Migration statistics

Written evidence submitted by Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Population Geography Research Group (PopGRG) (5STATS 01)

The responses to the PASC’s questions on migration statistics in this submission from the RGS-IBG PopGRG are based upon comments from members of the PopGRG.

Summary of PopGRG response:

The data sources for understanding migration to, from and within the UK are limited. The ONS (and sister agencies) are doing a good job with poor data. The international migration data are not fit for purpose. What is required to answer questions of policy and academic interest is a longitudinal population register together with a reliable system for monitoring emigration. A revised system for migration statistics should focus on enabling local level estimation; and there is a need for internal and international migration to be considered holistically.

1. Do the published migration statistics – at the national, regional and local levels - meet the full range of their users’ needs, namely: a. Are they easily discoverable and accessible to all users?

b. Are they easy to use and understand? c. Do they provide an appropriate level of detail? d. Are they effectively summarised?

· It is possible to find the Internal and International Migration statistics quickly via a search of the ONS website or google.

· The LTIM estimates are difficult to locate on the ONS website and it is difficult to switch between the data, methodology and interpretation. It would be better if there was an interface along the lines of Neighbourhood Statistics, where the data can be accessed in a raw format and the metadata is located in the same place.

· The pathway to the statistics on the ONS website is not clear. It is necessary to search the ONS site using Google to find the data.

· Some experience is needed to use the statistics effectively. You need to know the limitations of how the data is collected (survey data), and why the data is collected (GP Patient Register).

· International Migration at Local Authority district level is not good quality.  Ward level migration is only available every 10 years from the Census.

· The statistics are effectively summarised.

2. How well have producers of migration statistics engaged with users? How responsive have they been to feedback from users of the statistics?

· ONS engage through CLIP groups, workshops, consultations and updates at conferences such as BSPS.  Response to feedback is difficult to assess – often what is requested by users is not available and / or achievable.

3. Do the migration statistics which are published enable members of the public to gain a better understanding of the issues? Are the right migration statistics being collected?

· The right migration statistics are not being collected, and this is not possible without a population register and compulsory re-registration when you move.

· The IPS is not a reliable source for detailed information on migrants, which is unfortunate considering the diversity of the migrant streams.

· The inadequacies of the data, and the specialised skills needed to properly use the estimates, do not help the public gain a better understanding of migration.

4. Is the degree of uncertainty surrounding estimates of migration properly reported and widely understood? Is the degree of uncertainty surrounding estimates of migration acceptable or should it be reduced? If so, how could it be reduced?

· The degree of uncertainty is not properly reported or widely understood. However, ONS are due to publish 95% Confidence intervals around LA Population Estimates – it is being tried out with pre-2011 Census estimates.  Also ONS have tried publishing the extent of possible variation due to various components of population change.

· There is always going to be uncertainty – even with census results.  Uncertainty could be reduced with more regular censuses or compulsory re-registration when moving which would improve GP Patient Migration (NHSCR/PRDS) and, hence, improve Internal migration estimates.  Better International migration estimates at LA level is essential and has been the main weakness in ONS Population estimates for many years.

· Professor Philip Rees (School of Geography, University of Leeds) has produced a Memorandum submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demography, which will be published in their next volume of evidence. It makes an estimate of confidence intervals for age-sex groups in the projected UK population. The method might be usable for doing the same for net immigration estimates, but it would require several months of work.

· The following report may be of use: Bijak, J. (2012) Migration Assumptions in the UK National Population Projections: Methodology Review. Report for the Office for National Statistics. University of Southampton.

5. Are the migration statistics adequate for measuring the Government’s progress against its net migration target?

· The Census demonstrates that existing methods underestimated net immigration through the 2000s. There is no sign of significant improvement  in methodology (e.g. e-borders is not designed to track migration, passport details do not include current  address, if you move after getting a passport, there is no obligation to inform the Home Office). 

· Lack of data on emigration make net migration estimation difficult (see below).

6. What more could be done to improve the quality of migration statistics? Should data from other sources, such as e-Borders, be incorporated?

· ONS is doing the best they can with the (poor) data sources available to them.

· The UK could certainly benefit from better information on both migration flows and migrant stocks, especially if they plan to stop taking censuses.

· It should be made clear that international migration is distinct from internal migration (within-country). A holistic approach that considers data needs of internal and international migration together will best provide recommendations for a system that allows thorough understanding of population change.

· There is a serious shortfall of data on emigrants, about whom very little is known. Basic information is needed on how many people have left, their characteristics and where they are. The lack of information on emigrants makes local estimation of net migration almost impossible. Emigration is both poorly estimated and largely ignored in policy analysis. Emigration data could be gathered via a census question that asked information about family members living overseas; or a requirement of British nationals living overseas to register at embassies, which is a system adopted by the Dutch.

· An e-Border type system would provide the required data if it covered all persons from / to the country. A continuous population register (based on NHS or DWP systems) would help more.

· More could be made of current administrative data but all have the problem of not knowing when / why people leave the country.

· Several members of the Population Geography Research Group of the RGS-IBG advocate and would fully support the introduction of a longitudinal population register. This would enable measurement of migration (visitors, short-term, long-term) that is consistent across international migration and internal migration.

· If e-borders tracked everyone in and out, and recorded where each person was going, then international migration statistics could be improved.  Census data should be compared with current methods and benchmarked accordingly.

January 2013

Prepared 4th February 2013