Citizens report high levels of trust in ONS

A biennial survey from the National Centre for Social Research has found that the public reports higher amounts of confidence in official statistics agency than in other branches of government

The public’s confidence in the Office for National Statistics remains high while trust in other institutions including the civil service and the government has slipped, according to a new report.

The 2023 Public Confidence in Official Statistics survey, published this week by non-profit organisational the National Centre for Social Research’s, finds that 87% of respondents trust the ONS, a small drop from the 89% who said so in 2021. Respondents who have used official statistics were more likely to trust the ONS than those who have not used them: 99% vs 82%.

In the same period, trust in the civil service has fallen by six percentage points, from 81% to 75%, and trust in the government has slipped by 11 points, from 42% to 31%.

The survey also found that most respondents (83%) believe that official statistics are accurate, a higher rate than in 2021, 2018, 2016 and 2014. Meanwhile, 72% said statistics produced by ONS are free from political interference, similar to results in the last few surveys.

The poll also found strong support for the idea that statistics produced by the ONS are important to understand our country, with 90% of respondents agreeing.

Respondents were less positive about the government and media’s presentation of statistics. Just over two-thirds of respondents disagreed that the government presents statistics honestly, while three-quarters disagreed that newspapers present statistics honestly.

The results also indicate that awareness of the ONS remains reasonably high, with 74% of respondents saying they had heard of the organisation, similar to the 75% figure in 2021, but lower than other public institutions such as the Department for Work and Pensions (88%), and the Bank of England (93%).

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Awareness of the UK Statistics Authority – the non-ministerial department that oversees the ONS –and UKSA’s other arm, the Office for Statistics Regulation, remains much lower, with 22% recognising the authority and 18% having heard of the OSR.

However, there was strong support for the role of each; the vast majority – 95% – of respondents agreed that it is important for there to be an independent body that speaks out against the misuse of statistics, and 94% agreed it is important for there to be a body that ensures official statistics are produced without political interference.

The NatCen figures, from a web and postal survey of adults aged 18 and above carried out from October to December last year, exclude those who did not express an opinion, including those who answered “don’t know”.

Responding to the results, UKSA chief executive Sir Robert Chote said it is “reassuring that trust has remained consistently high over time among those who respond”. But he warned that “we shouldn’t be surprised if we see some change next year, given the challenges the system has had to confront in more recent months”.

Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation at the OSR, said the survey provides “reassuring evidence that people do value statistics”.

“And just as importantly, it shows that people value our regulatory role in standing up against the misuse of statistics,” he said.

National statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond added: “Now more than ever, it is vitally important that citizens know where to find reliable, impartial statistics and trust the Office for National Statistics to handle their data safely and responsibly. We will continue to work hard to maintain and build upon that trust as we continue to modernise and improve our statistics in the months and years ahead.”

Sam Trendall

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