Memorandum from David Coleman, Professor
of Demography at Oxford University
"No gentleman who has sat any time in this
House can be insensible of the utility of the law proposed; for
seldom a session passes over but something happens in which it
would be of singular advantage to the public and a great satisfaction
to ourselves to have upon our table such authentic accounts as
are proposed by this Bill to be laid yearly before parliament"
Thos. Potter MP, proposing the bill to create
a population register (An Act for Taking and Registering an Annual
Account of the People . . . Geo III 1753).
All aspects of population statistics in the
United Kingdom are in an unsatisfactory state. Even the base population
remains uncertain. Despite every effort, the last two censuses
have turned out to be unsatisfactory. Even the 2001 census, designed
to be infallible, has had to be revised twice and its incompatibilities
with other sources patched up with statistical Polyfilla. With
present systems the degree of error is unknowable but possibly
large. Inappropriate questions are asked, and necessary ones ignored.
Immigration flow statistics are estimated on small voluntary samples
of intended immigration and emigration, of incomplete coverage
and high sampling error. Immigrants' destinations around the country
are based initially on their stated intentions on arrival, naturally
subject to revision. With these systems we cannot know who is
in the country, legally or illegally, when they arrived, where
they are or if and when they left. The number of illegal immigrants
is anyone's guess although the government has given an estimate
of about half a million. Internal migration and local population
estimates are based on obsolete and often wrong census counts,
sample surveys inadequate for local authority use and indirect
and partial estimates from changes in doctors' registrations.
Current huge migration flows quickly render estimates out of date.
While energetic attempts are made by ONS to
rectify these acknowledged deficiencies, it is now clear that
all these systems, never very effective, are now so unreliable
that they have reached the end of the road of any effective radical
improvement. The current system is beyond effective reform; investment
in them has been inadequate. Only a comprehensive population register,
possibly on the Scandinavian pattern, can restore accuracy and
timeliness to population statistics at local and national level,
and also tell us who has entered the country, where they are and
when, or if, they leave it. Such a comprehensive register is not
on offer: the "national identity register" of adults
proposed for the identity cards is not the same thing
We have given ourselves a pervasive and expensive
welfare state without the means to evaluate the condition, the
needs or even the numbers of the population whose welfare is to
be safeguarded and whose entitlements and security are to be protected.
That is not a good way to enter the 21st century.
This note considers the current state of UK
population statistics: their accuracy and their fitness or otherwise
to serve public policy aims, what the aims should be in population-related
matters. It makes some suggestions for short term improvements
to existing statistical sources. But essentially it concludes
that those systems (census, vital registration and surveys) are
close to the limit of improvement and that a radical replacement
is needed in the form of a population register.
Few aspects of UK population statistics are
in a completely satisfactory state, whether relating to the numbers
and condition of the people, at national or local level, the volume
and purpose of movement of foreigners into, around and out of
the country and their current numbers and distribution, lawful
and otherwise, the pattern of fertility or the projection of population
or its components. Some are so poor as to be barely usable.
In the interests of brevity, this submission
will proceed directly to the case for a population register and
some of the objections to it. It will be assumed that the controversies
over the 1991 and 2001 censuses, the severe problems afflicting
internal and international migration data, the consequent great
uncertainty and disputes over local authority population size,
are generally accepted as difficulties needing solution. The these
problems and recent official responses to them are considered
in some detail in an appendix to this note, which also comments
on recent official responses and adds some other proposals for
short-term improvement. For these that need no persuasion that
"something must be done", all that can be ignored.
A CONTINUOUS POPULATION
Short-term improvements aside, this submission
proposes that existing systems should be brought together and
connected with, or replaced by, a compulsory continuous population
register for all UK citizens and non-UK citizen residents incorporating
a unique person-number (PN). Such a system could be on lines long
familiar in some Scandinavian countries, in Belgium, Israel and
others (NCHS 1980) and in a less developed form in Austria, Finland,
France, Iceland, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and elsewhere
(see Salt et al. 1994). A register would be a fuller development
of some of the ideas put forward in the Integrated Population
Statistics System (ONS 2003), most of the ambitious elements of
which seem to have been dropped. However the first serious proposal
for a modern register in the UK in recent times was made by Redfern
(1990). The person-number would be assigned at birth to each child,
or to each person naturalised or accepted for long-term residence,
and would be unchangeable. It would be used as a unique identifier
on all other records; NHS, DVLC, welfare payments and pensions
and national insurance. A number of ways could be imagined of
developing such a system (Birch 2007).
In most countries registers are kept by each
local authority (counties, in Sweden) and centralised electronically
in the national statistical office, the central records being
updated regularly, often weekly. Usually there is a separate register
for aliens (non-citizens). In the UK case, given present problems,
that would be one of the most valuable innovations. However in
Belgium there is one National Register including all Belgians
and resident foreigners, together with Belgians living abroad.
An extract from the register relating to foreigners only (for
whom additional information is kept) constitutes a National Register
of Aliens and Residence Permits. In the Netherlands the 489 municipalities
are responsible for maintaining local registers of Dutch citizens
and (separately) non-Dutch citizens. There is no central register
as such, but a "virtual" register whereby all the municipal
registers are linked by a secure electronic postbox maintained
by the Ministry of the Interior. That linkage enables national
totals to be derived regularly (Salt et al 1994; Poulain et al
Originally the registers were entirely local,
in the case of Sweden dating from the 18th century. Centralisation
only became possible in the 1960s with the development of electronic
computers. Once that was possible, a huge advance was made in
the maintenance of timely and accurate national demographic information
for every kind of public policy need, also permitting considerable
advances in epidemiological and demographic research.
A person number (PN) is typically a ten-digit
or longer number indicating the date of birth and sex of the individual,
a unique individual number and a check digit or digits that ensure
that the PN has not developed an error. Thus in Sweden the PN
450410-1488 indicates a woman born on 10 April 1945 with the individual
number 148 and check digit 8. All administrative records relating
to that individual would have to bear the PN.
Even in the UK some elements of this system
are already in place. There is already a universal person identifier.
