British Household Panel Study: Informing government strategy and legislation
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Essex
Unit of AssessmentSociology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Statistics
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Sociology
Summary of the impact
The British Household Panel Study (BHPS) is a longitudinal survey that
has followed a
representative sample of individuals since the early 1990s. The resource
is used routinely by
government departments (e.g. DWP, HMRC, Cabinet Office) and third-sector
Children's Society) for their research and for monitoring progress towards
policy targets. The
data's longitudinal character has helped to transform government
departments' understanding of
the goals of social policies, and allowed them to redefine targets in ways
not possible without the
BHPS. Examples include DWP's monitoring of persistent poverty, which uses
BHPS data to
estimate the probability of an individual living in poverty for several
The BHPS is one of the most important British longitudinal datasets and
has been a major
resource for the policy and social scientific research community in the UK
and internationally since
it was first established in 1991 (http://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/bhps).
It was set up at Essex with
ESRC funding to create the first national longitudinal household panel
survey of some 5,000
households in Britain and data has been collected from these households
annually since then. The
progress of the project was reviewed on a five-year cycle, and funding was
renewed in 1994, 1999,
and 2004, and thereafter as part of a larger study. The aim of the study
was to provide longitudinal
data that could be used to model individual- and household-level outcomes
and behaviour in
relation to wider social and economic processes. The collection of
longitudinal data at annual
intervals from the set of individuals within the sample was designed to
support a wide range of
research on persistence of various states (e.g. low income and
unemployment) and on the factors
associated with transitions in and out of these states.
Input into the design of the study came from social scientists who were
high-quality research across a wide range of disciplines, in order to
ensure that it could contribute
to research in, for example, economics, sociology, demography, psychology,
epidemiology. The case for refunding at each round was greatly
strengthened by earlier policy
uses, and a number of government departments contributed to the study
design on an ongoing
The BHPS was established to meet the need for high-quality longitudinal
data suitable for the
analysis of both the short and long-term dynamics of change and their
impact on the well-being
and life chances of individuals and households. The study has a nationally
of individuals of all ages with annual interviews of all members of the
sample households. The
resulting dataset has proved to be one of the richest and most widely used
British datasets and
continues to be of national and international significance for the
promotion and advancement of
longitudinal research and methodology.
The BHPS has, from 2009, been incorporated into a far larger panel study,
Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Study. Understanding
Society interviews individuals in
some 40,000 households across the UK, including the BHPS sample. The fact
that this new and
far larger household panel survey was commissioned by the ESRC with direct
funding from the
Department for Business Innovation and Skills (through the Large
Facilities Capital Fund) is
testament to the success of the BHPS and the value and strategic
importance of continuing to
provide high-quality household panel data for the academic and policy
communities. The influence
of the BHPS is long-running and is set to continue through Understanding
Society over the coming
years. There have been approaching 4,000 BHPS data users, and BHPS data
have been used in
over 5,500 academic and policy publications. There is substantial
international recognition for the
quality of BHPS, with large numbers of data users in USA, Europe and
The first Principal Investigator for the BHPS was Professor David Rose,
now Emeritus Professor at
the University of Essex. He was followed by Professor Jonathan Gershuny,
at Essex from 1993-2005.
Leadership of the project was handed over to Professor Nick Buck in 2001
who continues to
direct the successor household panel study, Understanding Society.
Other key researchers
involved have included Stephen Jenkins (at Essex 1994-2010) and John
Ermisch (at Essex 1994-2011).
References to the research
Buck, N., J. Gershuny, D. Rose and J. Scott (eds.) (1994) Changing
households. The British
Household Panel Survey 1990 - 1992, ESRC Research Centre on
University of Essex. ISBN 1858711029
Jarvis, S. and S. P. Jenkins (1998) How much income mobility is there in
Journal, 108, no. 447: 428-443. DOI: 10.1111/1468-0297.00296
Booth, A., S. P. Jenkins and C. G. Serrano (1999) New men and new women?
