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Using household-level data to understand the drivers of poverty in the capital

Policy in Practice are embarking on an ambitious project to track over half a million low-income households in London to understand how they are impacted by welfare reforms and other government policies over the course of almost two years.

Using councils’ anonymised household level data, the project ‘Low-income Londoners and Welfare Reform’ will track the impact of welfare reforms and rising rents across London. With the support of Trust for London, we aim to show which local support programmes are most effective at tackling poverty in the capital. The project will identify the characteristics of households in poverty, revealing why some people are able to escape, and others aren’t.

Household level data across London
Policy in Practice works with Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support data. This is an incredibly rich source of information on the make-up and economic circumstances of each low income family within a borough, it is updated monthly and it forms the basis on which Housing Benefit is paid. We work with anonymised data to avoid data protection concerns, but the data can be mapped back by the local authority to support targeted and proactive support.

The granularity of this data applied to the pan-London scope of this analysis makes this project the first of its kind. The ability to track how household circumstances change will help us to:

• Understand whether government policies have achieved their objectives
• Identify the most effective localised interventions and share good practice
• Move away from reactive analysis toward a predictive approach.
In practice this means going beyond the identification of ‘376 households affected by the benefit cap in Lambeth’ to try and predict that ‘560 out-of-work families in East London are likely to end up in temporary accommodation’.

To date, the project has generated a great deal of engagement and enthusiasm. Over half of all London boroughs have already committed to contributing their anonymised household level data to the project and we’re confident more will join over the coming weeks.

Key issues in the capital
The steering group discussion that followed the official launch of the project showed that each London borough faces a different set of challenges and opportunities. To ensure that we tackle head on some of the key challenges faced by Londoners, the project will focus on the following issues:

1. Affordable housing and the costs of the housing crisis on families and local authorities
2. In-work poverty and the changing nature of employment among low income Londoners
3. Barriers to work and, specifically, the provision of affordable childcare
4. The effectiveness of local welfare provision (such as Discretionary Housing Payments and other hardship funds) in supporting families towards greater independence.

Building the case for better use of data at the central and local government level 
Policy in Practice and Trust for London through this project aim to show central and local government exactly what is possible with household level data. The timing with Universal Credit and Real Time Information on earnings helps to build the case for better use of household level data across central and local government under Universal Credit.

As part of this project we are engaging with the Greater London Authority and the Mayor’s Office to show what a joined up approach at the city level can achieve in devising and delivering better support policies, as well as briefing DWP Ministers and officials as the project develops.

The GLA Assistant Director for Intelligence and Analysis Andrew Collinge is a member of the project Steering Group. His role is to ensure that our work addresses some of the key areas of interest for City Hall. In his own words, “This project illustrates perfectly what can be done when sensible approaches are taken to sharing this sort of granular data which would otherwise remain hived away in individual local authorities or government departments. As a city we need more of the same, if we are to arrive at the best possible understanding of social policy. We in the GLA will be looking at this analysis to see what it tells us about economic fairness, the impact of the London Living Wage and the provision of affordable childcare. I urge more Boroughs to sign up so that Policy in Practice can strengthen the city-wide analysis.”

How to get involved
The Low Income Londoners project will run from January 2017 through to April 2018. Three rounds of data will be collected from participating London councils over this period of time, in February 2017, June 2017 and October 2017.

Find out if your London borough is already involved.

The findings of the analysis will be released periodically, with a set of preliminary publications made available in mid2017, followed by a comprehensive report that will be published upon completion of the project in mid2018.

The project Steering Group will meet in May 2017, September 2017 and January 2018 when members will hear initial findings and have the chance to shape and review the focus of the analysis.

We want all London councils to take part to this project. The greater the buy in from individual councils, the greater our collective influence on central government will be. If you work for a London council and would like to learn more about the project, please contact, if you would like to join the Steering Group please sign up us as soon as possible.

About Policy in Practice
‘Policy in Practice is an independent social policy software and consulting business, founded with the belief that the welfare system can work more effectively. Our software simplifies the welfare system by showing people how policy affects them, thus helping them towards greater independence. Our data-driven consultancy services show local authorities how individual households are affected by all policy changes, now and in the future. We talk to government on a national level to influence policy.’