All births in the UK (and legal immigrants) have had a birth number
assigned to them through the NHS system which tracks all their
medical records and follows them as they move house around the
country through the computerised NHS Central Register at Southport
(Hornsey 1993). In the absence of much other data, it is one of
the chief sources of information on internal migration, albeit
an unsatisfactory one for obvious reasons. It is not, however,
used outside the NHS. The Central Register can only give information
on moves between the 100 (former) Health Authorities, and only
when patients choose to (re)register. That can involve considerable
However, each such authority holds a register
of patients with local GPs. That Patient Register includes the
NHS number, sex, date of birth and postcode for each patient.
With these, the Office for National Statistics can create a register
for the whole of England and Wales. Linking records using the
unique NHS number, persons who change their postcode from one
year to another can be identified, enabling much more detailed,
if still incomplete and untimely internal migration estimates
to be made for small geographical areas (Chappell, Vickers and
Evans 2000; ONS 2003). The National Insurance number is a near-universal
number increasingly used as a general identifier for persons over
age 16, for tax and other purposes, well beyond the scope of its
original intended function.
An opportunity thrown away
There are two previous examples of a compulsory
registration in the UK, each accompanied by the issue of identity
cards. Both were provoked by wartime emerge cy. The first (1915-1919),
relating to the adult population only, was introduced amidst controversy
about conscription in order to establish the number of men available
to join the armed forces. That having been established (1,413,900)
official and public interest in both card and register waned there
were no incentives for keeping or using itand the system
was put to sleep in 1919. A later proposal for a population register
by the then Registrar-General, Sir Bernard Mallet (1929) was based
upon much broader arguments, some demographic others related to
the protection of individual entitlement. But it fell on deaf
government ears. The next, much more successful emergency scheme
arose from the establishment of the National Register in September
1939, which had been in preparation since 1938 in the anticipation
of war. That involved both a register and a simple identity card
containing a few basic details including the unique identity code
(eg ASEO3 followed by the surname). That work, using 65,000 enumerators
to distribute and collect 12 million household schedules, was
followed by the issue of identity cards to all individuals (47
million), except sailors and servicemen, from the Central National
Registration Office near Southport. All that was completed between
5 September and 29 1939 (Registrars-Generals, 1939). Information
collected was modest: name and address, sex, date of birth, marital
condition and occupation. The unique birth number associated with
the Register became, with modification, the NHS number mentioned
above. This system worked quite well, not the least because the
1930s Registrar-General Sylvanus Vivian built into it an incentive
of what he called "parasitic vitality". Possession of
the ID card was linked with entitlement to the then rationed food
supplies: no ID card, no rations (Agar (no date)). National Registration
continued after the war without much controversy except for the
use of the cards by the police, and some concern about "function
creep" and only ended in 1952 following a change of government
(food rationing did not end until 1954).
An opportunity missed
However, had far-sighted proposals made in parliament
in 1753 come to fruition, Britain would have had a population
registration system for the last two and a half centuries, which,
if developed in the way that other similar schemes were in other
countries, would have given us a far superior system for managing
population, health and welfare data than we currently enjoy. The
18th century was a time of great population controversy. In the
absence of a census or an understanding of the way in which the
parish registers could usefully be analysed, there was great uncertainly
between learned as well as ordinary people as to the size of the
population, and whether it was increasing (as it was) or declining
(Glass 1973). A number of remedies were proposed, of which Thomas
Potter's was the most sensible. A annual local count of population,
and a record of all marriages, births and deaths was to be taken
on a secular, not a religious basis. The results would be centralized,
providing annual local and national totals of population and vital
events a very suitable prototype for what is proposed here
and similar to schemes initiated around the same time in Sweden
and elsewhere. Despite some opposition on religious and libertarian
grounds, the Bill passed in the Commons by 57-17. But in its Second
Reading in the Lords, it was referred to a Committee of the Lords
for a date outside the session. Accordingly it lapsed and was
not revived in the next session. As a result England and Wales
had to wait for a second-best system: until 1837 for the civil
registration of vital events; a satisfactory census on modern
lines (based on households) was not taken until 1841.
The new proposal
Apart from the PN linking all administrative
records, the major innovation would be to create a register of
all residents including the PIN and listing basic individual data:
name, address of principal residence; citizenship, date and place
of birth, marital status, age and sex. Following overseas practice,
the obvious location and responsibility for maintenance would
be with the local authorities. But it could be run centrally like
the proposed National Identity Register for the Identity Card.
It would be linked through the PN to administrative datasets such
as the NHS Central Register, the National Insurance register,
local authority rating lists and, where persons were eligible,
the register of electors. Or it could replace some of those, for
example the last-named. The person-number would be the passport
for access to education, to NHS services, to the welfare system
and to pensions. The register would not need to be associated
with an ID card but it would be more useful if it were.. But with
an ID card it would also be more difficult to introduce, given
the reservations about that proposal on civil liberties, cost
and other grounds (Enterprise Privacy Group 2005). A separate
register sub-register would be needed for non-naturalised foreigners,
linked to e-borders and the Home Office, containing additional
information concerning immigration status. Some countries with
PN systems such as Sweden have two or three stages of PN related
to immigration status, showing the entitlement of the bearer to
limited or full welfare and health care rights. In order to provide
timely and complete national data, the information on the local
registers would need either to be submitted regularly to a central
register or connected with all the others in a decentralised network
similar to that operating in the Netherlands. For information,
the kinds of data kept in the Belgian municipal registers are
listed in Appendix 2.
It should be noted that this register would
be different from the National Identity Register proposed in conjunction
with the Identity Card. The latter register would only exist to
support the Identity Card, containing, it would seem, minimal
information but capable of being linked to other administrative
registers. Its multiple aims appear to be primarily to minimise
crime, welfare and identity fraud, illegal immigration and the
risk of terrorism. Accordingly only those aged over 16 would be
included. It would have no demographic function and could not
replace any existing demographic systems. The register proposed
here is the basis a complete population system for public policy
ends, which should be valuable in improving security, especially
in respect of immigration, but is not created to that end. And
it would not require an ID card. Some countries with population
registers do not have ID cards. The Swedish ID card was only introduced
in 2005 and is not compulsory. The ID cards in Austria, Finland,
France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden are
likewise voluntary. Denmark, although maintaining a population
register with a person number, has no ID card at all.
