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Coffee House

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.


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