Covid-19 effect survey

Covid-19 – Independent Survey of the UK Economy
Monitoring the effects of Covid-19



We are seeking sponsorship for a programme of research to measure the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on enterprise in the UK. We consider that a new approach is required because of the inaccuracies associated with the BICS research programme, as provided by the Office of National Statistics. Details of the problems with BICS are described elsewhere on this website (see reflections and also the comments on the Purple Research report as published earlier this year) but the principal difficulties are due to the exclusive use of on-line data collection, which ensures that those communities where Covid-19 is most prevalent are under-represented in the data produced by the ONS. Thus the official data on the effects of the pandemic consistently under reports the true position.

This under-reporting of the true effects of the pandemic is further exacerbated by the fact that the sample for BICS is drawn exclusively from the IDBR business sample frame, as provided to the ONS by HMRC. Use of that frame for the sample excludes many small businesses, primarily those operated by the self-employed with a turnover below the £85,000 VAT threshold.

To ensure better coverage of the whole UK economy we propose to use telephone data collection and to conduct two separate but linked surveys, one aimed at the population of all persons aged 16 or more and the other targeted at businesses. Use of the telephone for the main elements of our work has the following advantages:

  1. It provides more accurate information on response rates and therefore specifically improves estimation of working versus non-working businesses.
  2. Use of trained interviewers reduces errors due to misunderstanding the questions.
  3. A dual framed (mobile and landline) RDD sample increases the coverage and therefore reduces the potential for bias within the population sample.


The following sections provide further details on the methods to be employed for each survey:


The Business Survey:

The respondent to be a company director or senior manager and the topic is concerned with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the associated government advice and their plans for dealing with the consequences. As with the population survey we intend to build upon trial work completed during the previous lockdown, the results for which can be reviewed here; we would also expect to replicate some key questions from the BICS programme as provided by the ONS

Further details of the proposed methods are:

Sample: The sample design is for a sample of a minimum of 1,200 responses, stratified by UK region, broad activity group and employee size. This would be an ‘ideal’ sample for reasons of the analytical advantages to be gained, in particular it will enable a snapshot of the position within each of the UK regions. Further information is outlined in the section on results below.

We would select the sample from our in-house copy of the Dun & Bradstreet Business File for the UK, coding each selection to identify which of the quota cells they fall into. Details of this design are available on request but It should be noted that this sample source does not rectify the difficulties associated with the BICS series as noted above, it is for that reason that we propose also to conduct the population survey. It is that survey which will provide the data on the self-employed and other small businesses, not covered by the BICS. Meanwhile a careful record will be maintained of no contacts and other non-effective responses by region and other sample characteristics and any response bias will be adjusted for.

The Interview: As stated in the introduction the majority of the work will be conducted by telephone and, whenever we have the respondents’ agreement, responses will be recorded. We will therefore begin the interview with a straightforward open ended question to hear what each respondent says, when told of the topic. Subsequently these ‘open ends’ will be analysed using the latest software and the results will not only have the value of unvarnished reactions but also used to frame questions in subsequent weeks, if appropriate.

We would then say “I would now like to ask you some specific questions that we are asking all businesses …”.

With the following proposed topics:

  1. Have they had any staff directly affected by the virus? If so how have they been affected (family etc)?
  2. Are any members of staff able to work from home (Online)? If yes what categories?
  3. How many already are working from home? What constraints exist against homeworking>
  4. Do they import / export? If so what do they envisage are the effects on each activity?
  5. Do they have access to any video conferencing tools? If so which?
  6. What is their biggest problem NOW and what plans do you have for next year?
  7. Are they likely to need to borrow money to tide them over. If yes, how much would they need? Who will they try to borrow from? Have they asked for finance yet? If yes, what was the answer?
  8. What do they envisage will be the effect on their business turnover this year? And their profitability?
  9. What, if anything, do they think the following authorities should now be doing?
  10. The government
  11. The Bank of England
  12. The local authority
  13. Their own bank

Additional classification questions to be asked are:

  1. length of time in business,
  2. whether the company has more than one location,
  3. whether ownership is UK or foreign
  4. the name of the main bank used

Finally, at the end of the interview we will offer them a feedback report and seek an email address to send the report to and invite them to participate in a follow up after a further week. All respondents will also be informed of the list of survey sponsors.

Results: The proposed sample structure will enable useful comparisons to be drawn across each of our 12 regions, main activity groups and sizes of business as well as identifying any differences between foreign owned and UK owned companies. Additionally we will be able to determine any effects by age of the company and the main bank they use.


Population Survey:

Our proposal is to cover much the same ground as that explored in our original Monitor trial study but modifying the core questionnaire to measure the specific effects resulting from Covid-19, including the chancellor’s initiatives. We will therefore include these specific questions as used in the trial:

  1. How would you describe your employment status?
  1. Employed full time
  2. Employed part time
  3. Self-employed
  4. Carer
  5. Unemployed seeking work
  6. Unemployed not seeking work
  7. In fulltime education
  8. Retired
  1. Have you used the internet to SELL anything in the last 12 months on your own behalf?
  2. Have you earned any money during the past year from using any internet platforms?
  3. Do you do any other paid work from internet use? For example occasionally completing survey questionnaires over the web?

together with the appropriate follow up questions in each case.

We will also include questions relating to redundancy, furlough status and even business start-ups and closures.

We also intend that the results shall be compared with the work of the ONS and we therefore propose to replicate the relevant questions as used in the current Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN), these include:

In the past seven days, have you avoided contact with older people or other vulnerable people because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?

  1. In the past seven days, for what reasons have you left your home? (read out and code all that apply):
    1. travelling to and from work
    2. for exercise, for example a run, walk or cycle – alone or with members of your household
    3. shopping for basic necessities
  1. any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  2. In the past seven days, have you worked from home because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
  3. In the past seven days, have you self-isolated because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
  4. In the past seven days have you visited a park or public green space?

Sample: The proposed sample will be a mixed mode RDD (random digit dial) sample to ensure no possibility of selection bias, other that any bias introduced by differential response. The landline part of the sample will be selected to be representative of each region and, indeed, city versus country. The Mobile part of the sample will be stratified by mobile network. Response characteristics will be carefully monitored and the data weighted to account for any differential response rates. We intend a minimum sample of 2,400 but would hope for support to achieve significantly more.



We are seeking sponsors for either or both surveys and we also welcome any ideas for specific questions. A special question service is also available at a minimum cost of £3,000 for ether survey.

Contact: For information on sponsorship please email [email protected]. If you require further information on the technical details of the surveys please email [email protected] or call Tony Dent on 07885088521.