Select Committee on Treasury Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 10

Supplementary memorandum by the Office for National Statistics[3]

QUESTION 12:  THE TOTAL COST OF THE CENSUS AND THE COST PER HEAD COMPARED WITH OTHER COUNTRIES

  At this stage it is not possible to provide figures for the final costs of the UK Census in 2001 or those conducted by other countries. Nevertheless, the following table provides comparative costs for the censuses conducted during 1990 and 1991.
Australia

(£)
Canada

(£)
New Zealand

(£)
United
Kingdom
(£)
USA

(£)
Census Cost (Million) 53.4 148.59.7124.0 1,586.5
GDP (Million) 154,310 331,60624,616573,340 3,483,129
Population (Million) 16.9 27.33.449.9 248.7
Per Capita Costs3.165.44 2.852.486.4
Census Cost as Per Cent of GDP (per cent) 0.0350.0450.040 0.0230.047


  Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Population Census Development and Field Organisation Section, International Cost Comparisons of Population Censuses.

    (a)  All figures are 1991 prices (as applicable), unless otherwise stated.

    (b)  All costs have been converted into pounds sterling using exchange rates at the beginning of April 1991.

    (c)  All USA figures relate to 1990, including GDP.

    (d)  Forward estimates—Census Development and Field Organisation Section, ABS.

    (e)  GDP figures are based on calendar year.

    (f)  Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product.

    (g)  Demography Section, ABS.

  The total budget for the 2001 Census in England and Wales is £207 million. At this stage we do not expect to overspend, however, final costs cannot be produced until processing has been completed and outputs published.

QUESTIONS 25-26:  THE ESTIMATED RESPONSE RATE FOR THE QUESTION ON RELIGION COMPARED WITH OTHER QUESTIONS ON THE FORM

  At this early stage in Census processing, it would be premature to make any overall assessment of response rates for the question on religion. However, preliminary results for the first three estimation areas, based on analysis of returns from 1.44 million people, indicate that we can expect the rate to be between 92 per cent and 93 per cent.

  These findings are in line with results from our programme of question testing, most notably returns to the major Census Test in 1997, which produced an overall completion rate for the religion question of 91.6 per cent.

QUESTIONS 33-35:  THE LENGTH OF THE 1991 CENSUS FORM IN TERMS OF THE NUMBER OF PAGES

  The 2001 Census England and Wales Household Forms each had 20 pages covering five persons. Each person had to complete three pages of questions. In addition, one person in the household was asked to provide basic information on the names of persons resident at the address, details of household accommodation and their relationship to other members of the household.

  For example, someone in a single person household would need to complete the first eight pages of the form.

  Whereas a page-per-person layout (questions answered by each person in turn) was used for the 2001 Census, a matrix design (answers to each question collected for all members of the household) was adopted in 1991. As a result the number of pages are not directly comparable.

  1991 Census England and Wales Household Form 12 pages in matrix layout;

  2001 Census England and Wales Household Form 20 pages in page-per-person layout.

  The 2001 Census Form included 41 questions in England and 42 in Wales (where a supplementary question on Welsh language was included). The equivalent figures for 1991 were 30 and 31 respectively.

  Questionnaire practices now place most emphasis on ensuring the coherence and understandability of questions, which can often mean using more space and avoiding the cramming of questions on a few pages.

QUESTIONS 38, 44:  AN ANALYSIS OF THE NUMBER AND SUBSTANCE OF COMPLAINTS RECEIVED

  Of the total of over 2.6 million calls received by the Census Helpline, just under 2.2 million calls were answered by an automatic response. The automatic responses were designed to deal with the most common calls—requests for information such as factsheets and answers to frequently asked questions such as "What is the Census about?" and "Is it confidential?". Additional automatic responses were added, as the Census progressed, to answer specific queries such as "How do I complete the form for my second home?".

  The remaining 470,000 calls were answered by trained advisors. The following were the main types of these calls during the period 1st April to 30th June 2001:

  Fulfilment of Requests for Information 355,656

  (including forms, fact sheets, translation materials etc.)

  Assistance Required from Field Staff 65,561

  (including help to complete the Census Form, the provision of translation or other facilities)

  Queries relating to Specific Census Questions 38,396

  (Of these, a third covered general issues such as confidentiality of the information provided. Queries relating to specific questions ranged from 3.1 per cent for the question on whether or not you were working last week to 0.4 per cent for the question on what is your sex.)

  Complaints 5,589

  (The substance of complaints included:

  concerns about field staff and field operations (including problems in foot and mouth areas);

  the effectiveness of the Census Helpline (including failing to send out forms properly);

  the lack of a "Welsh" or "English" tick box;

  the availability of facilities for blind and partially sighted people;

  non-compliance issues.

