Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


21 FEBRUARY 2007

  Q60  Mr Todd: Yes.

  Ms Dunnell: Yes.

  Mr Todd: We may wish to test that.

  Q61  Mr Newmark: My question is less concerned with migration, which may be the movement of people within the country. It is to do with immigration. There are, allegedly, over a million people floating around this country and we do not know who they are, what they are, where they are. It is a problem that has clearly been exacerbated over the last 10 years. How do you propose dealing with that and identifying those people and understanding the real size of particularly the illegal immigration problem that we have in this country?

  Ms Dunnell: On illegal, it is very, very difficult. We cannot ask on the census form, having identified that you might be a migrant, whether you are illegal or not. We cannot do that. But we are changing the whole basis of the census, to ask about people who are usually resident at every address and those who are there just on census night, asking people when they arrive in the country and where they have come from and so on. That, we hope, will help to give us a snap-shot of who is here at any one time. Indeed, the interest in migrants has led us to think about different definitions of who is resident, because the United Nations' definition that we traditionally use means that somebody has either to have been here for 12 months or to be planning to be here for 12 months, and we know that people, particularly from countries close to us, may be commuting/going back and forth or coming for short periods of time. We have questions both on the census and on our large surveys which are attempting to measure this. In fact, we have just published some findings from the labour-force survey about the numbers of people from other countries who are in the labour market at the moment.

  Q62  Mr Newmark: By definition, as you have quite rightly said, it is difficult to identify these numbers, yet compared to 10 or 20 years ago, when the number was probably far less significant, they seem to be far more significant now and clearly no illegal immigrant is going to fill in a form to say, "Yes, I'm here," for the concerns to which Sally and I alluded with our experience in Southwark 15 years ago. I am just a bit curious. Is there another way of approaching this problem? Because it is a concern amongst the public out there. They want to know what the numbers are.

  Ms Dunnell: Yes, we are attempting in the census to count absolutely everybody who is here. We have explained, I hope, today all the efforts we are going to go to in order to do that. We will use other information that local authorities have to quality assure and to check against that. The evidence we have from our labour-force survey, indeed, is that people are not happy to answer the door to a labour-force survey interviewer and submit to a very lengthy interview about their labour-market and other kinds of experiences. Obviously there will be a problem with people who are illegal but I think we also know that quite a lot of illegal migrants have been here a very long time and it may be that they are already responding to our surveys and may well respond to the census.

  Mr Newmark: Thank you.

  Q63  Mr Todd: You have toyed with having income questions before and in 2001 it was decided not to have that. You have put income questions in the test questionnaire which we have. Why have you changed your mind?

  Ms Dunnell: There is intense interest in having an income question from all over government, local government, other users—mainly, of course, for being able to classify people by their income and to identify particularly poorer groups in the population. Because it was felt last time that this was unacceptable—as Ian explained, one of the key research questions in our test is to see whether or not it has an impact on response—if it has an impact on response then we will have to think about it very, very carefully because our priority is to get a high response.

  Q64  Mr Todd: Where do you set your market on that impact on the response? One can imagine that there will be some people who will decline either to answer those questions or the whole questionnaire.

  Ms Dunnell: They might do. We have an open mind about that.

  Q65  Mr Todd: Where do you set your measurements?

  Ms Dunnell: Frankly, if it has any significant impact on response, we will think very carefully about including it, particularly since there is incredible pressure on the form. As you have already pointed out, the form is quite complicated and we do not really want to make it any more complicated.

  Q66  Mr Todd: To clarify that, you aim for a 95% response, do you not? If this dropped below, say, 90% or—

  Ms Dunnell: I do not think we would want to go that low.

  Q67  Mr Todd: That is very clear. Thank you. We have had a discussion about the Jedi faith. Identity and ethnicity are also areas of controversy in which there has been a significant amount of lobbying. How are you intending to address this in 2011? I should mention that I have a significant Sikh minority in my own constituency and they have strong views on their recognition as a separate group.

  Ms Dunnell: We are, of course, receiving letters and are deeply involved already in consultation with many ethnic minority groups and their representatives, including the Sikhs. Ian, do you want to say something about how we will have to make some final decisions at some point?

  Mr Cope: We launched a formal consultation around topics for the 2011 census in May 2005, around what topics people wanted in the census, and we published our response to that in March 2006. In the test, we are testing a national identity question that allows people to say they are English, Welsh, Scottish or other, as well as the ethnic minority question. It is largely the same as the 2001 question, although it does add a couple of extra tick boxes for gypsies, Irish travellers and Arabs. We are also at the moment carrying out a consultation on ethnicity, identity and religion, largely geared to users, around what kind of information they want and asking whether it should be a multiple tick box, so they could tick more than one tick box. In terms of the religion question, the Sikh religion, the issue—and I have certainly seen conflicting views from the Sikh community on this—is whether Sikhs are an ethnic minority as well and that is unresolved. There is an issue around consistency of views in the communities and then how much space is available. If there are large numbers in a community, it makes sense to have a tick box; otherwise there will be a writing box that says "Other" and people can write in that space.

  Q68  Mr Todd: I do not think your formula, as defined in these questions, will satisfy the Sikh representatives I know of. It confines the question to an aspect of religion—and it is voluntary, incidentally, in your questionnaire.

  Ms Dunnell: That is why the results of the consultation and the results of more extensive discussions with communities... That is not the final version. Because we have launched the consultation, we need to wait until that comes in. This is another area where it is very difficult. We ask the questions, but it is how they are presented when you analyse them. We have done a whole report, which we have published, called Focus on Ethnicity and Religion, which uses those variables in combination and produces a very long list of different groups. It is really, really interesting. You could not put that on a form but you can create it. That is the thing which is quite complicated to get across to groups sometimes.