A comparison of
paid work propensities from a panel data perspective. Oxford Bulletin
Of Economics And
Statistics, 61(2): 167-197. DOI: 10.1111/1468-0084.00124
Berthoud, R. and J. Gershuny (eds.) (2000) Seven years in the lives
of British families. The Policy
Press: Bristol. ISBN 1861342004
Ermisch, J. and M. Francesconi (2001) Family matters: impacts of family
educational attainments. Economica, 68, no. 270: 137-156. DOI:
Brynin, M. and J. Ermisch (eds.) (2009) Changing relationships.
Routledge: Oxon. ISBN
SN 5151 — British Household Panel Survey: Waves 1-18, 1991-2009.
The underpinning research was supported by the following main research
grants, which total over
Gershuny, J. Research Centre on Micro-social Change. ESRC,
01.10.94 to 30.09.99, BHPS
component £5.425 million.
Gershuny, J. UK Longitudinal Studies Centre. ESRC, 01.10.99 to
30.09.04, £9.1 million.
Buck, N. UK Longitudinal Studies Centre. ESRC, 01.10.04 to
30.09.09, £13.5 million.
Buck, N. UK Household Longitudinal Study. ESRC, 01.04.08 to
30.09.12, £23.2 million.
Details of the impact
The impact detailed here focuses on the use of BHPS data by government
departments and third-sector
organisations, either internally or through commissioned reports from 2008
mainly focuses on impacts on policy related to poverty and disadvantage,
equalities and the family.
However, this is part of a broader picture and over this period we have
identified 43 reports
published or commissioned by government departments or third-sector
organisations, as well as a
number of other uses. Of particular relevance for policy use has been
annual panel data supporting
research persistence and transitions, which has permitted a shift in the
focus of policy from a
concern simply with numbers in particular states at a given point in time
to an investigation of
factors leading to persistence and transitions.
The use of BHPS by the Department for Work and Pensions
The DWP uses BHPS data for the calculation of four-year persistent
poverty rates for the Low-Income
Dynamics statistics, which are published in parallel with Households Below
Income statistics according to arrangements approved by the UK Statistics
Authority. The 2010
Low-Income Dynamics report sets out in detail in Section 1 the way
that it draws on BHPS data
gathered between 1991 and 2008 [corroborating source 1]. The statistics
and commentary give an
insight into the standard of living of the household population in the
United Kingdom, focusing on
the lower part of income distribution.
A lower level of children in persistent poverty is one of four targets in
the Child Poverty Act 2010.
Although the Act does not make explicit reference to the BHPS it
stipulates that the necessary
statistical surveys must be used to assess whether the targets are being
met — in the case of
persistent poverty the Act stipulates that this must come into force
before 2015 [corroborating
source 2]. Given the DWP's use of BHPS data to measure persistent poverty
rates, it is reasonable
to assume that the BHPS constitutes one of the statistical surveys
necessary to assess whether
the government is meeting this target. Indeed, the current government's
Child Poverty Strategy
also makes use of BHPS data and explicitly identifies the role for
Understanding Society as an
indicator for persistent poverty in Annex A . The document also states
in paragraph 5.12 that
"We will explore the potential of using longitudinal studies to better
capture those who are living in
sustained severe poverty (in particular the large scale Understanding
Society study)" as well as
making numerous references to BHPS findings .
The BHPS data that the DWP uses to measure persistent poverty is also
used by the Scottish
Government in figures on the percentage of children, working-age adults,
experiencing persistent poverty in Scotland. This measure of persistent
poverty was introduced in
chapter 4 of the Poverty and income inequality in Scotland: 2009-10
report published in 2011 .
These statistics are used to monitor progress towards Scottish Government
targets to reduce
poverty and income inequality.
The DWP submitted evidence that used BHPS-generated statistics on
persistent poverty in
pensioners to the 2009 Work and Pensions Committee report Tackling
Pensioner Poverty. This
evidence relies on BHPS-derived figures on the percentage of pensioners
with income 60% below
median income in at least three out of four years . BHPS data are also
used in Pensim2, the
Department's model for simulating the effects of different pension
policies. For instance, BHPS
figures are used in estimating earnings when modelling future payments to
different schemes . Trevor Huddlestone, Chief Analyst at the DWP, in a
House of Lords Select
Committee stated that Pensim2 "models the life course. In order to do that
you need to have the
right data and we did have the right data and the right computer power"
The use of BHPS data by other government departments
The use of BHPS data has become routine in UK Government departments
beyond the DWP and
in the period since 2008 we have identified uses by various departments,
including HM Revenue
and Customs, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Department for
Department of Health, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and
Department for Communities
and Local Government.
