Confusion in census linked to poll tax

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THE LATEST census figures for the resident population of England and Wales in 1991 are a 'shambles' according to Conservative and Labour-controlled local authority associations.

Statistics released yesterday by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS), show that in the 1991 census 49,890,273 people were counted as resident in England and Wales: 47,055,200 in England and 2,835,073 in Wales.

The figures show that 828,000 people have 'disappeared' compared to the Registrar General's estimate for mid-1990.

However, the figures represent a significant improvement on the preliminary count of people present on census night, in April 1991. The preliminary figures - drawn from people who returned census forms - showed the census appeared to have lost 1,750,000 people. The survey now appears to have 'found' about 922,000 of those missing people.

Local authorities fear many people did not fill in census forms because they had not registered for the poll tax and did not want to be traced.

Underestimates of the population will have serious implications. Local authority spending levels and grants, set by the Government based partly on population estimates, will be underestimated.

The 'under-enumeration' also strengthens the argument that the poll tax may have driven poorer people off the register in marginal constituencies and helped the Tories win the last election.

Yesterday's figures are based on estimates of the number of residents after a follow-up survey. The final figures include people who were abroad on census night, but exclude people visiting from overseas.

They also include people who returned forms too late for the preliminary count, and 'imputed statistics' for households known to have had residents but from whom no form was obtained.

The imputed statistics are based on the enumerator's survey of properties which appear to be occupied and an estimate of the number of people living there, based on average numbers of occupants in different types of properties.

Imputed statistics for households which did not return forms were not included in the last census in 1981.

The Labour-dominated Association of Metropolitan Authorities fears the imputed statistics will not give an accurate picture. Helen Quigley, finance officer, said: 'The whole thing is a shambles. It is not just the fault of the OPCS. There are a series of problems which were not present in 1981 but which the OPCS should have accounted for.'

The Tory-dominated London Boroughs Association fears inner-city areas will be worst affected by 'under-enumeration'. It is concerned that London boroughs will be under-funded as a result.