  There were very few complaints about the number of questions or the overall length of the form. Of these, most complaints related to the question on ethnicity and the inability to provide information on voluntary work.

  Further details on the nature of complaints are not available).

  Other Queries 4,806

QUESTIONS 73—76:  A NOTE ON THE JUSTIFICATION FOR THE CENSUS IN COST-BENEFIT TERMS BY MAJOR PUBLIC POLICY AREA

  Central and local government, the health service and many commercial organisations need reliable information on the numbers and characteristics of the population at local, regional and national levels to manage their businesses effectively. The public sector, in particular, needs the information to form and evaluate policy, to distribute resources effectively (around £20 billion to local authorities and £25 billion to health authorities annually), to plan and target services and to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of these services using measures such as performance indicators. On this basis alone the Census cost less than one twentieth of one per cent of the total amount allocated over a ten year period on the evidence it provides.

  Information from the Census will meet a wide range of needs and is central to the measurement of the Government's progress towards meeting its objectives including those relating to social exclusion, health inequalities and racial discrimination. More specifically, information from the Census is used in conjunction with other data to develop indicators against which resources can be targeted and performance measured. For example, analyses of responses to the question on long-term illness will provide essential insight for the planning and provision of local health and social services. Similarly, analyses of questions on qualifications and employment status will provide training agencies with benchmarks to properly audit skills and employment levels in different localities.

  The information collected from the Census is fundamental to national planning as it provides the only nation-wide source of data relating to the numbers and characteristics of the population which is consistent for small areas.

  The need for information about population and housing from a decennial census has been emphasised by users from all census customer sectors. For the vast majority of cases the Census is seen as the only reliable source of data. Alternatives such as general indicators from central government, administrative sources, local authorities, or modelled down information from national surveys, do not currently provide the required levels of accuracy, detail or the geographic resolution necessary. One of the significant benefits provided by the Population Census is the reduced risk of poor decisions as a direct consequence of not knowing the population characteristics of any area, or of not having the capacity that the census provides for validating the quality of surveys and other forms of information.

  We have not provided a simple cost benefit analysis for a Census. There is a large amount of public sector activity that is allocated to regions or smaller areas, the amount of which is benchmarked against the census and later population estimates. We know that the allocation of resource grants becomes progressively less exact in the intercensal period. Confidence in the resource allocation process would progressively diminish in line with the age of the data if censuses were not conducted periodically, to refresh our knowledge about the population and its structure, and provide an up to date base for continuing to estimate change.

QUESTION 92:  INFORMATION ON THE ESTIMATED RESPONSE RATE IN THE TEN WORST RESPONDING AREAS WITH THE LOWEST POSTAL RESPONSE RATES

  It is not possible to provide estimates of response by area until the final census results are available. Areas where postal response rates were low usually necessitated additional follow up in the field later.

  The following list of areas shows where the postal response rates were lowest. These figures need to be treated with extreme caution and cannot be taken as a measure of the success of the Census in these areas, because more forms were obtained by action in the field. The figures were:
Wolverhampton74%
Camden73%
Leicestershire East73%
Haringey73%
Kensington and Chelsea (South)72%
Tower Hamlets/Hackney (South)70%
City/Westminster (South)68%
Islington/Hackney (North)67%
Kensington and Chelsea (North)64%
Westminster (North)53%


  These figures represent the number of forms returned via the Post Office during the enumeration period as a percentage of the previously estimated number of households in each area. The figures are consistent with a postal response rate of 88 per cent across England and Wales. They take no account of forms collected by enumerators during the follow-up period or forms returned to the Census Office by post after the enumeration period. Areas with lower response rates were the subject of more intensive and longer follow-up than those areas with very high response rates. The percentages do not allow for vacant properties or second homes which are likely to be particularly numerous in Central London. Also note that all areas, with the exception of Westminster North, exceeded the most optimistic target postal response rates of 60 per cent in London and 70 per cent elsewhere.

  The area of Westminster North stretches from St John's Wood in the north to Mayfair and Knightsbridge in the south and to Bayswater and Paddington in the north west. Much of the area comprises purpose-built flats or flats in conversions of larger houses mixed with hotels, shops and other commercial premises. Accordingly, it is particularly difficult to estimate the number of residential household spaces in such areas, and the denominator used in calculating the percentage postal response is most likely to be inflated. In addition, the population is cosmopolitan and typified by short term residence. In these circumstances a high proportion of household spaces are likely to be either vacant, between lets, under improvement or pied-a-terres. The combined effect is an exaggerated non-response rate. The area is not unique in this respect, other areas of Inner London listed above are similar, but the effect is probably more marked in Westminster North than in any of the other areas.

November 2001


3   Memorandum supplements oral evidence given by the National Statistician on Wednesday 24 October 2001. See Ev 12. Back


 
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