What’s missing? Evaluating social sector data gaps

Available data on the social sector – its size and shape, demography and financial health – is relatively poor, particularly compared to data on the private sector. Official statistics are thin, often treating charities and other non-profit entities as residual categories. Much of what does exist in official statistics is hard to access, particularly in real time, and fragmented. Finally, there is little data that is systematically disaggregated beyond national, sector-wide pictures.

The impact of those data gaps has been particularly felt over the past 12 months. The Covid crisis left many charities and other social sector organisations under pressure, unable to deliver their services during lockdown despite heightened need, while many were also unable to raise funds through the normal routes. Sector bodies and organisations including Pro Bono Economics (PBE) stepped up with rapid work to monitor and report on the impact of the crisis on the sector and the people it supports. But as we enter the recovery from Covid, we face continued challenges in understanding what is happening to the sector, how it is responding to ongoing financial and delivery pressures and how this is translating into impacts for people and communities.

As part of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, PBE is investigating the role and potential for better data about social sector organisations, with a particular focus on charities.

As a first stage in this process, we hosted a workshop for organisations with data expertise from across the social sector as well as representatives from government and the Charity Commission for England and Wales. Attendees at the workshop discussed what the data gaps are, their implications, and why these are challenging to address.

This report presents a summary of the discussion at the workshop.