  Q69  Mr Todd: When does that consultation close?

  Mr Cope: It closes at the end of March.

  Q70  Mr Todd: You then have a section on language. Has there been a demand for that particular element in the questionnaire?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes, indeed; anything that gets on to the questionnaire is in great demand. This is from several points of view, of course. The Welsh, for example, are very keen to understand how many people in Wales speak Welsh, but of course we are also very interested in the number of people coming into the country who do or do not speak English. There are many different reasons for being interested in that.

  Q71  Mr Todd: That is presumably the reason for the particular phrasing of this question, which does not merely ask what is their normal language, the one they speak at home, but actually invites them to list other languages with which they are familiar?

  Ms Dunnell: Exactly.

  Q72  Mr Love: One of the major problems in the last census was a robust national address register. Do you feel more confident that you will have that this time? Do you have the power that will make that available to you?

  Ms Dunnell: We are working on the basis that in 2011 there will not be a single address register. At the moment there are two main parties that produce address registers. The Government has worked hard to bring that together into a single address register. To date, that has not worked, and so the approach we are using, which we are trying out of course in the test, is to take one of them and to check it against the other and to amplify it with data from local authorities and from walking the streets. Effectively, we are having to produce one for ourselves, but of course that is not the same as having a long-term, sustainable address register. We are having to do it for the 2011 census.

  Q73  Mr Love: You talked about the five census test areas. It says in the documentation with which we were provided that information from that address checking has been analysed and results will be known in January. What are the results?

  Mr Cope: We have checked the detail. We are about one month behind what we were anticipating on that because we had to focus on preparing for the test. We checked 100,000 households. On the ground, we identified an additional 9,000, most of which were in Camden and most of which were multiple occupancy, so the address was on the other list but the building had been converted into flats and those four flats were not on the list.

  Q74  Mr Love: Taking all of what you have said now, in the material that has been circulated you are suggesting that you will use a number of different ways to get responses to the census form. It talks about doorstep collection, postbag, telephone, Internet and enumerators. Taking into account what you have said about registering addresses, are you going to be using more enumerators or fewer enumerators?

  Ms Dunnell: We are going to be using fewer enumerators because we are anticipating, and this of course is a question for the test, that in many areas post-out will be very effective and that we will therefore be concentrating the enumerators in the hard-to-count areas. We are also trying to recruit a rather different kind of enumerator, to have more highly skilled ones and to make more effort to get enumerators who match the communities that they will be enumerating than we did last time. We are hoping that by recruiting rather fewer of them that will be more successful and we will have quality rather than quantity and they will be very focused in those hard-to-count areas, and of course then focusing on non-response to the postal approach.

  Q75  Mr Love: Does that mean then that there will be more enumerators per person to be enumerated in the hard-to-reach areas than there were in 2001?

  Ms Dunnell: I think that is highly likely, yes.

  Q76  Mr Love: I hope that some members of staff in ONS are looking at the experience of electoral registration which is pertinent here. You mentioned earlier about people generally being quite happy to answer questions on the doorstep. I can assure you that is not the case in many of the hard-to-reach areas in my constituency, and I am sure others are in a similar position. It will be a difficult process. Yes, you are absolutely right to concentrate on people who reflect the community and who know the community, but are you sure that they will have the relevant skills to be able to do this job effectively?

  Mr Cope: Our current plan is not to have 71,000 enumerators as we had in 2001 but more like 45,000 to 50,000 but focusing on the follow-up activity. We will employ fewer people but for longer and target this just on the follow-up activity. We are also looking to pay them more. We had big problems with turnover, particularly in inner city areas. We recruited people, trained them and they started the job but did not like it and left. That turnover is very disruptive to the follow-up. We are also testing this approach of using outsourced agencies to recruit because we have great difficulty recruiting, particularly in inner city areas. Agencies have staff across the country and they use them for their core business, whereas recruiting a very large, temporary field force once every 10 years is not really part of their ongoing business. That is part of what we are trying to do. The aim is to look for better skilled people and to have them for a longer period so that they can be more effectively trained and focused on the follow-up activity. Essentially, that is the approach that we are testing in the 2007 test. We will then be evaluating whether that works in practice.

  Q77  Mr Love: Interestingly, people who are prepared to do electoral registration in the leafy, middle class areas do not seem as prepared to do it in other areas that are more hard to reach. This issue will come back at you. At the last census, 2% of people did not fill out any form. My understanding is that there were 86 cases referred to the Solicitor's Office. Do you know how many successful prosecutions arose from that?

  Ms Dunnell: They were all successful.

  Q78  Mr Love: They were all prosecuted?

  Ms Dunnell: Yes.

  Q79  Mr Love: That is something because they never prosecute anyone for electoral registration failure. I have asked this question numerous times. You are doing better than they are but are you doing well enough because 2% of the population is considerably greater than 86? Do you think it is time for us to be a little more robust with those who do not perform what is a legal duty for them?

  Ms Dunnell: Of course, prosecution is the last resort and is very resource intensive. One of the reasons why so few cases were brought last time was because we did have difficulties in the managing of information and so we were not quick enough in some cases to establish where somebody had absolutely refused to fill in a form. All our management information systems that we are setting up this time will make that much easier. Also, of course, last time we had the foot-and-mouth epidemic and all kinds of things, which made it quite complicated at the last minute. This is not a priority at the moment but we will be producing a strategy for dealing with wilful non-response. At the end of the day, yes, that will include prosecutions.

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