When will the Census 2021 Results Impact Housing Numbers?

There was a lot of ill informed and under researched commentary by the type of pseudo-expert listened too by Nimby groups (such as Ian Mulheirn) about the discrepancy between the headline population levels and the previous mid year population estimates, claiming the population estimates were exaggerated and hence we were planning for a ‘ghost population’. Ill leave the household formation issue separate as there is widespread agreement now that household formation and number of households build are spatially autocorrelatated (indeed ministers have quoted me occasion on this).

The big mistake is not understanding that they are not comparing like for like. The mid year population estimates include an allowance for underenumeration (that is undercounting people that exist), funding and the standard method depend on the mid year population estimates NOT the raw first census results. Some of the issues were unique to the 2021 census such as holding the census in the midst of a pandemic when many short term contract workers and students were away; but much of this is systemic especially in London where there are larger numbers of inherently difficult to count households such as from ethnic minorities. Newham for example claimed from its own data on GP rolls and school rolls that the 2011 census undercounted its population by as much as 20,000. Many Boroughs are making similar claims now.

So as the preliminary results from the 2021 census undergo similar checking and adjustment they will rise. There will of course be LPA by LPA adjustments. What is striking is despite the absence of students they showed far larger populations than expected. 145,000 rather than 129,000 as expected. Similar for Oxford. When you add back the missing students it will rise still further. So Cambridge will have to plan for 12-15% higher housing numbers than they predicted (Cambridge as opposed to South Cambridge element) in their recent local plan. Another new settlement’s worth maybe?

Perhaps some of the census/housing numbers experts from the major consultancies can suggest at what point the revisions will make way into mid year and household estimates.

Note: I now know mid-year population estimates will be rebased to underenumeration corrected 2021 census data in Spring 2023.

One thought on “When will the Census 2021 Results Impact Housing Numbers?

  1. Hi Andrew, I work in the Development Economics team at Barton Willmore and I agree with all of what you have said in this post. We have been contacted by various people with queries about the 2021 Census data, asking for example how this affects the Standard Method housing need. My answer to them has to be ‘we don’t have enough information to tell yet’. As you have said in the post, this Census was taken in the midst of a very unusual set of circumstances (at the end of a two month long lockdown) which would have obviously resulted in abnormal demographic behaviour (such as younger people moving out of urban areas and back to the family home, amongst other things). In respect of your last paragraph, we are thinking the same thing, and it will only be when ONS release more detailed information (one of which will be concealed households) that we will be able to start piecing this all together to make accurate assumptions.

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