Can drama “Help” social care?

Jason Lowther

Photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z2ufAl2lko

Fresh from winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Banff Rockie Awards on Monday, Channel Four’s drama Help was yesterday nominated for Best Drama in the Edinburgh TV awards, with its lead actor Jodie Cromer also nominated for Best Actor.  The drama was one of the most watched on the channel, bringing to millions of viewers the plight of care homes and their residents during the pandemic.  Whilst the Help storyline is fictional, it is based on hard and devastating facts.

In my view, Help could be criticised for its farfetched ending and sometimes unsympathetic rendering of the care home manager, however its characterisation of care home staff and residents is both caring and revealing.  Clearly emotionally affected researching the programme, writer Jack Thorn said: “hearing the stories of those at the frontline, having people break down in tears on zoom in front of us has been incredibly moving and galling”.   

My two favourite parts of the programme (no spoilers) are the endless recorded message of a hopelessly over-run “NHS 111” call centre in the background for several minutes, and Jodie Cromer’s wrenching speech to camera (1:34 on the video) demanding “…underlying health conditions, eh?  When did all lives stop being worth the same?”  The programme ends highlighting some stunning research findings: 40% of Covid deaths in the early pandemic (from March to June 2020) were in care homes; the average wage of a care home worker is £8.50 per hour; whilst government provided 80% of PPE needs for the NHS, it only met 10% of adult social care’s needs. 

This last claim is based on the National Audit Office analysis published in November 2020, which found that the adult social care sector received approximately 331 million items of PPE from central government between March and July (10% of their estimated need) whereas NHS trusts received 1,900 million items sent to NHS trusts (80% of estimated need).  Whilst both fell significantly short of what was required, there is an apparent imbalance here.  Data collected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) showed that, throughout April and May 2020, more than a fifth of domiciliary care providers had no more than a week’s supply of PPE. 

This situation was well known to the Secretary of State, not least because the LGA and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services wrote stating “we continue to receive daily reports from colleagues that essential supplies are not getting through to the social care front-line. Furthermore, national reporting that equipment has been delivered to providers on the CQC-registered list does not tally with colleagues’ experience on the ground”.  Nevertheless, in a scene included in Help, during a Downing Street press conference on 15 May, 2020, Mr Hancock said: “right from the start, it’s been clear that this horrible virus affects older people most. So right from the start, we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes”, repeating in the House of Commons on 18 May that “we absolutely did throw a protective ring around social care”. 

Understanding the human costs of these central government failures is difficult, with the effects on staff, residents and their family impossible to measure objectively.  Help does a good job in illustrating some of the pressures on care staff and the pain of relatives unable to visit dying residents, made all the more poignant now that we know some of the behaviour during the pandemic of senior central government actors such as Hancock’s affair and Johnson’s multiple parties forensically examined in Sue Gray’s recent report

Perhaps the most basic measure is in human lives.  Last year researchers used the national death registry of all adult (aged ≥18 years) deaths in England and Wales between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2020 to compare daily deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic against the expected daily deaths.  They estimated that during the early pandemic, about 26,000 excess deaths (almost half of the total excess deaths) occurred in care homes and hospices.  This is likely to be an underestimate since early in the pandemic, testing of suspected cases was available only in the hospital, whereas routine testing of staff and residents in care homes was not implemented until May 2020.

The latest ONS statistics, issued in February 2022, suggest that since the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there have been over 274,000 deaths of care home residents (wherever the death occurred) registered in England and Wales; of these, 45,632 involved COVID-19 accounting for 17% of all deaths of care home residents. 

Intriguingly, The Lancet reported in March that “COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on the mortality of care home residents in England compared to older residents of private homes, but only in the first wave. This may be explained by a degree of acquired immunity, improved protective measures or changes in the underlying frailty of the populations.” Meanwhile, last month the Care Quality Commission finally published data on deaths in each care home during the first year of the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021).

Whatever the precise figures, it’s clear that adult social care residents and staff were badly let down by central government, far from the Secretary of State’s “protective ring” narrative. This despite the best efforts of care managers, local commissioners and councils discussed in Luke Bradbury’s blog here last week.  Help does a fantastic job of showing the impact of these critical central failures – and recognising the incredible work care staff did in such difficult circumstances with so little financial reward.