The next section considers the advantages and
notes some of the objections to national registration. A very
useful and more complete review or these issues can be found elsewhere
Already, in order to survive at an ordinary
standard of living in a welfare state such as the UK, entitlement
to services depends on being listed in one register or document
or another, at the moment each operating under a different system
with a different form of identification.
The PN would not of itself confer any additional
privileges, but would facilitate access to them and ensure that
only the person entitled to them could make use of them. It would
not itself contain confidential information. But through linkage
it would ensure identification of each individual without confusion,
on all existing administrative databases (NHS, National Insurance,
electoral register etc). In broad terms, it would ensure that
the person was certified as being known to the British State and
was entitled to some or all of its services.
However parallel changes would be needed to
tighten up the requirement to show entitlement to use local government
and NHS services, which currently is very uneven or not required
The PN would require, to generate population
statistics, the development of local authority address databases
with more information than the PN (for example name, address,
age, sex, marital status and citizenship), to which the PN would
That would generate highly accurate national
and local population data capable of being updated by linkage
as frequently as necessary, providing true "one number"
Its use would require residents to register
on moving permanently to a new LA and de-register from the old
one. That would only make more systematic the current system for
recording responsibility for local taxation.
Such regular national updates would replace
the annual local and national mid-year population estimates obtained
by rolling forward the data from the last census with subsequent
births, deaths and migration.
It would give much better information on local
migration and local population change than the present system,
which relies on a rather ramshackle combination of sources, principally
changes in NHS registration.
Because of their responsibilities for delivering
education, LA housing, planning decisions and social services,
local authorities are the most important consumers of population
information and claimants on Treasury funding. At present many
are badly served through the recent uncertainties of the census
and the unprecedented pace of immigration, with which conventional
local population statistics data sources cannot keep up.
Naturalised immigrants, or those granted indefinite
leave to remain, would acquire a PN on the same or similar basis
as others. A separate register or sub-section would be required
for shorter term immigrants (those given leave to enter for more
than three months). The PN would be recorded on the departure
and arrival of international migrants.
By providing a secure basis for enumeration.,
the PN would ensure a much higher accuracy of population censuses,
and would serve as a check on their accuracy, were any censuses
to continue. Eventually, however, "censuses" would be
entirely register-based, as in Sweden, and the sooner the better.
By comparison with data held in each local authority,
the PN would eliminate duplication and error from the electoral
register, which is known to omit many individuals and to include
many who are not entitled to be on it. At present, the electoral
register relies too much on unsupported statements on the annual
canvass forms by the household reference person and those who
are in charge of institutions, and for various reasons is far
A PN would be essential for the introduction
of a compulsory, universal Identity Card (the only kind worth
the effort of setting up) if it were decided to introduce it,
although the card (which could be duplicated or faked, unlike
the entries on the register), would require biometric data. Although
an identity card requires a register, at least of a simple kind,
a PN system does not require an identity card although the two
tend to go together.
The PN would minimise or eliminate fraudulent
use or duplication of National Health numbers or National Insurance
numbers (The PN might replace the simple NHS number). It would,
for example, detect and reduce "health tourism" as long
as its use was enforced by NHS management.
The Population Register would record and establish
each person's legal marital status. When a person's marital status
changes because of marriage/remarriage or divorce, the new marital
status cannot easily be linked into any existing database because
the person's date of birth is not recorded either on the "marriage
entry" made at the time of marriage or the divorce form (date
of birth in conjunction with full name is the most common identifier
used to link demographic and administrative records). Their absence
prevents marriage and divorce events being linked into the ONS
Because a number of benefits (and pensions)
are dependant on legal marital status, a database providing up-to-date
information would be invaluable.
"Living arrangements" are now diverse
ie married and living together, married and living apart, co-residential
cohabitation, living alone (without a partner)and living
apart together. These include some groups of individuals, some
of them highly mobile or living in more than one household, who
are especially prone to change households. That creates particular
difficulties in making timely and accurate estimates of local
population estimates. Accurate knowledge would also help to minimise
benefit fraud by persons cohabiting or living apart together and
sharing bills but claiming single parent status, and facilitate
the collection of "rates".
Furthermore, a Population Register containing
the legal marital status of each member of the population would
confirm the declared marital status when individuals marry. The
Superintendent Registrar may require evidence of divorce but it
seems in many instances takes the person's word. It would also
help to minimise repeated "sham marriages" entered into
to facilitate immigration.
Many individuals have legitimate residency status
in more than one place. A Population Register that recorded secondary
residences in addition to the principal residence would facilitate
alternative definitions of "population"increasingly
needed to reflect reality.
In the medium and long term the financial benefits
would be considerable. A census might no longer be needed and
possibly eventually some other large databases. The Netherlands
held its last census in 1971 and relies on the population registers
and surveys. In Sweden, where the last census was held in 1990,
all "censuses" starting with the 2005 census will be
based entirely on population registers (Bruhn 2001).
Clearly whatever the eventual savings, the initial
costs of a Population Register and the linkage of person-numbers
with all administrative data would be substantial.
Recent public-sector IT problemsthe NHS
computerisation, the Registrars' computerisation, difficulties
with on-line tax forms, have weakened confidence in the ability
of UK Government agencies to complete major IT projects.
Even more, public confidence in security is
currently low following the way that HM Revenue and Customs, DVLA
and other bodies have treated confidential data.
But it should be noted that these problems did
not arise from a lapse in security in the actual computer systems,
but from undisciplined negligence in administrative procedures
for transferring confidential data from one official body to another;
involving physical, not electronic data. Progress will depend
on the rebuilding of confidence in official competence to repair
error and avoid it in future, through a more successful track
record in IT related projects.
However secure systems on a huge scale can be
made to work. We take for granted that our credit card and PIN
number would deliver money from ATMs or purchase goods in almost
any country in the world in a few seconds, with several billion
such transactions every year worldwide. In commercial systems
there is and incentive for individuals to monitor the status of
their account and generally cooperate with the requirements of
the system. Public systems need an analogous incentive.
