with little recourse to other members of society

Developments across a number of nations, not least the issue of Brexit here the Uk, throw up a huge number of challenges for social cohesion in modern societies. This will be one of the themes I cover in subsequent blogs on this website.

Welcome to my website

Some of you will know me as I have been editing (and writing) the Social Research Association’s fortnightly e-newsletter for a number of years.  I previously worked for over 30 years as a government social researcher and have a passion for ensuring research is taken seriously by decision makers. Here is an interview covering my career history and high points as well as the inevitable lows http://the-sra.org.uk/my-career-gillian-smith/

This website will contain pieces of writing covering social research findings, ideas and my thoughts on issues of interest.

You can also follow me on twitter