Using administrative data for labour market research: getting the balance right

Isabel Stockton, PhD Student, School of Economics, Finance and Management, and panel participant in Research without Borders 2017

Administrative data: it’s one of those phrases that can generate much excitement among economists and some other social scientists, but will never make for scintillating party conversation in any other setting.

However, the possibilities and limits on the use of administrative data for research can have a big impact on the policymaking process and raise tricky ethical questions, so it is important that the conversation is as broad as it can possibly be.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is collected by the government for a non-research purpose.

For example, as part of my doctoral research I analyse national insurance data on jobs, wages and commuting distances in Germany.

Whenever someone starts or leaves a job, starts to claim unemployment benefits, is assigned to a jobseekers’ training programme or goes on parental or sick leave, this leaves a paper trail.

Economists in particular are very interested in this information: Many of us still subscribe to the traditional credo “Believe what people do, not what they say”. Continue reading

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Why everyone benefits from the scrapping of employment tribunal fees

Professor Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, University of Bristol Law School

Unfairly dismissed from your job? Seeking unpaid wages? For the last few years, if you wanted your case heard at an employment tribunal in the UK, you had to pay up front. For unfair dismissal, the fees amounted to £1,200, and for unpaid wages £390.

Introduced in 2013, the fees were designed to ensure that “users” of the system were the ones who funded it. The other justifications were to incentivise early settlements, and to deter weak or vexatious claims.

Underlying all these motivations was a concern that too many cases were being brought. And in that sense, the fees sort of worked.

That was mainly because the high level of fees (for workers who hadn’t been paid or had lost their job) compared unfavourably with the low level of sums awarded. A survey in 2013 found the median award for claims for unpaid wages was only £900. Put simply, it just wasn’t worth it. Continue reading

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The 2017 General Election: first thoughts

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Writing on the morning after the election, the fog of war has lifted to reveal a battlefield on which all sides are claiming victory but nobody has actually won.

Others more prescient than me wondered before the election if it did not have a whiff of another ‘snap election’ – 1974.

It turns out they were right.

Then Ted Heath went to the country to secure a strong mandate to deal with an issue of national importance (in those days, union power) but found that he ended up with fewer not more MPs.

Ted held on in No.10 for a while but eventually Labour formed a minority government.

But the arithmetic and the politics this time are not those of 1974.

Screenshot of UK General Election 207 results, taken from BBC News website.

Continue reading

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Manifesto promises on pensions

Image with an old persons hand, the image is split with a zip and behind it is coins and money.

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol and lead –  Thatcher’s Pension Reforms project.

The most dull and predictable general election in modern British history has its interesting aspects. First, it may mark a turning point in the major parties’ ideological stances. Second, it may mark a return to two-party politics (with polls indicating around 4 in 5 votes will go to one of the two main political ).

In the arena of pensions policy, Labour offers much more to voters than do the Conservatives.

Labour’s promises on pensions

Labour’s manifesto is its longest ever, packed with policy proposals and spending promises – not least on pensions – to be funded by higher taxes on the better off and on companies in a faster growing economy. Continue reading

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Why cities are crucibles for sustainable development efforts (but so hard to get right)

Figure 1. Rural and urban population trends, 1950-2050,  Adapted from Fox, S. & Goodfellow, T. (2016) Cities and Development, Second Edition. Routledge.

Dr Sean Fox, Lecturer in Urban Geography and Global Development, University of Bristol

Sustainable Development Goal 11 outlines a global ambition to ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. It is arguably one of the most important of the 17 recently agreed Goals, but we’re unlikely to reach it in most parts of the world by 2030.

The importance of Goal 11 stems from global demographic trends. As Figure 1 illustrates, over 50% of the world’s population already lives in towns and cities, and that percentage is set to rise to 66% by 2050. In fact, nearly all projected population growth between now and 2050 is expected to be absorbed in towns and cities, and the vast majority of this growth will happen in Africa and Asia (see Figure 2).

These trends mean that when it comes to eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health and education services, ensuring universal access to clean water and adequate sanitation, promoting economic growth with decent employment opportunities, and creating ‘responsible consumption and production patterns’ (and achieving many other goals) urban centres are on the front line by default. Continue reading

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Women’s rights gained under EU law must not be lost in Brexit

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Sue Cohen, Research Associate in Bristol Law School

Much of the debate in the UK, pre and post the referendum, has been on the single market and freedom of movement. Gender has been all but cleansed from the Brexit political and media discourse, with barely a mention of investment in women’s equality, the social infrastructure and the institutions that might guarantee progressive gains from gender mainstreaming.

