Census shocker

Remember the 2011 census? It was some time ago but the data analysts have spent a year twizelling the numbers and have some headline facts for us. With today’s computer power, I do wonder what takes so long? It sounds like a comfortable government backwater that might need a bit of a shake up?

However, the headlines are:

  • the resident population of England and Wales has shown the largest increase since the census began in 1861. Population is up 7.1% over ten years to 56.1 million.
  • The census also confirms we have an ageing population with one in six people aged 65 or over with all the consequences for social care with a rising cost curve and a declining tax base to fund  it.
  • The census also shows a growing number of under-fives, implying a further squeeze on the economically active population whose taxes have to support both ends of the population age range.

The growth in the population is attributed as to:

  • 55% due to net migration and
  • 45% due to increased births over deaths.

The number of households has risen by 8% but household composition has stabilised at 2.4; unchanged from 2001 to 2011.  Population growth features as positive in all regions but varies significantly with London showing 11.6% growth and the North East recording just 2.2% and showing little difference to the 1991 figure.

These population changes are important for national government and even more so for local government.  Although local government funding is based in part on population changes, there is a lag between those changes occurring and their feeding into funding formulae.

A whole range of public concerns are reflected in what these national statistics have to say.

  • Concerns about immigration and the relative population growth of the indigenous population and more recent arrivals will be very telling.
  • The pressures on housing need, particulalry in the south of the country are clear from the statistics but do not mitigate the opposition to more housing that is strongly expressed in the south.
  • Pressure on the benefits budget and a perception that Britain is an easy target are endemic and many of these statistics will promote debate.
  • Addressing the north-south divide is a clear priority for the coalition and these statistics will highlight the issue but will not necessarily point to an easy solution.

What is perhaps fascinating is the relative lack of interest in these statistics to date.  Perhaps it is something to do with the aphorism “Lies, damned lies and statistics” or, even simpler that statistics are just too difficult to explain to the public?

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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