Robert Neild Economic Advisor to the Treasury in the Labour Government Sept 1963
Robert Neild: good ideas, honestly targeting the interests of the people, eventually bear valuable fruits © Derek Evans/Times Newspapers

It was not without emotion that I read Ben Neild’s letter (January 2) on the genesis of Social Trends, a model publication overseen by the UK’s central statistical office.

Social Trends set new standards on the simple, insightful and powerful dissemination of several social statistics, key to following up and evaluating government policies and the basic features of citizens’ true welfare: a fine example of good British statistical practice and public social concerns.

As a statistician at the Brazilian Statistical Office (IBGE) during the 1970s, I was one of those responsible for a similar project, and the ensuing annual publication was strongly influenced by Social Trends, then a kind of paradigm for several countries with a broader view of development issues. Ironically, the Brazilian series also had a short lifetime, abruptly discontinued at the beginning of this century for budgetary reasons.

The late Professor Robert Neild may rest in peace, his life stands as one of the always welcome proofs that good ideas, honestly targeting the interests of the people, particularly the layman, eventually bear valuable fruits, oftentimes far beyond the community originally envisaged.

Notwithstanding, despite warnings by scientists and economists such as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen that educational and health measures should precede sheer economic growth policies, in our present era of sophisticated techniques for data display and analysis, precious and democratic information tools like Social Trends have vanished from the official statistics portfolio.

Prof Renato G Flôres, Jr
Director, FGV IIU,
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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