Understanding Society: The UK Household Longitudinal Survey Waves 13-15

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Inst for Social and Economic Research


Understanding Society: the UK Household Longitudinal Study is the largest household panel study in the world, designed to address key scientific and policy questions of the 21st century. It collects high quality annual longitudinal data on individuals of all ages in households which are representative of the UK population. The Study's data enable researchers to explore the experiences, causes and consequences of changes in people's lives - their family structure, health, income, expenditure, employment and housing. The Study has additional dimensions that enable the detailed exploration of the circumstances of key immigrant and ethnic minority groups; investigation of inter-relations between different family members within and across households and generations; and, it collects direct measures of health and genetics to understand how people's health and wider circumstances interact. It is underpinned by robust and innovative methods, and our methodological research creates learning for other studies nationally and internationally.

The Study began in 2008 with the Innovation Panel (IP), which tests methods, and the first main wave of fieldwork started in 2009. It builds on and incorporates the British Household Panel Survey, which means for some families we have data from 1991. To date, eight waves of the main Study and ten waves of the IP, as well as data collected from a nurse visit, are deposited at the UK Data Service. Further waves are in planning, in the field or being prepared for data release. This bid covers plans for data collection for Waves 13-15 and IP15-17 a boost sample to increase the size of the Study, and a range of enhancements.

Our long term vision for the Study is for it to be based on integrating the best of all kinds of data on a Longitudinal Core, whilst creating novel research opportunities with new data enhancements. Our plans include more timely data collection of key life changes, such as job loss; a pregnancy study; a repeat collection of biological data. We are investigating ways to enhance our content by collecting data with new technologies. We are also planning to expand the Study to engage with key family members who live outside the household, for example, co-parents in separated families and transnational families. We also plan to broaden the range of data we harvest from external sources, as well as individual administrative records, we are investigating how we can obtain contextual data on organisations, such as employers, and places. As in previous bids, we are proposing advertising a number of fellowships competitions to build capacity in the wider research community to use the unique features of the data.

Supporting researchers in universities, government, third sector and businesses to use the data effectively is fundamental to the success of the Study. We provide a wide range of resources, services and support to enable users with different backgrounds and from different kinds of organisations to make effective use of the data. We propose enhancing this further by adding a 'data gateway' to our website so users can select the data they need through a shopping basket system. We have a Policy Unit that works directly with government departments and third sector organisations to help them use Understanding Society data, and we undertake a wide range of activities to promote findings based on the Study to policy users. In this phase the Policy Unit will develop partnerships with different organisations to facilitate policy communities learning from high quality research based on the Study. We plan to continue to promote research from the Study widely through events, publications, briefings, on our website and through social media.

Taken together, we firmly believe that the continued collection of data on a longitudinal core and the new data enhancements proposed will significantly increase the high quality impactful research based on the Study and hence its value to society.

Planned Impact

Understanding Society is a valuable longitudinal resource that addresses key social and policy issues. The Study enables academic staff and students in the UK and abroad to create high quality impactful research in two key ways. First it is a unique resource for investigating the short and long run causes and consequences of changes in individuals' and families' lives. Second, Understanding Society is at the cutting edge of methodological advancement in longitudinal studies, which benefits survey organisations and funders of surveys and research.
Non-academic beneficiaries include a wide range of organisations and stakeholders listed below; the Impact Fellow and Policy and Partnership Unit work directly with them to raise awareness and capacity to use the data, undertake modest data analysis projects, work in partnership to promote findings and generate impact. We broker academic-policy partnerships by promoting awareness of Government research priorities, sharing relevant research with policy communities, creating opportunities for discussion through knowledge exchange events, briefings, case studies and blogs. In this bid we are innovating with 'challenge' labs in collaboration with social innovation partners to identify ways of addressing complex social problems.
Policy beneficiaries include:
-Government researchers, politicians and policy makers. The data supports research in key policy areas, and is used for statutory reporting by a number of government departments. Key areas where important impacts are emerging include from the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, as well as DWP, DHSC, DfE, DfT, MHCLG, and BEIS. Co-Funding Government departments are directed supported in their use of the Study.
-Government executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies, parliamentary select committees, and supported research centres also use the Study's data and findings, e.g. ONS, Public Health England, Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England, What Works Centres, the Low Pay Commission, etc.
-EU policy-makers and the international policy community. Findings will be relevant to other countries, either directly, if generalisability can be assumed, or indirectly by inspiring new lines of thought and comparative investigation.
-Local government officers, councillors and consortia are responsible for different services that are addressed by the Study - such as public health, social housing, social care, education, policing, recreation and recycling - and have influence over others through local development frameworks, transport plans, planning decisions and potential new powers with increasing devolution.
-Third sector organisations, think tanks, charities and independent and private research organisations. Many organisations of this type, such as the Nuffield Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, MIND, AgeUK, the Children's Society, are employing Study data in their work. Our Research Voucher scheme is expanding use in the charities sector.
-Private sector businesses. Findings on a range of aspects of individual behaviour and decision making and changes in societal outcomes will be relevant to market research, evaluating initiatives and corporate responsibility plans. We have held joint workshops with the financial sector, and two large businesses use Understanding Society data as benchmarks against which to compare their achievements (in the housing and wellbeing sectors). Equally, the methodological challenges the Study faces are relevant to market research and data analytic companies.
-General public. Members of the general public will have an interest in Study findings. We are planning a number of public engagement activities and media collaborations to promote public understanding of social science drawing on the data and findings from the Study.
Policy impacts have already occurred on the Study and will continue to develop with evidence from the Study increasingly incorporated into policy debates.


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Description AFS to ES/T002611/1 - Understanding Society COVID grant from ESRC
Amount £295,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/T002611/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 03/2021
Description Understanding Society fieldwork - wave 13-15 - Kantar 
Organisation Kantar Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Management of the sub-contract with Kantar for the provision of fieldwork services for waves 13-15 of Understanding Society - partnership working (with NatCen as consortium partners) to deliver the survey.
Collaborator Contribution Delivery of the fieldwork and associated activities for Understanding Society waves 13-15
Impact See all other outputs, which are dependent on the delivery of fieldwork by our partner agency.
Start Year 2020
Description Understanding Society fieldwork - wave 13-15 - Kantar 
Organisation National Centre for Social Research
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Management of the sub-contract with Kantar for the provision of fieldwork services for waves 13-15 of Understanding Society - partnership working (with NatCen as consortium partners) to deliver the survey.
Collaborator Contribution Delivery of the fieldwork and associated activities for Understanding Society waves 13-15
Impact See all other outputs, which are dependent on the delivery of fieldwork by our partner agency.
Start Year 2020