High-quality, timely and accurate population and migration statistics are essential to make sure people get the services and support they need, both within their communities and nationwide.
Whether they provide evidence for policies and public services or help businesses and investors to deliver economic growth at a local level, it is vitally important our population statistics reflect the requirements of everyone in society.
Not only do the Office for National Statistics’ population statistics give the overall estimate for how many people are in the country, local authority or neighbourhood, they reflect how this is changing and provide a wealth of other insights about how we live.
Since 1801, a crucial part of the evidence base for national and local decision-making has been the census, which has taken place to count the population of England and Wales almost every decade.
The census provides the backbone of these statistics with a rich picture of our society at national and local levels every 10 years. However, these statistics become less accurate over the decade and local detail on important topics becomes increasingly out of date between census years.
With greater access to a range of data collected across government and more widely, we have reached a point where a serious question can be asked about the role the census plays in our statistical system.
This summer the ONS launched a public consultation which covers our proposals to create a sustainable system for producing essential statistics of England and Wales’ population that is flexible and responsive to unexpected change. We have set out our vision in detail, and I welcome views from across local government on your priorities for the future of population and migration statistics, so that they can best meet the needs of everyone over the coming years.
Moving away from reliance on a census every 10 years, timely administrative data – information that we all provide when we access public services like the tax, benefits, health and education systems - could be at the heart of the new system. This could be complemented by survey data, a wider range of other national and local data sources and statistical modelling.
If implemented, the proposed system would respond more effectively to an ever-changing society by giving users high-quality population statistics each year.
By producing neighbourhood level statistics more regularly, our future system is designed with flexibility in mind. It would also offer new and additional insights into the changes and movement of our population across different seasons or times of day. For many topics, it would provide much more local information not just once a decade but every year, exploring them in new detail at a consistent level of quality and covering topics not recorded by the census. This would unlock a wide range of new insight, with the potential to shine new light on many aspects of our lives.
We are asking what users need and why? If you require information on education, disability and country of birth, for example, at a neighbourhood level to make good decisions on resource allocation, we need to know about it.
However, time is running out. The consultation will close on October 26, so if you want to have your say, do so now. Let us know what is important to you and your local area, and why.
Your input will be essential evidence for the National Statistician’s recommendations on the future of population and migration statistics, and the census.
Jen Woolford is director of population statistics at ONS