Treasury Committee Press Notice

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

The Treasury Committee today (Friday 23 May) publishes 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.”