Tory criticism of “snooper’s census” backfires

Conservative Cabinet Office spokesman Nick Hurd failed to check his facts when dismissing the 2011 census as a “snooper’s census” last weekend.

The Conservatives stand accused of ill-thought out opportunism over their opposition to the “invasive and intrusive” questions pencilled in for the 2011 census – just two years after one of their flagship councils published a report describing official population estimates as “not fit for purpose” on the grounds that previous censuses were not detailed enough.

In 2007 Tory-run Westminster Council commissioned a report which expressed concerns over the inaccuracy of current population figures, concluding that “the 2001 Census underestimated the size of Westminster’s population”, which resulted in insufficient resources being allocated to the borough.

The report found that:

  • A number of migrants live in crowded accommodation (5-8 per room) and do so because of economic choice rather than necessity.
  • Sharing of accommodation to keep rents low is very common with the number of people sleeping in one room being very high.
  • Increases in overcrowding and household sizes were linked in significant part to a growth in housing of multiple occupation.

As the chair of the UK Statistics Authority Sir Michael Scholar wrote in a letter scalding Tory front-bencher Nick Hurd, the man orchestrating the campaign against the new census:

“The question about the number of bedrooms is to help local councils establish whether and where accommodation in their areas is overcrowded.”

This is precisely the kind of information which Westminster council was seeking.

Scholar added:

“We need the Census to know as best we can the size and distribution of the population, to provide a basis for the allocation of very large sums of public money to local government, the NHS and elsewhere, to help companies with their business plans, and to help us all understand how our society and economy are changing.

“The Census questions have been designed and tested by the Office for National Statistics after extensive consultation, and approved for submission to Parliament by the Board of the UK Statistics Authority. It is quite wrong to give the impression that they are initiatives of government Ministers.”

Though The Times and BBC reported Sir Michael’s critical letter, the Daily Mail, which on Monday carried an article headlined “The Snooper’s Census”, did not. Left Foot Forward wonders why…

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