Data Insights: The power of case level data and data linkage in homelessness research
In this blog, Dr Ian Thomas and Dr Peter Mackie from ADR Wales’ housing and homelessness research theme discuss two new Data Insights that explore how case level data and data linkage can improve understanding of the nature of homelessness.
For several years there have been discussions about changing the way homelessness data is collected in Wales. Currently, aggregate data is reported to Welsh Government, with the suggested change to move to case level data. This shift would bring Wales in line with Scotland and England. Case level data can help assess the scale and impact of homelessness through linkage. It can also provide insight into the effectiveness of homelessness policy and practice.
Our first Data Insight used case level data from the City and County of Swansea housing team on applications for help with housing. The aim was to improve our understanding of the dynamics of homelessness support by looking at who is supported over a financial year. Currently, applications for help are only counted if they close in a financial year. We found that in 2014-15, the current approach to data collection may under-report roughly 14 percent of applications for help made to the housing team.
But, data from housing teams may underestimate the scale of homelessness in Wales. People who do not approach local authority housing teams or other housing related support would be missing. In our second Data Insight we explore whether health data could improve estimates of homelessness.
We used health codes and accommodation status to identify people who were homeless. Datasets used in this analysis were General Practitioner (GP) data and the Substance Misuse Data Set (SMDS) Wales. We linked homeless people identified in the health data to data from the City and County of Swansea housing team. Our use of health data increased estimates of homeless people in the Swansea area by roughly 5 percent during the April 2013 to March 2015 period.
Case level data and data linkage can improve the evidence base for homelessness policy and practice. However, to be reliable, the completeness and accuracy of data collected by the homeless sector needs to be prioritised. We recommend Welsh Government, Local Authorities, and academia work together to improve data collection. Partnerships like ADR Wales will be important in facilitating this work going forward.