Treasury Sub-Committee: Inquiry

COUNTING THE POPULATION

Treasury Committee report calls for urgent improvement to methods of estimating population

Report and oral and further written evidence | Written Evidence | Press Notice | Response

On 23 May 2008 the Treasury Committee published its Eleventh Report of Session 2007-08, Counting the Population (HC 183-I), the result of an inquiry undertaken by its Sub-Committee, chaired by Michael Fallon MP.

The Report concludes that the International Passenger Survey, which plays a central role in estimating international migration, is not fit for this purpose having been designed to provide data for tourism and business travel purposes.

It recommends that the Statistics Authority replace the International Passenger Survey with a new more comprehensive survey that is more suited to the accurate measurement of international movements affecting the size of the resident population in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore the Sub-Committee heard evidence that official mid-year population estimates, based on the ‘usually resident’ definition of population do not include short-term migrants and do not fully meet the needs of Local Authorities. The Report also concludes that current methods of estimating internal migration within the UK are unsatisfactory and are leading to decisions on the allocation of funding to Local Authorities being based on inadequate information.

It recommends that the Statistics Authority should establish as an immediate priority the provision of local population statistics that more accurately reflect the full range of information available about local populations and the effects of internal migration.

The Report also recommends that the Statistics Authority investigate the feasibility of producing mid-year population estimates based on different measures of population, such as estimates which include short-term migrants and estimates which include the day-time population of Local Authorities.

The Sub-Committee also heard repeated references to the necessity of establishing an address register for the 2011 Census register. It is unclear whether leadership weakness, lack of legislative means or the financial obligations of the Ordnance Survey’s trading fund status have contributed most to this failure. The Report recommends that the Government consult the Statistics Authority and others to remove any outstanding obstacles to the production of an address register.

The Sub-Committee remains concerned that the personal information gathered through the 2011 Census could be subject to the United States Patriot Act and asks the Government to take clear legal advice and advice from the US State Department and to publish it in response to this Report.

Lastly, the Sub-Committee heard evidence that the traditional census had almost had its day. The Report recommends that the Statistics Authority set strategic objectives to ensure that the data gathered throughout the UK can be used to produce annual population statistics that are of a quality that will enable the 2011 Census to be the last census in the UK where the population is counted through the collection of census forms.

Michael Fallon, Chairman of the Sub-Committee said:

“Reliable population estimates are fundamental to the allocation of funding for public services. We heard evidence that Local Authorities including Westminster, Slough and Manchester, have experienced difficulties where inaccurate statistical data resulted in reduced allocation of financial resources.

Our democracy is dependent on accurate, independent statistics. It is essential that when we consider important national issues we can rely on the data that is provided. It is now impossible to estimate accurately the UK population today. Unreliable statistics make planning impossible. We call on the Government to improve the population count as a matter of urgency.”

Background to the inquiry

The Sub-Committee's inquiry examined the collection of statistics by the Office for National Statistics relating to the size, age, sex and distribution of people, the accuracy of such statistics and the role and value of such statistics.

The Sub-Committee considered in particular:

(i) The uses of population estimates, the definition of the population and the impact of any inaccuracies or inadequacies in population estimates;

(ii) The role of the Census in the provision of population statistics and preparations for the 2011 Census in England and Wales;

(iii) The preparation and accuracy of the mid-year population estimates for England and Wales;

(iv) The role of survey and administrative data in compiling population statistics; and

(v) Cooperation between the ONS (and its successors) and stakeholders.

Futher details about the inquiry's call for evidence can be found in press notice 77, 2006-07.

The Sub-Committee's call for evidence closed on 28 November 2007. Published submissions can be found by following the link at the top of this page. 

Evidence sessions held by the Committee (please click on the link at the top of the page to access the transcripts of these sessions):

6 February 2008   
Witness:  Angela Eagle MP, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

28 January 2008      
Witnesses:  Ms Karen Dunnell, National Statistician and Registrar General for England and Wales; Ms Jil Matheson, Director Census Demography and Regional Statistics Office, Office for National Statistics; and Sir Michael Scholar, Chair, The Statistics Board.

23 January 2008    
Witnesses:  Mr Charlie Bean, Chief Economist, and Mr Neal Hatch, Head of the Structural Economic Analysis Division within Monetary Analysis, Bank of England, Mr Christopher Kelly, Head of Macroeconomic Prospects Team, and Mr James Richardson, head of Home, Legal and Communities Team, Her Majesty’s Treasury.

16 January 2008     
Witnesses:  Mr Keith Dugmore, Demographic Decisions, Professor David Rhind, Statistics Commission and Professor David Martin, Royal Statistical Society.