The EU Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights is a significant institution in this respect, and one we will lose upon Brexit. The Committee helps to process legislation on equal treatment adopted by EU institutions, invites transnational lobbying on women’s issues, and investigates particular issues and concerns that affect women.  It does this through commissioning research and reports that further gender mainstreaming in the funding programmes of the European Commission. (1)

Critically, the UK, has no comparable influential institution. The Women and Equalities Committee is a new select committee and its influence is not embedded in the decision-making structures and funding mechanisms across government. The Women’s Commission was closed down by the Coalition Government, whilst the influence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been eroded over time, with significant cuts in staff and funding and thus significant limitations on its ability to deliver strategic change. Continue reading

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“Buy Brexit”? Using “cultural fit” as evaluation criteria breaches EU and UK public procurement law

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

On March 1, 2017, The Guardian  reported that the UK’s Department for International Trade had tendered contracts where they expected that tech companies should have the right ‘cultural fit’ if they wanted to be hired. This was interpreted in the news report as a clear mechanism whereby “Firms bidding for government contracts [were] asked if they back Brexit“. It is indeed a worrying requirement due to the clear risk of unfettered discretion and ensuing discrimination that such ‘cultural fit’ requirement creates. In my opinion, the requirement runs contrary to both EU and UK public procurement rules (and this was later echoed by the follow-up coverage story by The Guardian as well: “Trade department may have broken EU rules with ‘pro-Brexit’ contract criteria”).

In this post, I develop the reasons for the assessment that such a ‘Buy Brexit’ requirement is illegal (which I previously published in my personal blog and the specialised EU Law Analysis blog). I will try to keep this post as jargon free as possible and limit the technical details of my legal assessment as much as possible. However, this is a rather technical area of economic law, so some technicalities will be unavoidable. Continue reading

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Sharing stories of migration and belonging

Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law, School of Law

Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law, School of Law

Last month I led an ESRC Funded Thinking Futures Event on Migration and Belonging at the St Werburgh’s Community Centre, Bristol. The event was attended by twenty-six people who had experience of applying for British citizenship or had personal stories to share about migration. Storytelling gives a direct voice to research participants and this was the theme of the event. Artist Sam Church who is a graphic artist simultaneously sketched the stories which were being shared. Continue reading

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Culture in the banking regulators: the need for challenge

Dr Holly Powley, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

Dr Holly Powley, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, a debate has been raging about the culture of financial services institutions – both in terms of how individuals working with financial institutions conduct themselves, but also on attitudes towards risk-taking within these institutions.

Given that banks are now considered to provide consumers with a service that is essential to the operation of the modern economy, this is an important debate. However, those tasked with regulating and supervising the banking sector haven’t escaped this scrutiny either.

If the UK is to avoid a future financial crisis of the magnitude experienced between 2007 and 2009, there also needs to be a culture change within the institutions tasked with overseeing the UK’s financial services sector.

Continue reading

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Miller: Why the Government should argue that Article 50 is reversible

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Professor Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol

Last week’s judgement in the High Court is a ringing endorsement of the sovereignty of Parliament. It asserts that ‘Parliament can, by enactment of primary legislation, change the law of the land in any way it chooses’ (at [20]).

It explains why the ‘subordination of the Crown (i.e. executive government) to law is the foundation of the rule of law in the United Kingdom’ (at [26]), including references to the bedrock of the UK’s Constitution, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and constitutional jurist AV Dicey’s An Introduction to the Law of the Constitution.

The Crown has broad powers on the international plane, for example to make and unmake treaties, but as a matter of English law, these powers reach their limits where domestic law rights are affected. EU law, by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (described again as a constitutional statute), does indeed have direct effect in domestic law. As a result of the fact that the decision to withdraw from the European Union would have a direct bearing on various

The Royal Courts of Justice in London, home of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Credit- Anthony M. from Rome, Italy - Flickr

The Royal Courts of Justice in London, home of the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Credit- Anthony M. from Rome, Italy – Flickr

categories of rights outlined in the judgement (at [57]-[61]), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50.  Continue reading

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