BHPS-based research has been used by the Cabinet Office and Department
for Children Schools
and Families in identification of key issues for the development of family
policy, especially around
the issues of family and family breakdown and the implications for
children. BHPS data used in the
research underpins the 2008 evidence paper, Families in Britain
BHPS findings have been regularly used to inform strategy papers. For
instance, the Cabinet
Office's 2008 discussion paper on social mobility, Getting on, getting
ahead, uses BHPS data in its
analysis of opportunities to progress in the workplace . BHPS data is
also used to inform
Scottish Government strategy and, for instance has informed a paper on the
changing household formation on housing policy .
The use of BHPS data within the third sector
The BHPS is used by policy and third-sector organisations for policy
evaluation and development.
This includes for example, the Low Pay Commission, Institute for Public
Policy Research, Equality
and Human Rights Commission, Fawcett Society, The National Young
Volunteers Service, Centre
for Social Justice, The Children's Society, National Council for One
Parent Families, Financial
Services Authority, and Age UK.
BHPS findings are regularly cited by third-sector organisations in their
submissions to House of
Commons committees. For example, the Resolution Foundation used BHPS data
to establish the
profile of low earners in evidence submitted to the Treasury Committee's
2008 report, Budget
measures and low-income households . BHPS data has been used to
inform policy reports by
organisations such as the Centre for Social Justice on family breakdown
 and the Children's
Society on relationships between fathers and children .
Sources to corroborate the impact
All documents are available from HEI on request.
 Department for Work and Pensions (2011) Low-Income Dynamics
1991-2008 (Great Britain).
London: DWP. See especially section 1.
 HM Government (2010) Child Poverty Act 2010. London:
Stationery Office. See Parts 6 and 7.
 Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Education (2011)
A new approach to
child poverty: Tackling the causes of disadvantage and transforming
families' lives. See particularly
Annex A on Understanding Society as one of the Child Poverty Strategy
Indicators. References in
document to Understanding Society (5.12 on the importance of longitudinal
studies; 5.14) and
BHPS (Footnote 11; Footnote 71; Footnote 18; Footnote 123).
 Scottish Government (2011) Poverty and income inequality in
Scotland: 2009-10. Edinburgh:
Scottish Government National Statistics. See chapter 4.
 The Work and Pensions Committee (2009) Memorandum submitted by
Department for Work
and Pensions (TPP 19), Tackling pensioner poverty. Fourth report of
session 2008-09. Volume II.
Oral and written evidence. London: Stationery Office. Ev 101-110.
See Annex A.
 Armellini, M and S. Butler (2012) Evolution of pensioners' income
from defined benefit
schemes. Department for Work and Pensions.
 House of Lords (2012) Unrevised transcript of evidence taken before
The Select Committee on
Public Service and Demographic Change Inquiry on Public Service And
Evidence Session No. 2. Heard in Public. Questions 56 -71, Tuesday
9 October 2012. See p. 18.
 Cabinet Office and the Department for Children, Schools and Families
(2008) Families in
Britain. See pp. 37, 47, 70, 72-73.
 Cabinet Office (2008) Getting on, getting ahead. A discussion
paper: analysing the trends and
drivers of social mobility. London: Cabinet Office. Strategy Unit. See p.
 Scottish Government. Communities Analytical Services (2010) Household
Scotland: What does it mean for housing policy? Edinburgh: Scottish
Government. See pp. 8 & 19.
 The Treasury Committee (2008) Budget measures and low-income
report of session 2007-08. Report, together with formal minutes, oral and
written evidence, House
of Commons: Treasury Committee Reports, HC 326. London: Stationery
Office. See Ev 169.
 Centre for Social Justice (2010) The Centre for Social Justice
green paper on the family.
London: Centre for Social Justice. See p. 7.
 The Children's Society (2010) Fatherhood Commission: links
between young people's
relationships with their fathers and their mothers, and their well-being
and self-esteem. London:
The Children's Society. See p. 3.