Furthermore we already rely on several huge
computerised national datasets (eg for National Insurance), which
work well, do not give rise to privacy problems and some of which
already give each of us a unique identifier. Taken together they
are more than three-quarters of the way to a national register.
Privacy issues are very important and provoke
much opposition (Rose 1999, Watner and McElroy 2003). Even without
a population register or PN, proposed systems raise problems.
For example, the data to be collected through the current e-borders
initiative would, at least in theory, enable the government and
the security services to build up and possibly retain indefinitely
all information on international movement by UK travellers; when,
where to and for how long. Helpful to the security services, possibly
alarming for the rest of us.
We should remind ourselves, however, that systems
similar to that proposed have been introduced successfully, and
have worked well for decades, in a number of European countries
that consider their arrrangements to be the highest manifestation
of human rights and freedom, and which certainly show no signs
of obvious oppression, or of breach of privacy scandals. However,
foreign systems cannot be imported piecemealthe UK may
not yet be prepared for all the benevolent bureaucratic intrusions
of Scandinavian state feminism. And the largest of the countries
discussed herethe Netherlandshas 16 million people
compared with the UK's 60 million.
In the short run it is important to implement
the improvements to the existing systems proposed by ONS, some
of which are noted the Appendix 1. Other improvements are also
suggested. But the systems on which these are based are obsolete
and reaching the limit of improvement. Some, such as the IPS,
were designed for other purposes and have been press-ganged into
functions for which they were always ill-suited; with their inadequacy
sharply revealed under modern pressures. Others, like the Census
and mid-year estimates, may no longer be "fit for purpose".
More generally, appropriate new systems for
determining the number and condition of the people, especially
in respect of local authority needs and knowledge of internal
migration, have never been developed at all. With the continuous
raft of legislation and policy initiatives being implemented,
with considerable thought, time and expense going into their formulation,
it is regrettable that they cannot be properly evaluated through
lack of reliable basic population data. That is what the population
register and the person number would provide. The investmentand
political will to make that investmenthas been lacking.
Thanks to their obsolescence, some of the fog
of the 18th century population controversy is descending again
on 21st century Britain to cloud our knowledge of our population
and immigration. In the longer run it is essential to set aside
demographic tinkering and ingenious but inadequate estimation
and take the opportunity offered by modern IT to restore the opportunity
lost in two centuries ago. Otherwise we will deserve once again
the pity for our inadequate statistics recorded early in the 19th
century by the distinguished Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet:
"Lately at the [British Association] meetings
at Cambridge . . . . . .. I heard from several distinguished persons
that there was a general complain to the imperfection of elementary
population documents in this country . . . It is indeed a subject
of wonder to every intelligent stranger, that in a country so
intelligent as England, with so many illustrious persons occupied
in statistical enquiries, and where the state of the population
is the constant subject of public interest, that the very basis
on which all good legislation must be grounded had never been
prepared; foreigners can hardly believe that such a state of things
could exist in a country so wealthy, wise and great. (Adolphe
Quetelet, cited in the Report of the Fourth Meeting of the British
Association, London 1835, xxxix, in Glass (1973) p127.)
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Simpson, L. (2007). "Fixing the population:
from census to population estimate." Environment and Planning
A 39(5): 1045-1057.
Smith, L. and A. Sharfman (2007). "Assessing
the feasibility of making short-term migration estimates."
Population Trends(127): 21-29.
Watner, C. and W. McElroy, Eds. (2003). National
Identification Systems: Essays in Opposition, McFarland.
Woodbridge, J. (2005). Sizing the Illegal Immigrant
Population in the UK. Home Office Online Report 29 / 05. London,
SOME COMMENTS ON CURRENT UK SOURCES OF POPULATION
AND MIGRATION DATA
The UK has not has a satisfactory census since
1981. Censuses totals are compared with the annual population
estimates for the same year derived from the updating of the previous
census by the intervening total of birth and deaths and net migration.
In theory the two totals should agree when the census total (usually
April) is adjusted to fit the population estimate (usually mid-year).
It is, however, a moot point to decide which of the two should
be regarded as the benchmark, and neither will be exactly accurate.
Both the censuses of 1991 and 2001 deviated considerably from
the corresponding population estimate and, despite every effort,
each has turned out to be in error, or at least remain controversial.
In 1991 the estimates rolled forward from 1981 were preferred
(erroneously) over the census. In 2001, the census was preferred
(only partly erroneously) over the estimates rolled forwards from
The census of 1991 generated a population (49,890,000
in England and Wales) over one million fewer than that expected
from the 1991 population estimates updated from the 1981 census
(51,105,000); the so-called "missing million". For various
reasons, particularly its finding of an implausible low sex ratio
of 94.1 males per 100 females, the census, not the estimates,
was deemed to be in error, and various upward adjustments were
made (Diamond 1993).
In order to avoid the repetition of these problems
and the difficulties caused, notably to local authorities, of
a number of estimates of population for the same year, exceptional
efforts were made to create a "one number" census for
2001. All the statistical expertise that money could buy was assembled
to this end; no less than 50 statistical working papers were produced
in preparation of the census methodology. That included an exceptionally
large post -census enumeration survey, the Census Coverage Survey,
of 320,000 households, using a sampling methodology separate from
that of the census (Pereira 2002). That was intended to avoid
the defects in the much smaller Census Validation Survey from
1991 (6,000 households) whose methodology followed that of the
census and therefore tended to duplicate its errors, those missing
in the census also being missed by the survey.
Accordingly, not without reason, the 2001 census
was deemed to be the most accurate ever held (Diamond et al. 2003,
ONS 2006). Despite this confidence, it remains the case that the
kind of households that are likely to escape or evade the census
are also likely to escape or evade any surveys for the same reasons.
