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A five-yearly review of the General Household Survey (GHS) by the ...
A five-yearly review of the General Household Survey (GHS) by the

Office for National Statistics has recommended a major redesign of

the GHS and its relaunch as a more efficient survey, better focused

on meeting users' needs.

Consultation with users showed a clear requirement for GHS data

covering demographic, social and health topics, from both government

departments for policy purposes and from the wider community

including for academic research. The proposals will mean a continuous

GHS for at least five years from April 2000.

The main proposal is for the GHS to consist of two parts: a

continuous element, which would remain essentially unchanged for five

years, and a number of additional sections, varying from year to

year, that would be separately sponsored. This will ensure that

traditional subject areas remain unchanged and that the continuity of

statistical series is maintained.

Other key features of the proposals for the new GHS are:

a review of the survey sample;

an investigation into the possibility of alternative fieldwork

arrangements, including using an element of telephone interviewing;

simplified processing leading to data delivery timetables being

speeded up by some 3-4 months;

a more accessible and easier to use database;

work on the potential for weighting or grossing the survey data;

potential for access to data for various reference time periods

including financial years, calendar years, quarterly data and

possibly rolling years.

This redesign of the GHS will substantially reduce costs whilst

improving quality, timeliness and ease of access for customers.

It will be paid for by forming a partnership involving several

government departments, although the ONS will still pay for the bulk

of the survey. A proposed five year agreement between ONS and

departments on how much money is needed will help to guarantee

stability for the future, but this will depend on the outcome

of the current comprehensive spending review.

The new style GHS will begin in April 2000 with preparations and

testing taking place in the financial year 1999/2000. There will be

no survey during that development year.

ONS is grateful for the range of views and comments made throughout

the period of review. The next step is to detail proposals for the

redesigned survey and to discuss these with GHS users inside and

outside Government. ONS will continue to consult users throughout

the process either directly or through avenues such as the GHS

User Group of the Data Archive.

For further details please contact Elaine Chamberlain, B2/06, Office

for National Statistics, 1 Drummond Gate, London SWlV 2QQ/ telephone

number 01353-777807. EMAIL: elaine.chamberlain @


Background to the review

1. Due to public expenditure constraints the GHS was suspended for a

year from April 1997 and a public consultation exercise was conducted

by ONS to seek views on priorities for future continuous social

survey work.

2. In response to the needs expressed in this exercise for GHS data,

the survey was reinstated for 1998/99 while a 'five yearly' review

was initiated to consider its medium term future. ONS is committed to

carrying out reviews of its major social surveys every five years and

making the results publicly available in line with the GSS guidelines

for commissioning social surveys.

Technical proposals

3. The technical proposals from the review aim to simplify the survey

while retaining its key elements. Maintaining the continuous element

of the GHS largely unchanged for five years will avoid the need for

any significant annual redesign of the survey and this will

significantly reduce costs.

4. The development of these technical proposals and their evaluation

will be taken forward in consultation with GHS users. A meeting of

the GHS User Group of the Data Archive has been arranged for October

1998 and a further discussion at a meeting of the RSS Official

Statistics Section is being planned.

Commissioning the new GHS

5. ONS considered the commissioning strategy for the GHS for the five

yearly period. In doing so, it considered the requirement for the

GHS, the potential for introducing further sponsorship or

partnerships and the advantages and disadvantages of market testing

the survey. In doing the latter, it consulted the Social Survey

Division of the ONS and potential alternative survey suppliers.

6. In weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of market testing,

a major influence was the substantial cost savings and improvements

identified by the Social Survey Division of the ONS, weighed against

the costs of market testing to ONS and outside organisations. ONS

concluded that the GHS should not be market tested for the

forthcoming five year period.

7. The Office for National Statistics works in partnership with

others in the Government Statistical Service to provide Parliament,

government and the wider community with the statistical information,

analysis and advice needed to improve decision-making, stimulate

research and inform debate. It also registers key life events. It

aims to provide an authoritative and impartial picture of society and

a window on the work and performance of government, allowing the

impact of government policies and actions to be assessed.

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