Last weekend the best estimate from the ONS said that 240,000 people lived in Newham, yesterday the census told us there are 308,000. That’s an increase overnight approximately the size of Maldon, or Corby, or North Devon. That’s a whole lot of people. A whole lot of people with a whole lot of requirements – education, health care, policing – to name but a few.
Every 10 years the population is pinned down by the census. Naturally some areas are more difficult to count than others and not everyone in every house always responds; places like inner London notoriously so. The ONS then use a cohort method to move the population on each year. Clearly something went wrong with that methodology, the result of which will have affected our community. This isn’t just a counting game, local authority grant settlements are based on these numbers – the funding we have to provide services for our residents.
When the ONS published their census population estimates yesterday for March 2011 showing Tower Hamlets and Newham with the largest percentage increase in population it did not come as a surprise. We know and see the growth every day through the pressure on our services. Too many kids end up being educated in portacabins and our doctors surgery waiting areas are heaving, as well as the inevitable impacts on living standards, well being and community cohesion.
What is surprising is what the ONS said just last year:
In the period 2001-2010 the “largest decreases in local authority population in England and Wales were between 3 and 5 per cent and occurred in four local authorities (Brent, Burnley, Newham and Sefton)”.
This is pretty scandalous. Population figures are important – funding is based on these numbers – in Newham they were 28% out.
The local authority has complained to the ONS on this point for years, providing data on GP registrations and bulging school rolls as evidence. This was sufficient when Labour were in power as there were additional funding sources allocated to inner Cities. Under the coalition it is a different story, budgets have been slashed meaning that if we take a London Councils estimate of £600 a person these population figures cost Newham families £40m this year alone.
We welcome the new census data and hope it brings with it the funding our communities require and deserve. We also hope this is a sign of better data gathering in the future.
This isn’t just a counting game. This is about resources, services and community cohesion. Our community needs to be confident the ONS are getting it right.
David Christie and Ellie Robinson are Labour Councillors in the London Borough of Newham