No serious attempt has been made, or perhaps could be made, to
consider the illegally resident population, for which 430,000
is an officially accepted estimate (Woodbridge 2005). Some of
them might be caught by the census, others not. ONS (2006) has
continued to insist upon the infallibility of the census, a view
supported by some outside experts (Boyle and Dorling 2004). Its
circumstances, however certainly invite scepticism: with postal
delivery, with 30,000 fewer field staff than in 1991, among other
factors, the actual response rate was only 94% of the expected
number of households in the frame. The missing households and
individuals and their characteristics had to be imputed from the
CVS (response rate 91%) and other information. Once again the
eventual "one number" for 2001, like that of 1991, was
about one million persons fewer (the original discrepancy was
1.2 million) than that expected from the population estimates
rolled forward from 1991. And like the original results of that
survey, the sex ratio was surprisingly low, 94.8 males per 100
females, with a particular deficit of young males compared with
the population estimates. Because of the faith placed in the reliability
of the census, this time the intercensal estimates were deemed
to be in error. For good reasons the registrations of births and
of deaths are believed to be as complete as can be. By a process
of elimination suspicion therefore fell on only other arithmetic
components of the estimates, the migration statistics and the
base population of the 1991 adjusted census totals. Migration
statistics are the most fragile of all the three components of
In the UK they depend primarily on the voluntary
International Passenger Survey (IPS) of international travellers.
This generates annual estimates of gross immigrant inflow, gross
emigrant outflow and the net migration that comprises the consequent
annual increase or decrease of the UK population from migration.
International migrants are considered to be those entering the
UK intending to stay for at least 12 months, and those leaving
the UK intending to be away for at least 12 months. That is the
internationally accepted definition of an international migrant,
as defined by the United Nations. The IPS gross and net totals
must be adjusted for movement from the Irish Republic and for
visitor switchers (those entering the UK allegedly for shorter
periods than 12 months who change their minds) and migrant switchers
(those leaving the UK for short periods who stay abroad longer
than 12 months) and asylum seekers. The small samples of intended
immigrants (2,965 interviews in 2005) and the even smaller sample
of intended emigrants (781 in 2005) are then grossed up by the
sample fraction to produce national-level estimates. Suspicion
fell particularly on the emigration data, backed up by some evidence
of over-staying by some young male UK citizens in Australia and
other favoured destinations, provoking much irreverent media hilarity
about hundreds of thousands of missing British males disporting
themselves on Bondi beach (Bowley 2003).
That conclusion, that emigration, mostly of
UK males, had been under-estimated annually by about 350,000 over
the decade, for which there was claimed to be some, albeit rather
circumstantial supportive evidence from Australia and other destinations,
the details of which remain unpublished. That in turn required
the annual estimates of emigration and therefore net migration
and mid-year populations for previous years to be adjusted downwards
in proportion and the 1991 total to be adjusted downwards by 375,000,
somewhat closer to its original total.
These adjustments of the national totals required
local authority totals to be revised downwards as well, in some
areas much more than in others. That inevitably provoked protests
from local authorities which saw the basis for rate support grant
being cut at a time when their own population estimates, based
on rates, school enrolment, electoral rolls and other evidence
contradicted the downward revision imposed by ONS. Those protests
and other uncertainties provoked further enquiry that began to
make the "one number" census into a two -number census
at least in some areas. Calculation of the 2002 mid-year population
estimates (MYE) for England and Wales revealed the need to revise
upwards the 2001 mid-year estimates which had been based on the
census, by 193,000. That only amounted to 0.36% of the total but
the great majority were males aged 20-50; those whom the census
had found to be missing. In fact the census had missed 187,000
males. Their restoration to the 2001 MYE restored the sex-ratios
to a more normal level except for the 20-24 and 35-39 age-group
(ONS 2003). Further revisions in response to local authority protests
restored a further 0.1% of the total (ONS 2004). Some of the LA
complaints were vindicated: the 2001 population of Westminster,
previously reduced by 25%, was raised by 10% and of Manchester
by 7%three years after the event. The gap between the one-year
census and the original mid-year estimates was gradually being
nibbled away. A gap of 290,000 (later reduced to 208,000) remained
between the 1991-based estimates to 2001 and the 2001 census,
however, which defied clear explanation.
This deficit was assigned to a demographic innovation
entitled "unattributed demographic change" which for
a while was a regular element of population estimates, of 27,000
per year. It provoked some unkind satire in some quarters as a
"new miracle ONS ingredient" for shrinking migration
estimates, banishing awkward inconsistencies and keeping the 2001
census (nearly) infallible. This product was withdrawn from the
market in 2004. These upward revisions in population estimates
naturally required a re-revision of the migration estimates, partly
restoring the former cuts. Population estimates for 1992-2001
took some time to stabilise.
Finally the 2001 census was criticised, from
a more fundamental viewpoint, by Philip Redfern, former Deputy
Director, OPCS (now ONS) (Redfern 2004). Demographic analysis
was deployed, using sex-ratio evidence, to cast serious doubt
on the correctness of the upward adjustments made to the 1991
census and showing that acceptance of the 2001 census results
imply a highly unusual sex ratio among British emigrants abroad
which is not supported by censuses in the receiving countries,
Restoring "normality" would require the addition of
500,000 males to the British population in 2001 (Redfern 2007).
That would certainly lay to rest the "unattributed demographic
change" discussed above.
These are generally held to be the most complete.
Improvements could be made not so much in the recording of the
total number of vital events but in the information that is collected.
Major defects here are the lack of information directly relating
to true (biological) birth order. That information, important
for estimating completed family size and its distribution and
the extent to which current period measures of fertility my be
giving a misleadingly low picture of future birth rates, has to
be estimated indirectly from surveys. With nearly half of all
children born outside marriage, the 1938 Population (Statistics)
Act needs to be revised to require parents to record all previous
live-born children, not just those in the current marriage. There
may also be a case for asking for nationality to be collected.
For some time there has been pressure within
ONS for information on ethnic origin of mother and father and
/ or child to be collected on birth registration. With the advent
of questions on religion in the census and the LFS and other surveys,
pressure to include that variable may also arise. That would undoubtedly
be convenient for those (such as this author) who are interested
in the demography of ethnic minorities and the projection of their
populations. As it stands, it is argued elsewhere, on general
grounds, that this should be resisted. The fundamental reason
advanced here is that (although accepted in the census and LFS
by the majority of respondents) it is an intrusion on privacy,
requiring self-definition which some may be unwilling to make.
