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The Spectator Dashboard: interactive UK data

1 January 2016

8:00 AM

1 January 2016

8:00 AM

Great progress has been made in open data over the last few years, with most important facts and figures now available online. The quality of the UK economic debate has been enhanced by the creation of the Office for Budget Responsibility, which publishes forecasts in a non-tricksy way. The journalist is spoiled for choice. But, still, you don’t tend to see such forecasts republished: the BBC doesn’t share them and even the FT‘s ‘economy at a glance‘ restricts itself to historic data – and static graphs, which you can’t interrogate.

At The Spectator, we’ve been using dynamic graphs for a while. Now, we’re moving up to the next level using HighCharts, a more versatile Norwegian graph-making engine. The below graphs are part of it. They’re dynamic (things happen when the if cursor hovers), they show projections (where available) and they also show historic data, which you can interrogate by using the navigator bar  at the bottom.

The navigator is interesting for the power it gives the user. For example, I could write a blog praising Theresa May for reducing surveyed crime by a third since she became Home Secretary five years ago – and justify my praise by publishing the below graph.

But by pulling the navigator bar (at the bottom) to the left, the user can see that the fall in surveyed crime is part of a far longer trend dating back to the mid-1990s. The navigator bar removes from the journalist the ability to cherrypick the data range.

So this new technology—dynamic charts with historic and forecast data—represents the next stage in the way journalists share data with readers. Sooner or later, everyone will do it. We’re proud to be pioneering it here at The Spectator.

This is a work in progress: there will be glitches. There are plenty things to work out: do the date boxes clutter? Should we remove the navigator completely from mobile because it’s too small to be of much use? We’ll address such issues as we go along: meanwhile please do leave any comments below.

1. Employment

2. Bank of England base rates if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage, you want to know: what will interest rates do? What’s the consensus? This gives you the answer:-
3. Gross Domestic Product The most-quoted economic statistic.
4. Disposable income The GDP indicator can be driven by immigration: even high employment doesn’t matter to those in work but suffering low pay. Politically, what matters is whether people are better-off, and this graph is an encouraging one for the Chancellor:-
6. Household debt. Britons started paying down the debt they ran up in the run-up to the financial crisis – but the OBR thinks they’ll start borrowing again.
6. Inflation. Right now low inflation is making new year pay rises go further – but we’re still far from the target CPI inflation of 2pc.

7. Net immigration This puts the recent high immigration into some historical perspective, and also shows how much more is expected.

8. Debt The UK government has been binging on debt for hundreds of years

And some other graphs that we at The Spectator find interesting:-

State Schools vs Private Schools This chart shows the average A-Level points for the top state and private schools. You can drag the cursor along the bottom: for example, when it gets to 100 that will show the average A-Level points score for the 100th best private and the 100th best state school.

It’s often said that the poorest did worst in the austerity years. The figures of actual household income show the reverse: the biggest loss of income was felt by those at the top, and those at the bottom were the only people in a very tough five years to see their disposable income improve.

Some perspective on poverty: the number of households in poverty—defined as median household income in 2010/11—has fallen by three-quarters over the last fifty years:

And, here, the least-discussed scandal in Britain: the link between a child’s family wealth and attainment in state schools. It’s not very much discussed because no one bothered to produce the figures: my thanks to the Centre for Social Justice for its work here. Such figures ought to be published by the government (or, at very least, the Social Justice Commission) and updated every year.

And the tax paid by the richest? Since George Osborne reduced the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, the share of the burden from those at the very top has risen to record highs.

Another under-discussed trend is how the rise in employment has helped those in  council-run accommodation:-

And another trend: the way that, as national wealth increases and salary along with it, the average worker gets by putting in fewer hours.

Again, this is a work in progress: please leave your thoughts below. And if there are graphs you’d like us to unearth, just say the word.

Show comments
  • Steve Wilson

    I’d like to see the graph of the number of crafty terror plots foiled by the diligent confiscation of nail clippers at British airports.

  • Roderick

    Very good, and an honourable development for the Speccie to champion.

    Just one observation though: when you drag the navigator bar over to the left, on both the bank base rate and inflation charts – and maybe on others – the vertical axis automatically re-scales itself. This ensures that the part of the chart being viewed always fills the graph, and while assisting in the legibility of small trends, it has the unfortunate effect of reducing the impact of large ones.

    For example, very high inflation in the late 70s and early 80s has in recent years fallen to near-zero levels, but the visual inpact of this when you scan through the charts has been minimised by the vertical re-scaling. (I expect that say, Al Gore would not have allowed such a tool to be used when preparing his infamously misleading (and now discredited) hockey stick chart of temperatures.)

