Migrant population statistics may be ‘materially incorrect’, report claims
Migrant populations of many British towns may be thousands higher or lower than official statistics indicate, according to a report.
Estimates of the number of foreign-born residents in some local areas may be “materially incorrect” – raising the risk that services receive inadequate funding, the Social Market Foundation (SMF) paper claims.
The think-tank said a major overhaul was needed, and called for greater use of commercial data from firms such as Facebook.
SMF migration researcher Jonathan Thomas said: “Accurate data on local populations is essential for planning and providing public services, but our official statistics on migration and local populations are severely limited and innovative new thinking is needed.
“Commercial data like that held by the big technology firms could play a part in giving national and local planners a much more accurate and responsive picture of local population movements, allowing them to plan and manage better.
“Meanwhile, the public sector should be much better at collecting and sharing data that would allow the system to monitor and respond to population movements.”
The analysis points out that Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates of non-UK born populations in local authority areas can have large confidence intervals.
For example, the number of residents of Hastings, east Sussex, who were born overseas was estimated at 12,000 in the year to June 2018.
But a confidence interval of plus or minus 7,000 means the number may be as high as 19,000 or as low as 5,000.
The estimated non-UK born population of Boston, Lincolnshire, was 21,000, but the figure could be as much as 10,000 higher or lower.
Peterborough had an estimate of 47,000 but the number could be anywhere between 39,000 and 55,000.
In some cases, the potential variation amounts to more than 10% of the entire local population, according to the report, which will be published on Wednesday.
It says: “Better local data is crucial. Official survey, administrative and commercial data all have a part to play. But all have gaps, limits and sources of bias.
“Acknowledging and understanding these strengths and weaknesses of the different datasets can, though, be a source of power, enabling us to better link them together to get a much better picture of the impact of immigration on both sides of the ledger.”
The SMF is calling for reform of the Controlling Migration Fund, which is designed to support local areas facing pressures linked to recent immigration.
The scheme should be relaunched as part of an expanded Integrated Communities Fund, addressing the integration of all in the community, not just recently arrived international migrants, the report says.
A spokesman for the ONS said it has already begun an “ambitious programme of work” to better understand the impact of migration on local areas and reduce reliance on surveys.
He added: “The initial focus is on information already provided to government bodies, using new data-sharing powers approved by Parliament.
“But we also recognise the potential value of alternative data sources and will explore these as we progress.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “It is vital that refugees and migrants are able to integrate into local communities.
“The Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy green paper set out a number of proposals to ensure migrants receive information about life in the UK and have opportunities to learn English.
“The £140 million Controlling Migration Fund supports local authority projects that mitigate the impacts of recent migration on local communities. This can include projects to promote social cohesion and offer additional support to local authorities and other services.”
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