In practical terms this difficulty will become more pronounced
in future as an increasing number of parents have multiple ancestry
and therefore an increasing number of babies have really complicated
ancestry, a problem already emerging in the US census and which
our won will follow as open questions on ethnicity and multiple
answers become general. Furthermore the labelling of very young
children with an ethnic or religious label at birth would categorise
them in ways that they may wish later in life to change or reject.
It would open the door to the further subdivision of the British
population on ethnic tramlines, from birth onwards.
Marriage and Divorce records need to be altered
to include the dates of births of the (ex) partners. That would
permit them to be linked with the ONS Longitudinal Study.
Generally these are the most troublesome aspect
of demographic data for various rather intractable reasons. Migration
data are satisfactory in very few countries, Australia being one
exception. The basic problems are well known, the very large scale
of flows in each direction, of which only a small proportion are
intended migrants, the uncertainty of duration of stay or absence,
the relative ease in many countries of evasion of control and
over-staying.UK sources measure both flow of migrants in and out
of the country and the "stock" of immigrants living
in the country. None is satisfactory.
Flow data are given by the International Passenger
Survey and the Home Office Control of Immigration Statistics.
The manifold problems arising from the voluntary
nature, incomplete coverage of ports and small sample size for
the International Passenger Survey have been noted above. It does
have the advantage, unusual in the developed world, of capturing
a small sample of intended emigrants as well as immigrants, thereby
permitting annual gross and net population change to be recorded
according to the international definition of international migration.
Furthermore the IPS apples to all intended migrants irrespective
of citizenship, while the Home Office Control of Immigration Statistics
data only refer, in any detail, to inflow only of non-EEA citizens
only. The latter purport to be a complete description of all legal
entries to the United Kingdom, with particular emphasis on acceptances
of non-EU citizens according to a time limit (eg under work permit,
or provisionally as spouses), or acceptances for settlement: spouses
with entry clearance certificates or persons who entered earlier
subject to a time limit now lifted.
Difficulties with the International Passenger
Survey include the following:
Response is voluntary, although the response
rate is quite high (83% in 2005).
Only 90% of estimated flows are covered (although
that is being improved)
Data rest on stated intentions, not actual out-turn.
Basic IPS data need to be supplemented with
information from separate sources on movement from the Irish Republic,
data from the Home Office on visitor switchers (persons given
extended leave to remain which puts them into the "international
migrant" category, migrant switchers, relating to those who
stay abroad for longer than intended, and asylum seekers and dependants
adjusted for those removed, or who leave, before 12 months. All
that together generates "Total International Migration"
Those components are published, but not the
details about how they are put together. ONS should do that, in
the interests of transparent statistics and independent scrutiny.
The small sample size precludes detailed analysis
as to country of origin / destination or citizenship etc, purpose
of journey, qualifications, or information relevant to legal status
of entry of the kind obtained from Home Office statistics. Overall
standard error is 3.7% on gross inflows, 4.8% on gross outflows
and much larger when subdivided. A8 migration estimates, for example,
were based on 78 interviews in 2005. In an attempt to keep standard
error within acceptable limits, omnibus categories are lumped
together such that they that they preclude effective analysis,
other categories are to say the least uninformative. In 2005,
of net migration of 185,000. 24,000 (13%) was recoded as "other"
and 54,000 (29%) as "no reason stated", and a high proportion
of countries of origin were tabulated as "other foreign"
(for all details see ONS 2007 and Table 1 below).
"Other foreign" category in
the 2005 ONS international migration statistics.
| "Other foreign" immigrants (thousands)
||Net inflow||table no.
|Country of last or next residence||162
|EU and other foreign country of ||89
|last or next residence||
|Country of birth||147
Note: All tables except table 2.1 include all citizenships including
Source: ONS (2007) International Migration Series MN No. 32. London,
No distinction is made between fiancé(e)s or others
moving in order to marry and those coming to join established
Numbers of those entering and leaving for purposes of work
have been surprisingly similar in many years until recently, suggesting
a zero net gain for the workforce. That point is sharpened by
the OECD finding that the UK is the only major OECD country to
lose almost as many tertiary-educated person to emigration as
it has gained from immigration (Dumont and. Lemaitre 2005). However
without information on whether such emigrants are leaving from
an employment in the UK to work abroad or not, it is impossible
to tell what proportion are young foreigners who entered as students
and are leaving to take up their first job in their country of
In the last few years, the number of countries for which
data are returned has been diminished, and tabulated data (in
thousands) are no longer presented to one decimal point but as
ONS staff can provide can provide on request special tabulations
for some specified countries, necessarily amalgamated over several
years, a service which is greatly appreciated. But in the nature
of things along a few countries can be so analysed before sample
size precludes any statistically respectable comment.
Short-term migration (more than three months but less than
12) is not captured by current IPS procedures, although that is
in hand. Short-term migration may now be an important component
of additions to the population following the freedom of movement
for citizens of A8 countries from May 2004. If half a million
entered staying for six months and on departure were replaced
by another half million who stayed for six months, the population
would be increased by a constant half-million (though different
people) although net migration according to INS would be zero.
The circumstances of the A8 migration also make switching from
short to long-term stay likely, as opinion polls indicate. The
Accession Monitoring Report for September 2007 (Home Office 2007)
states that a cumulative total of 715,000 approved applications
have been made since May 2004, not including the self-employed.
ONS estimates of net migration from the A8 countries is 60,000
per year for the last three years. That figure is implausibly
All these problems are worse with respect to emigrant flows
because of the smaller sample size, making it more difficult to
analyse the recent upsurge in emigration.
Except for some categories of visitor switchers, and those
granted entry for family reasons, there is little useful connection
or correlation with the data published by the Home Office Control
of Immigration Statistics.
Although IPS data are available for analysis, that dataset
excludes the raw IPS or TIM migration data which can only be obtained
conditionally by special request. No Excel files or tables are
linked to the web versions of the annual MN International Migration
volume (unlike the FM1 series on births).
Home Office Control of Immigration Statistics
These notionally complete data on lawful entries to the UK
apply to inward migration only and, in detail, to non-EEA citizens
only except that, for the time being, data are also given in respect
of citizens of A8 Accession states.
