ONS homeless deaths project scoops statistical excellence award

Team collaborates with MHCLG and charities for Royal Statistical Society prize-winning project

The winners of the 2019 Campion Award. Photo: RSS

The team behind a project to produce the first-ever official figures recording deaths of homeless people in England and Wales has scooped an award for statistical excellence.

The Office for National Statistics’ health analysis and life events team took home the Royal Statistical Society’s Campion Award for Excellence in Official Statistics at a ceremony in central London last night.

The award, in partnership with CSW and the UK Statistics Authority, recognises government statisticians producing and presenting statistics for the public good and was presented alongside awards for excellence in the use of stats in early-career writing and journalism.


The judging panel said the winning project, which developed a record of deaths between 2013 and 2017, was a “brilliant example of tackling an issue of grave social concern, and provides real evidence on the extent and characteristics of a serious issue”.

The ONS team worked with organisations including the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s homelessness and troubled families team, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Institute of Health Informatics to produce the experimental statistics, which were broken down by age, sex, cause of death and geographical area.

The figures revealed deaths of homeless people had risen by 24% in five years, that the majority of those who died were men and that more than half of deaths were down to drug poisoning, suicide, or alcohol – compared with 3% in the wider population.

The project was a “fantastic example of what can be done to make sense of available data by working with relevant organisations”, the judges said.

A second group of ONS statisticians, the health analysis team, was named first runner-up for the Campion award, for its work to produce estimates of the rate of suicides among higher-education students. The judges said the project, which combined student data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority with coroners’ records, “was an excellent example of demonstrating the strength of linkage between two complex data sources, of a user-led approach and tackling a sensitive topic”.

The Scottish Government’s Scottish household survey team was named the second runner-up for the award. The team was commended for its use of data comics to make its findings accessible and address declining survey participation by showing people how their data is used.

The Award for Excellence in Early Career Writing, awarded by Significance magazine and the RSS young statisticians section, went to Liam Shaw of the University of Oxford and Luke Shaw of the ONS, for an article that “bowled over” the judges that told the story of analysis by the actuary RD Clarke of V-1 missile strikes on London during World War Two, and revisited the data to extend the analysis.

The RSS also recognised statistical excellence in journalism in four categories. Ruth Alexander and Tim Harford of BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ programme took home the Explaining the Facts award for their sensitive investigation of child carer statistics, while Aaron Williams and Armand Emamgjomeh of the Washington Post took home the award for Data Visualisaion for a projects entitled American is more diverse than ever – but still segregated, which brought together complex ethnicity and diversity data and analysis in detailed maps.

Geraldine Scott of the Eastern Daily Press won the Regional Journalism gong for her work showing how ambulance targets were being missed in the East of England, and Maeve McClenaghan, Charles Boutaud and TBIJ’s​ Bureau Local network won the Investigative Journalism prize for their Dying Homeless project that used a network of 

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