Save the Census – Save Our Stats

FROM: Beyond 2011 Independent Working Group – Save Our Statistics?
This is an appeal by the Beyond 2011 independent working group to those who use official population and social statistics in the UK, particularly those concerned with area-based statistics. We are here referring to the rich range of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics which are currently available from national to census output area levels. The statistical system is currently under scrutiny and review. Key to this review is the search for alternatives to the census of population and housing, a core element of UK statistics held each decade since 1801. The UK’s system of area-based population statistics from national to local levels may be lost unless it is justified loudly and clearly. We are concerned that many users of these statistics are insufficiently aware of the potential changes and their implications and have not been engaged in this debate.
There are two elements to this appeal. Firstly, now and during this summer, the case for area-based statistics must be made strongly. Unless their economic and substantive benefits can be established now, they will not be among the front-running options recommended to parliament at the end of the year. What is required are further examples of key uses of Census statistics, particularly for geographical levels at local authority level and below. So, please send examples to<>, also copied to us<>. It would be preferable if your contribution states that it may be shared with others.
Secondly, please engage with the consultation to be undertaken later this year by ONS. This will require measuring the options they propose as alternatives to a traditional census, against each of your key uses of local statistics. We are undertaking to make a collective response to this consultation based on the evidence we gather, but our efforts cannot replace engagement by the widest possible range of individuals and organizations.
As Peter Benton, director of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ‘Beyond 2011’ programme, working on options for future statistics, has said: “Without this we won’t be able to include any quantified benefit from . use of small area data in the options assessment and, in the extreme, this could result in options that enable future provision of small area data being rejected on cost-benefit grounds.”
Further information
1. Who needs sub-local authority statistics?
Traditionally, the Census has supplied a UK-wide system of statistics to assess each area’s needs in a way that is both accurately comparable with those of other areas and also comparable to past years to demonstrate improvements or to highlight worsening conditions. Even where counts of employment, health and housing can be updated from administrative records, the previous census is still relied upon for accurate/robust profiles of population and households. Equality, health and safety, housing and economic development plans are evaluated locally to ensure plans and achievements meet national standards. Would it be fair to say that a UK-wide system of sub-national statistics is required to ensure that legislative requirements can be accurately and fairly monitored? We would welcome your comments and views on this.<> .
The Census can certainly be developed – with online completion and streamlined questions- but can it be ditched altogether? That is what this immediate appeal and the ONS consultation in the Autumn both aim to discover.
Whilst it may be possible to extract the required statistics from administrative sources and larger sample surveys – with the advantage of more regular updates – making a full assessment of those requirements at small area level is a key element of this appeal.
2. What government will do and what you can do It is perhaps ironic that this discussion is taking place so soon after what is considered one of the best censuses in modern history, in 2011. Even before its completion, Government Ministers had requested a less costly statistical system, without a Census. The UK Statistics Authority have asked the ONS to advise on cost-effective options. The ONS will consult on front-running options in the Autumn, and make recommendations early in 2014 so that the government can make a decision before the end of its current term of office.
Many will take the Census as given, and will say that, like elections, the value of a Census to measure needs is democratic and cannot be directly economically measured. However, the need at present is to do precisely that. The ONS, through your submissions, need to identify as far as possible the economic consequences of particular census-derived cross-tabulations or analyses not being available in the future.
Examples of requirements for local statistics a. Distribution of resources. Try to include a calculation of the resources that would be put in a different place if particular local information were not used.
b. Sample location. Try to include a calculation of the extra resources required to achieve the same accuracy with a less targeted sample.
c. Poorer health, more carbon emission, fewer jobs. Try to include a justified estimate of the changed practice.
Examples may be national, or from a local authority or agency. In the latter case they will be factored up to national impacts.
3. This Working Group
This appeal is being made by the Beyond 2011 independent working group on the future of population and social statistics established in June 2013 “to supply reports and evidence when these are needed; to consider the value of population and social statistics for national and small areas; to collaborate with ONS in developing the very best methods for estimation.” We aim to continue to work over the next year, and welcome the support of interested individuals and organisations, who can contact us on<>. Its members are:
Piers Elias, Tees Valley Unlimited, and co-chair of Local Authorities’ liaison with central government on population statistics (CLIP) David Martin, Professor of Geography, University of Southampton, Deputy Director ESRC UK Data Service and National Centre for Research Methods Paul Norman, Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Leeds Phil Rees, Emeritus Professor of Population Geography, University of Leeds Ludi Simpson, Professor of Population Studies, University of Manchester, President of the British Society for Population Studies
4. Further consideration of the issues can be found at:
Summary of Beyond 2011 in British Society of Population Studies Newsletter May 2013<>
Dr Paul Norman, School of Geography, University of Leeds

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