While notionally "flow" data, almost all persons
given leave to enter on a long-term basis have already been resident
in the country for up to four years. Only a small, although growing
proportion (6090 of 179,120 granted settlement in 2005) are accepted
for settlement on arrival. It is not possible, at least with the
data published, to reconstruct the numbers actually entering the
country for particular purposes or other categories in any specified
The categories by which data are tabulated refer to the category
of the Immigration Rules under which the person is admitted to
the UK and citizenship. In respect of the latter they are fully
detailed, unlike the IPS data.. They are not primarily demographic.
As there are no Rules governing exit from the UK, no data are
collected from departures although the overall count that was
dropped in 1993 has been re-instated.
Although the categories by which passengers are given leave
to enter by purpose of journey are quite detailed, they do not
enable some important elements of migration flows to be distinguished.
For example in the total of persons granted settlement as a spouse
in 2005 (45,970, 26% of all granted settlement in that year) those
entering a year or two earlier as fiancé(e)s, mostly through
arranged marriage, cannot be distinguished from established spouses
joining their husbands or wives. It is therefore impossible to
distinguish between family re-union migration and family formation
migration. Until 1996 data were published (table 2.16, 2.17),
which made it possible to determine the number of years between
marriage, or arrival or settlement of spouse, or arrival the year
of marriage, or settlement of spouse, and the year of acceptance
for settlement for marriage from the Indian-sub-continent that
those entering had been married, which permitted such an estimate.
That has been discontinued, with no comparable data to replace
it. Up to that year, the very large and growing preponderance
were of very recently married couples: family formation migration
was replacing family re-union migration in the family migration
category, as it has in other countries such as the Netherlands,
where data are superior in this regard.
It is difficult to understand how 4565 persons in 2005 (2.5%)
could be granted settlement as "category unknown" (Table
5.1) or how there could be 290,000 given leave to enter the UK
in 2005 under the category "Others given leave to enter"a
much greater number than some of the categories for which detailed
are given. Furthermore, when analysed further the 196,000 under
this heading in 2004 are revealed numerically to be dominated
by 105,000 "Other passengers given limited leave to enter"
and 74,700 who were given leave to enter for "unknown"
reasons (Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2004 14/05 table 1.2
and related Excel file). How can people be admitted under the
Immigration Rules for "unknown" reasons?
All non-EEA international travellers are required to fill
in a Landing Card on arrival. Some material which would be very
useful in understanding migration flows and helping comparability
with IPS data, such as country of birth, is not even extracted
from it, never mind tabulated.
Independent analysis of this material though a suitably anonymised
sample of records is not possible, although some Excel files can
be obtained on request.
Some other annual flow data are generated by various administrative
processes; the issue of work permits, of national insurance numbers
to overseas citizens, and more recently the data from the Worker's
Registration Scheme mentioned above. Labour migration estimates
from the national insurance numbers do not correspond to the number
of work permits or IPS data on the number entering for work, but
there are good reasons why this should be so (see Salt 2007).
For obvious reasons no stock data are available for emigration,
although some countries (eg Republic of Ireland) ask questions
in sample surveys on intentions to emigrate. Censuses and immigration
data of other countries are used for this. Among various administrative
sources of data (driving licences, NHS data) only the information
on pensions seems a likely contributor to the picture of emigration
from the UK (Evans et al 2007). On immigration, a variety of sources
give information on the number of persons born in specified countries
in considerable detail; the decennial census, a number of surveys
including the Labour Force and General Household Surveys and the
forthcoming Integrated Household Survey. Some, including the census
and the LFS, also ask questions on the residence 12 months earlier.
Responses to that count as international migrants, but this is
a measure of gross migration inflows, minus those who returned
less than 12 months before the census or who had died. Unfortunately,
in some ethnic minority populations, the number of persons not
answering that particular question in the LFS is about the same
as the number who recorded an address overseas twelve months ago
given. That makes the data difficult to use as an indication of
Although the Home Office gives leave to enter the UK it has
no general or central way of knowing where foreign citizens are
living once they have entered the United Kingdom. Foreign citizens
are obliged to register with the police locally (are they still?)
but the Home office maintains no up to date address list, in fact
no address list at all except for asylum claimants. As the Home
Office appears to be unclear how many asylum seekers there are
in the country by some hundreds of thousand or so, this system
does not seem to be very efficient.
Since the new immigration policy has increased immigration
to unprecedented levels and substantially increased the size of
the immigrant and foreign-citizen population. Accordingly there
has been heightened increase in the characteristics of immigrant
and foreign, as opposed to ethnic minority, populations in various
areas of the national life: incomes, housing, workforce participation
and employment, health, education and crime. The new policy has
been justified primarily on the grounds of the beneficial effects
of immigrant, as opposed to broader ethnic minority population,
on the workforce. Some of the bases for these justifications,
for example the calculations presented by Gott et al. (2002, p.
29) compare favourably the tax paid by immigrant (not the whole
ethnic minority) populations with the welfare benefits and rebates
that they receive. Those calculations employ relatively orthodox
statistics reasonably available from public sources, in conjunction
with demographic data on the size and age-structure of the populations
concerned. Other costs and potential benefits, outside the tax
and welfare accounts for which data are not so readily available,
are not included or are explicitly excluded. For example the earlier
paper explicitly assumed that costs per head of primary and secondary
education, and share of expenditure on health services provision
were equal, within each age-group, across all categories in the
UK population as a whole. This is understandable given the difficulties
of doing otherwise. The authors go on to acknowledge, however,
that rates of utilisation may be different for public education
and health and that providers might incur different costs for
In fact they are known not to be equal, although the statistics
are more patchy or hard to get at. Were those to be routinely
available, a more balanced analysis would be possible of costs
and benefits in respect of this highly significant policy. Statistics
on immigrant and even more foreign citizen populations in all
the areas above are either not collected or are sparse. Instead,
UK statistics in these areas have developed along a different
route; with the prime focus on ethnic affiliation, irrespective
of birthplace and nationality. Ethnic categorisation seems to
have taken priority partly for ideological reasons, from a distaste
of the category "immigrant"; to promote the notion of
equal entitlement or special measures irrespective of immigration
status or nationality. In respect of the contentious issue of
NHS utilisation, no statistics of any kind appear to be available
whether referring to ethnic origin, birthplace or nationality.
