Population Insight: Making sense of the 2011 Census migration data

John Perry, who has worked with HACT to develop the Population Insight tool, discusses how the software programme releases the potential of migration information available to housing providers in the data released in the recently available 2011 Census.

If housing providers aren’t already ensuring that their services meet the needs of more diverse communities, they’ve had a pointed reminder in the results of the 2011 Census now being released. Everyone knows that migration has affected the size and the composition of the population: in the last ten years, just under three-quarters of population growth has been due to immigration.  But the Census not only confirms the broad trends, it provides a one-off opportunity to look in detail at who lives in your housing stock or in the neighbourhoods where you operate, that won’t be available again for another decade.

Despite excellent work by the Guardian and others to make Census data accessible and digestible, getting your head round local-level data can be a daunting task, even if the rewards are potentially very worthwhile.  Fortunately, HACT has worked with Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) to provide a free tool that any housing provider in England can use, called Population Insight.  In a nutshell, what Population Insight does is to take highly detailed data on diverse communities and immigration and provide it to housing providers in a form that they can tailor to show the detail for their local authority, their neighbourhood or even particular streets.  In each case, they can compare their patch with the national data and, of course, they can also compare one patch with another or against other data such as their own tenant records.

In what ways can this be used by housing providers?  The enormous value of the Census is only partly due to the national picture it gives us, attractive though this might be to headline writers.  After all, new national data on household composition and migration are regularly available.  No, the real value of the Census lies in its fantastic detail and hence its accuracy.  No other survey in the next ten years (assuming, of course, that the Census continues) will give local authorities and housing providers such intricate and reliable data, unless they commission expensive surveys themselves.

This means that you really can use the Census to drill down and get local data for each neighbourhood you work in.  Even if you already follow the regulator’s advice to use tenant insight methods to gain better knowledge of your customer base, these have known weaknesses and you can use Census data both to check their accuracy and to see how your customers compare with the rest of the population in the areas where they live.

Let’s take a look at some possible uses.  One of the headline changes across Britain has been the growth in the foreign-born population from seven per cent in 2001 to 13 per cent in 2011.  But this only hints at a very varied picture, with some places hardly touched by immigration while others have been transformed.  For example, looking in more detail at country of birth, we can see that Boston in Lincolnshire was 98 per cent ‘white British’ in 2001 but now over ten per cent of the local population is Polish.  Housing providers based there like Boston Mayflower and Longhurst will need to know where those Polish people and other incomers actually live, and whether their representation in the housing stock is typical of the area or not.  If as a result they decide to do more work with Polish tenants or the Polish community at large, they’ll need to know how many households in a neighbourhood don’t have anyone who speaks English as their main language.

Another use of detailed data will be to see how mobile local populations are.  Mobility is a challenging issue for social landlords – while government wants tenants to be able to move more to get jobs, housing providers are aware of the unsettling effects of too much movement both within a neighbourhood and on services like schools.  Census data at local level enables you to check how much turnover there is (inflow and outflow) as well as how many people have changed address in the last 12 months.  You can check this against data for wider areas to see if population ‘churn’ is higher or lower. This will give you hard data to help you investigate why any excessive movement is occurring.

These are only two examples, but you can check out Population Insight here and see how it might work for you.  Census data is now fresh and it’s just arrived in the shops, take a close look at it before it passes its ‘sell by’ date!