The first release of the recent 2001 census data for Westminster would seem to be so far off the mark that one could easily believe it was carried out by gaslight in 1901 rather than by a state-of-the-art computer system in 2001.
Estimates of more than 60,000 people (25% of the estimated total City population of nearer 250,000) appear to have been lost from central London and something seems to have gone seriously wrong. Westminster experienced the lowest response rates nationally to the Census and the borough has ended up with a total registered population of 181,000 barely up from that found a decade ago.
Yet for the last ten years Westminster has been recognised as Britain’s fastest growing borough by a series of surveys including those carried out by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the same organisation which carried out the census.
The electoral register has grown substantially, there are increasing numbers of people paying council tax and schools have needed to be expanded to meet local demand.
There seems to have been crucial flaws within the Census methodology and it is sad to report that many of our problems have been mirrored in other inner city areas where the ever-changing populations have similarly disappeared. This statistical muddle has an enormous impact on the support grant awarded by the Government to Westminster City Council so if we do not get it right then the key frontline services to the most vulnerable local residents will suffer.
My postbag continues to grow and in the past year the correspondence from asylum seekers has trebled. Most inner city Members of Parliament are facing similar situations and in many cases it seems that the local MP is a first port of call for people not integrated into our culture. It is up to all of us to ease these people’s fears because in a democratic society such a perceived bureaucratic measure as a census creates no threat but is a great aid in clarifying the forward needs of local populations.
Since the last census in 1991 there are large numbers of additional people living in Westminster – asylum seekers, foreign workers and British people from all over the UK. Local folk know of the changes because of the difficulties that they have with school places, hospital care and other local services.
No one is helped if individuals take it into their heads to hide from officialdom especially if they then require help from the local authorities.
During the year ahead I am hoping that further work can be done to clarify the true position within our neighbourhood so that we can be working with the appropriate support levels needed for our true population size.