Collaborative management in the face of government response to COVID-19? Evidence from care home staff and stakeholder experiences in West England.

Luke Bradbury

Picture credit: https://socialvalueportal.com/support-national-effort-covid-19/resources/news/social-value-in-action/support-national-effort-covid-19/

As a student on the MSc Public Management course at INLOGOV and having worked part-time in care for a number of years, I felt my final dissertation project was an opportunity to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on adult social care and the implications of government intervention. The works of organisations such as SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) have already shown that inaccurate government guidance – combined with years of underfunding – resulted in the sector being ill-prepared for dealing with a pandemic and that care policy and practices had to rapidly adapt to unforeseen circumstances with limited support.

This case study aimed to explore this in the context of two care homes in West England during the early months of the pandemic. It was also interested in the role of collaborative management between care homes and their surrounding communities including local authorities, charities, businesses etc. ‘Collaboration’, in this context, took some influence from Helen Sullivan and Chris Skelcher’s conceptualisation of a collaborative agenda governing the (often mutually) beneficial cooperation between different public bodies and community agencies. One might consider how care homes may have banded together with their own local communities to ensure they still had the means to provide quality care in the face of COVID-19. Indeed, recent research by Fiona Marshall et al. has shown that, where government support was scarce, many care homes formed resource networks with external stakeholders such as local businesses, dentists, veterinaries, and domiciliary care agencies to source vital materials including personal protective equipment (PPE), electronics, toiletries, bedding and even food.

This study used semi-structured interviews and recruited five participants via a combination of snowball and non-probability purposive sampling. This included two deputy care home managers representing two different care homes in West England as well as a carer, a local parish councillor, and a co-owner of a local chemicals firm. The latter two participants were recruited as active members of the local community for one of the two participating care homes (or ‘external stakeholders’). Thematic analysis and grounded theory-based coding was then used to interpret the data.

The analysis firstly uncovered a strong dissatisfaction with the central government response to COVID-19 amongst all participants. Care staff spoke about how the implementation of the Coronavirus Act forced them to take on extra patients from hospital without an effective COVID-19 testing system in place and that inconsistencies between government guidance and company policy led to confusion amongst managers. Practices were forced to adapt; for example, adhering to stricter infection control measures and taking on extra care duties such as virtual GP consultations. External stakeholders also spoke about how these circumstances encouraged some level of collaboration within the community and a desire to assist local care organisations; for instance, a parish council was enabled to collaborate with the local chemicals firm and local school to source PPE such as goggles and hand sanitizer which could then be distributed to care providers.

Despite this opportunity to establish a resource network, collaboration between the two care homes and their surrounding communities was not evidenced as Marshall et al. had found previously. This was attributed to two main reasons. Firstly, resource dependency was less prevalent because effective internal management within both care homes meant they already had a sufficient supply of PPE. As one of the deputy managers recalled, the manager for her home made the decision to stock up on PPE and to lockdown early, therefore minimising the spread of the virus. The second reason was down to external circumstances that aided both care homes. Since both operate within rural areas of West England, they occupy less densely populated regions than care homes within inner city locations and therefore surrounding transmission rates remained relatively low. The implication is that locality largely eliminated the need to establish support networks with external stakeholders because they were not experiencing the same level of devastation seen in many other care homes. This was corroborated by staff who felt ‘fortunate’ compared to what they were seeing on the news.

These findings indicate the importance of effective management but also the extent to which contextual circumstances may or may not have necessitated collaborative networking between care homes and their surrounding communities during the early months of the pandemic. Whilst collaboration was less necessary here, the background coordination of parish council and local actors to produce a ‘safety net’ of resources did highlight the potential of localised collaboration and intervention in times of crisis. Perhaps, had such coordinated localised governance been enabled within the surrounding communities of less fortunate care homes, they may have been spared some of the devastations of the pandemic. Regardless, there is certainly a strong call for greater support towards the care sector for government and policymakers to consider – particularly in terms of clearer guidance, increased funding, and enabling localised governance to support care organisations.