Doctors argue that it is not their job to collect such data, and
some might object to doing so as being unprofessional. But that
duty could quite properly devolve on NHS management, where there
is hardly a shortage of personnel.
Since the early 2000s, probably spurred by the problems encountered
by even the best -laid plans for the 2001 census, the ONS has
begun a programme to improve statistics on population and migration.
No doubt the details will be presented in a submission from the
ONS submission and need not be repeated here. These included ambitious
proposals for an Integrated Population Statistics System (ONS
2003). That was intended to link census, survey and administrative
data at individual level to produce, after the 2011 census, a
population statistics database covering all England and Wales
to be continuously updated from a variety of sources and to be
related, in manner unspecified, to any population register of
which it would appear to be a precursor. That would then be the
source of all future population statistics. At the same time there
were quality reviews of birth and migration statistics and, more
recently, the creation of demographic oversight bodies that introduced
(2007) a revisions policy for demographic statistics. Further
steps were taken in response to glaring inadequacies revealed
about data on migration and migrants and their effects upon population,
some of them noted above. These included setting up the National
Statistics Centre for Demography and a superior review committee.
Following an inter-departmental task force reported on migration
(ONS 2006), renewed interest was shown in "administrative"
resources of demographic data such as pensions information, NHS
information and driving licence data from DVLA. These cover a
much higher proportion of the population than does any survey).
A rolling programme of improvements to population statistics has
been set out by the Improving Migration and Population Statistics
(IMPS) initiative October 2006 and its 2007 update.
ONS are thus doing their professional best to improve the
tools which they have at their disposal.
Migration statistics are to be improved by:
1. Increase of the IPS Emigration sample from 800 or so.
2. IPS survey cover to be increased in some ports of entry
and extended to others for the first time.
3. Steps to measure short-term migration. That has become
much more demographically important following the free access
to the UK labour market of the A8 countries since May 2004. In
recognition of the potentially powerful effects of continuous
short-term migration of a duration that does not show up on the
IPS radar (ie less than 12 months), new approaches are being developed
to measure it (Smith and Scharfman 2007).
4. using "administrative" sources to estimate
migration and its effects: Work permit data, Workers Registration
Scheme, NHS records and National Insurance numbers (NiNo)
5. Questions in LFS on previous residence 12 months ago.
At present this question is only asked in the Q1 version of this
quarterly survey. Henceforth it will be asked in all quarters'
surveys, quadrupling the sample size.
6. The Home Office is developing its "e-borders"
initiative to record electronically the passport details of everyone
entering and leaving the UK. But it is not due to become operational
for another six years.
7. Various improvement are proposed for the 2011 census,
including restoring the question on nationality, dropped since
The most important innovation is the proposal for e-borders-
electronic processing of all arrivals and departures from the
UK. But e-borders will take a long timeon stream by 2013.
The specification yet vague- it is still out to tender, little
has been made public. It is not clear, for example, whether individual
records of entries will be linked with the same individuals exit
While UK citizens will have biometric passports to be scanned;
what to do with others may depend on passport type. The entry
cards currently used will be dropped. Those coming from the EEA
may not be asked purpose of journey. The collection of data on
departures seems to be down to the carrier.
Work permit and the statistics that they generate will be
on the introduction of the Points System. It is not clear where
information on labour migration will replace it.
Some problems are likely to remain insoluble. Because there
are three Registrars-General (for England and Wales, Scotland,
and Northern Ireland) population data abut the UK is always available
later, and less abundant, than that referring to England and Wales
or the other areas. The level of analysis and detail of publication
for England and Wales is superior to that in the other areas.
Given the current fashion for devolution, this failure to provide
uniform and timely data for the whole country may get worse.
A question on emigration intentions, and on children ever-born,
should be asked in each quarterly issue of the LFS (each has a
sample size of 60,000) and of the Integrated Household Survey
(formerly Continuous Population Survey) which may amalgamate the
LFS, GHS and other surveys from 2008.
The migration element of the IPS has always suffered from
being a minor component of a Board of Trade survey primarily concerned
with balance of payments, tourism and the like. In view of the
importance of international migration, the migration element in
the IPS should be prioritized to ensure more rapid publication,
or separated completely from original Board of Trade enquiry.
The sample size relating to migration, in and out, should be greatly
increased. Unfortunately a really large (expensive) increase would
be needed to reduce the standard error substantially and permit
more detailed tabulation.
As far as possible Home office Control of Immigration Statistics
and ONS data should be harmonised, with as many categories in
common as possible. That would require more detailed tabulation
in each, and the common used of grouped categories (the useful
combination "New Commonwealth" countries, widely employed
in the IPS, was dropped in the CIS data after 1996.
All population statisticsincluding Home Office datashould
be brought under the supervision of the Statistics Commission.
A clear distinction should be made in both data sets between
family re-union and family formation migration (relevant data
IPS and HO data should be available in machine readable form
as anonymised records for individual tabulation
The IPS immigration questions could be made compulsory on
nonUK citizen immigrants.
Attempts should be made to expand of "Other or unknown"
categories in all migration data, and publication / tabulation
of IPS data is needed on a more refined basis especially in terms
of country of origin / birth / and purpose of journey. Larger
sample size would be essential, and closer linkage with Home Office
data on inflows.
LIST OF VARIABLES FOR WHICH DATA IS MAINTAINED IN THE
BELGIAN MUNICIPAL REGISTERS
A unique person number is given to all individuals at birth
and on immigration
For Belgian Citizens the following data are available:
For non-citizens the following further details are required
Immigration Service number
Country and place of origin
Limits on duration of stay
Type number and validity period of work permit
Date of recognition as refugee
Right of return to country of origin
Type of inscription on voting list (ie whether entitled to
vote in EU or local elections)
Source: Poulain, M., N. Perrin, et al. (2006). Towards Harmonised
European Statistics on European Migration (THESIM). Louvain la
Neuve, Universitaires de Louvain Presses.