Housing Benefit: do awards for private tenants cover real rents?

Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the maximum amount of Housing Benefit private renters are able to receive, is now capped and “frozen” until 2020. This means that over the next Parliament LHA rates will remain static while rents continue to rise or fall with changes in the market.

Concerns have been raised that this could result in LHA rates drifting further away from actual rent levels, meaning it could become increasingly difficult for claimants to use LHA to cover their rent.

We look here at the data available to see how closely LHA rates and rents match, and what the effects of the changes to LHA might be over time.

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BBC stats review: an ambitious vision for data journalism

Last week saw the BBC Trust publish an impartiality review about the BBC’s reporting of statistics.  Statistics are a fundamental component of a thriving democracy: helping us understand our lives as citizens, how things are changing, how public services are performing, and whether interventions by authorities are making a difference.  And so the BBC’s reporting of statistics are a key part of democratic accountability, since our major public Broadcaster has a unique role in explaining statistics to citizens.

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Childhood obesity: an inequality issue

The government published Childhood Obesity: a plan for action this week, detailing how they will ‘reduce childhood obesity by supporting healthier choices’.

The stats on levels of obesity in children paint mixed but worrying picture. 9% of children in England are obese by the ages of 4-5 and levels of obesity stay high as they get older – 24% of adults in England now classed as obese and a further 36% as overweight.

The effect of obesity on children is described in sobering terms by Public Health England, who say that, ‘Obese children are more likely to be ill, be absent from school due to illness, experience health-related limitations and require more medical care than normal weight children. Overweight and obese children are also more likely to become obese adults, and have a higher risk of morbidity, disability and premature mortality in adulthood.’

But is obesity a problem that affects children equally? Or does where children live make a difference to their size? The government report recognises that ‘…the burden [of obesity] is falling hardest on those children from low-income backgrounds’, but where exactly is this burden falling?

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Brexit: national identity and ethnicity in the referendum


In the referendum on EU membership held on 23 June, local authorities with higher proportions of people identifying as ‘English only’ recorded higher vote shares to leave the EU, while polling data suggest that ethnic minorities were more likely to vote Remain. Is there a relationship between national identity and ethnicity on the one hand, and votes in the referendum on the other?

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Brexit: the People vs. Parliament?

An increasing number of voices suggest Parliament needs to be involved in triggering Article 50, the first legal step towards the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. But while 51.9% voted to leave the European Union in the referendum on 23 June 2016, only 24% of MPs declared support for Leave during the referendum campaign. This raises the ancient question of how MPs should vote, in the case of a motion to implement ‘Brexit’: should they simply follow the desires of their constituents, expressed so clearly in a referendum? Or should they follow what Burke famously called their own ‘enlightened conscience’?

Comparing BBC data on MPs’ positions in the debate on EU membership to regional results and constituency predictions by the academic Chris Hanretty (University of East Anglia) shows how common splits between the people and their representatives were.

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South Africa’s municipal elections: a “political turning point”?

South Africa’s municipal elections are scheduled to take place on 3 August. One think-tank has argued that the next few months could be a “political turning point” for the country, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) losing significant support to newly resurgent opposition parties, most notably the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

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Brexit: how did the UK vote?

The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23rd June 2016. Leave won 51.9% of the vote across the UK, including 53.4% in England, 52.5% in Wales, 44.2% in Northern Ireland and 38.0% in Scotland. Remain won over 50% of the vote in three electoral regions: Scotland, Northern Ireland and London.

Early analysis suggests a strong correlation between the proportion of people who voted Leave and the proportion of people who voted for UKIP in the 2014 European Parliament elections. There was also a strong correlation between leave votes and the proportion of people who were not graduates. Leave votes were more weakly correlated with social grade and age.

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Nigeria: Buhari at the one-year mark

29 May marks the first anniversary of Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration as President of Nigeria. Analysts have been busy assessing his performance so far.

Alarmingly, the Financial Times has reported that “Nigerians are impatient for the gains they voted for and have little appetite for further pain […] confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari, elected a year ago on a wave of hope, is evaporating.”

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More light, less heat: our EU Referendum analysis

Last week MPs debated an E-petition on the Government’s EU Referendum Leaflet. Over 220,000 people have signed, objecting to the Government using taxpayer’s money to fund pro-EU campaign materials.

Since plans to distribute the leaflet were made public there have been suggestions from MPs that the Library should publish a similar guide outlining the facts to help people to make up their minds on June 23rd.

This seems like a good time to set out how we see as our role in providing information relevant to the referendum, and what we have produced so far. Continue reading

The EU referendum count

This is the first UK-wide referendum to be counted overnight. Neither of the two previous UK-wide referendums provide much in the way of helpful precedent on when we will know whether the UK and Gibraltar electorate have voted to leave or remain part of the EU. It’s a safe assumption that it will be a long night for all involved.

This blog post explains what to expect on the night of the count on the 23/24 June. More detail is available in Library briefing 7588 – EU referendum – the count.

Although much of the counting process will be similar to general election counts there are some parts of the process that will be less familiar, and different terminology like ‘regional counts’, ‘counting areas’ and ‘counting officers’.

The statutory rules that have to be followed when handling ballot papers at polling stations and postal ballots and the processes to be followed at count venues are very similar to general elections. These are designed to ensure the guiding principles of UK elections and referendums are adhered to:

  • ensuring a result is declared swiftly and accurately,
  • the number of ballots received at the count tallies with the number of ballots sent out to polling station,
  • the counting process is legal and impartial, and
  • voter secrecy is maintained.

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