Funding for councils at risk due to ‘undercount’ in census data
Population estimates in London and Manchester may have been significantly understated in the 2021 census, potentially threatening government funding for frontline services in those cities.
London Councils, an umbrella body which represents 32 boroughs and the City of London Corporation, said the capital’s population had been “significantly underestimated” in the census. Likewise, Manchester City Council has suggested that its population may have been underestimated at up to 33,000.
The census, undertaken by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), takes place every ten years and is one of the factors used by the government to determine funding allocations for councils. The most recent census – in March 2021 – took place during the third national lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Impact of the pandemic
Cllr Georgia Gould, chair of London Councils, said the understatement was due to many students, young people on leave and overseas migrant workers who had temporarily moved to family homes outside the capital at the time of the census .
She said: “The 2021 census took place under the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic and a national lockdown, so this snapshot data should be treated with extreme caution.”
Census data suggests that London’s total population in March 2021 was almost 300,000 (3%) lower than the ONS’ previous population estimate for 2021, with some boroughs’ figures lower by almost a quarter (24%).
According to the analysis, the problem was most apparent in central London boroughs, with Camden and Westminster joining a campaign to find ‘lost Londoners’.
Gould added: “Accurate census data is important to Londoners as it helps determine government funding allocations to local authorities. Billions of pounds for frontline services are at stake.”
London councils have estimated that around £4 billion of public funding to local authorities in London is directly or indirectly dependent on census population figures.
Cllr Bev Craig, leader of Manchester City Council, said Manchester’s population had also been underestimated – by potentially 33,000 people due to missing people in their twenties being counted linked to the city’s large student population .
She said: “We know Manchester is growing rapidly and receiving less budget than our people need could have a huge impact on our ability to deliver services to our residents.”
London Councils and Manchester City Council have said they want to work with the ONS to ensure the census accurately reflects their populations.
Accurate census data is important to Londoners, as it helps determine government funding allocations to local authorities. Billions of pounds for frontline services are at stake.
High response rate
An ONS spokesperson said: We have full confidence in our census estimates. We achieved a fantastic 97% response rate – and over 88% in every local authority – and undertook the most comprehensive quality assurance ever, including involving local authorities for the first time.
“We would still expect differences with mid-year population estimates compared to the year before the census. The main purpose of the census is to “rebase” our estimates of population size.
For some students and in some urban areas, the ONS said there was evidence the Covid-19 pandemic had caused changes to where people lived. These changes could have been temporary for some and permanent for others.
“We recognize that the population continues to change, so, using a variety of data sources, we will provide more frequent, relevant and timely statistics to help us understand population trends in local areas this year and beyond. beyond,” the spokesperson added.
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