  • Andy Grieve

    Forecasts are inherently uncertain and become more so the further into the future we attempt to predict. I suppose that the forecasts are the median forecast and they should be accompanied by a measure of forecasting uncertainty. The OBR and the BOE use fan plots to illustrate this increasing uncertainty. The Spectator should consider their use too.

  • trace9

    ‘The below graphs are part of it.’ Whatever that language is a part of; The Graphs Below – is a part of English. WE’RE what’s below the graphs – without chasing too many fine points. How about a UK Terrorism Index, financial cost, arrests, plots foiled/carried out, correlation with immigration – historically over 500 years please, events cancelled, tourist etc., earnings forfeited, & the most difficult of all – effect on the individual’s peace-of-mind (by UK area) – then the really hard one, prooojections!

  • Tim Gilling

    The headline on the average weekly hours graph implies this is choice. Could it be a result of the increase in part-time and zero hours contracts?

  • Daedalus

    The number of people killed per year with semi automatic firearms and pistols, from say 1970 to date; with the dates of the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres removed and the date of the banning of semi auto rifles and then handguns added in. The removal of those two most unfortunate actions is needed, due to the the fact that neither should have happened if the warnings people gave prior to them taking place had been heeded. That’s why there has been no public enquiry for either. To be honest we could also include full auto in this as they have been used in a number of shootings recently and they have been banned for donkeys years.

    • Malcolm Stevas

      Since pre-WW2 in fact.

  • Peter Simple

    One could probably knock up a Hokey Schtick convincing enough to fool the gullible by cherry-picking and falsifying data.

  • rock paper scissors

    Disposable income per capita forecast is hopelessly optimistic

  • berosos_bubos

    Median income not mean please.

  • berosos_bubos

    Rape stats. by ethnicity and country of origin please.

    • rock paper scissors

      Statisticly speaking 100% of rapes are carried out by humans. However not all the victims are human.

  • Makroon

    It is just a shame that the ONS has become increasingly unreliable and erratic, and nobody seems overly bothered, even though their witterings and constant “surprises” and “revisions” can move markets by the £Bs.

    Academics and journos are more concerned with sniping at Chinese statistics than investigating the ‘beam’ in the UK’s statistical eye.

  • benb96

    Great to see the data in such a visible, interactive way. Headlines are (deliberately) misleading, however.

  • Halo

    don’t understand the net migration projections, I am not against migration per se however publishing silly forecasts like this given the reality facing us isn’t very clever is it? makes you wonder about the credibility of the rest of the forecasts, they must also be way way off..


    They publish this kind of thing in make believe socialist command economies. More bucks fizz for this one, please.

    • flipkipper

      Can’t you see? Disposable income is when the bank gives you a credit card with a 40k credit line and then you max it out and ‘dispose the income’ init mate.
      And the top 1% paying 25 odd percent of tax is a sign of… well uninequality or summat daft like it mate? Get it? What we need is the top 1% to pay 75% of the tax mate init because that would then prove that the bottom 99% ain’t getting paid at all init bruv, and if the top 1% were only paying 5% of the tax then that would prove that the bottom 99% can actually afford to sustain the state without getting into further public debt init just that simple bruv, which means that if top 1% tax is going up it means SHTF again proper init, for Gods sake.

      God, these ‘statistics’ are hilarious! Do they employ people to make this up, what do we ffink?

  • AndyB

    Very useful. Always a question mark over chosen start dates with statistical evidence. Would be of interest to know to what extent changes in methodology have/ have not been accounted for. Where renormalisation to current methodology is possible, maybe show previous methodology data in different colour line? Great work all round – well done to your team, Mr Nelson.

  • MarkSG

    Excellent stuff. This is a really nice way of visualising a lot of trend-related data.

  • e2toe4

    A real and important contribution to contextualising and explaining big data…. cap doffed, thanks expressed

  • Tommo

    “Net Migration” weasel words.

    Give us the real immigration data.

    • flipkipper

      You’re the Atlas replacement arentcha Tommo. Wasn’t differcult to spot at all init mate.

  • ohforheavensake

    GDP per capita figures? Why not show them?
    And does it make any sense to disaggregate housing costs? After all, that’s a measure of wealth, isn’t it?

  • Ron Todd

    Net immigration projection predicts the numbers coming down, does anybody in our ever so liberal ruling class really believe that is what is going to happen; is it even what any of them want to happen.

    • Span Ows

      Your last point is the most pertinent.