Social security: sources of data

How Social Security Works This web page is taken from the Appendix to How Social Security Works. It is reproduced here with the permission of Policy Press. Laying it out in this form makes it possible for readers to use the links directly. The links might change: please let me know if any of them do not lead where they should.

The rules relating to benefits

The best guide to specific rules is the long-running manual produced by the Child Poverty Action Group, the Welfare benefits and tax credits handbook. CPAG also produces a range of specific guides, including handbooks on: In relation to disability, there is the Disability Alliance’s Disability rights handbook. Sweet and Maxwell also publish detailed guides to the law under the name Social security legislation.


CPAG produces a Welfare rights bulletin. Citizens’ Advice produces The Adviser, a relatively accessible publication covering benefits, consumer affairs, housing, debt and employment issues. There are online services for several of the CPAG publications, including child support, Housing Benefits and migrants. Newcastle Welfare Rights Service also hosts an invaluable service listing recent and forthcoming changes in benefit rules. Rightsnet has very useful data and discussions but some parts are limited to subscribers.

Sources of data

Details of the pattern of social security provision in different countries is available from the website of the US Social Security Administration. They publish Social security programs throughout the world. The International Social Security Association’s Observatory, which prepares this information, has a searchable database.

Most data on social security in Britain are now available directly on the internet. The place to begin is not, unusually, the Office for National Statistics, but the Analytical Services Division of the DWP. The DWP's Tabulation Tool has been withdrawn, and is gradually being replaced by a range of different statistics on a range of benefits.

Probably the best other single source of statistical material is the ONS’s NOMIS system. This is presented as being about ‘official labour market statistics’. An ‘advanced query’, however, gives access to a wide range of statistics about specific benefits.

Summaries of data

The Annual abstract of statistics has a long-running series of tables covering key information, and the Benefit expenditure tables prepared by the Analytical Services Division offer useful numerical summaries over time.

Labour market statistics

Statistics on the labour market are distinct from statistics on benefits, but they include much information that is relevant, as well as information about economic inactivity and coverage of several population groups. The NOMIS site is again useful. There is a guide to labour market statistics on the Office for National Statistics site.

HM Revenue & Customs data

This information is not as accessibly indexed as the Department for Work and Pensions material, and the HMRC website suffers from the common vice of frequently changing the location of files without redirecting users to the material they were looking for. Child Benefit and Tax Credit statistics are available, but there are limitations. Some Child Benefit aggregates, includėng the numbers of families and children claiming, are available along with the geographical distributions.

Local statistics

Central government has never quite grasped why local authorities and local groups might need small-scale area data.  The Benefit expenditure tables are broken down to local authority level, and NOMIS data go down to ward level. Other detailed, up-to-date information is available at local level, but the dedicated sites for Neighbourhood Statistics were closed in 2017.  There are some local statistics at .