Luke Bradbury graduated from the MSc Public Management in September 2021.

Do shared services improve resilience?  Mixed evidence from district councils during the Covid-19 pandemic

Dr Thomas Elston and Dr Germà Bel

Inter-municipal collaboration, often referred to as ‘shared services,’ has gained a significant foothold in English local government over the last 10-15 years, bringing England into line with much of mainland Europe and the USA. 

This model of jointly providing public services across two or more local jurisdictions, whether through a ‘joint committee’ or ‘lead authority’ model, or by joint commissioning of a private contractor, was primarily intended as an efficiency measure through which cash-strapped councils might attain new economies of scale during the ‘age of austerity.’  Limited evidence to date unfortunately suggests that councils’ large cost-saving aspirations have not tended to be been matched by achievements, though more research is needed.

Nonetheless, when councils and management consultants were preparing their ambitious shared service business cases, typically in the early 2010s, improved service quality and better resilience in the face of unexpected adversity were also named as advantages of the shared services approach, alongside efficiency.  Since efficiency and resilience are often regarded as mutually incompatible (e.g., slack resources are inefficient but protective against shocks), and given that there are few if any empirical tests of the relationship between shared services and business continuity in existing literature, we set out to investigate.

Taking the first Covid-19 lockdown during the spring of 2020 as the sudden and severe ‘adversity’ against which local government resilience was tested, we compared levels of service disruption in collaborating and autonomous councils compared against pre-covid performance, controlling statistically for potential alternative explanations.  Our analysis focuses on revenues and benefits departments in district councils, since a significant proportion of these (ca 30% at the onset of Covid-19) are operated collaboratively.  And we focus on the administration of Housing Benefit specifically, for which robust, high-frequency (monthly and quarterly), and multi-dimensional (speed, quality and cost) performance data is available.

Our study found that disruption of Housing Benefit application processing speeds during lockdown was unrelated to mode of service provision.  For both shared and autonomous arrangements, performance worsened slightly during lockdown, before resuming its pre-pandemic trajectory over the summer of 2020.  However, collaborating councils did show less of a decline in service accuracy objectives during lockdown, measured as both the identification of new debt owing to benefit overpayments (not shown) and, particularly, the recovery of such debt from claimants (shown in the graph below).  These mixed results – no effect on speed, partial protection for accuracy – proved robust to various different econometric specifications.

Average value of debt recovered from Housing Benefits claimants as percentage of total debt outstanding, comparing ‘stand alone’ and collaborative provision, Q4 2018–19 to Q1 2020–21

There are a variety of possible explanations for this pattern. 

First is that the apparent resilience in debt identification and recovery is simply an artifact of the performance differential between shared and autonomous revenues and benefits departments pre-pandemic.  As the graph above indicates, and contrary to business-case predictions, shared services (grey dashed line) appear to be consistently associated with less debt recovery prior to COVID, meaning that autonomous councils simply had ‘further to fall’ during the emergency, producing their appearance of reduced resilience. 

Second, and more substantively, is that high-performing organizations can fall into ‘success traps’ or ‘competency traps.’  According to existing literature on organizational resilience, the low level of challenge facing high-performing organizations during ‘normal’ times can leave them complacent and ill-equipped to deal with unexpected adversity; whereas less-successful organizations are more familiar with confronting and managing adversity in their everyday operations, and thus better rehearsed for managing crises.

Third is that there genuinely is something about the shared services model – be it the increase in operating scale, the balancing of peaks and troughs in demand and resourcing across different partners, the greater experience of remote working prior to COVID, or the lock-in effects that arise when service operations are specified in contracts or service-level agreements – that enables collaborative arrangements to better withstand the challenges of service delivery during lockdown.

Finally, it is interesting to consider why the partial resilience revealed in our data is concentrated on debt identification and recovery, rather than speed – recognizing that bureaucracies often face a trade-off between speed and accuracy of decisions.

Studies of goal conflict suggest that organizations can cope with such split objectives by prioritizing those that are most valued by their largest or loudest constituency.  Benefit claimants and their landlords favour speedy service, whereas central government (which funds Housing Benefit) advocates accuracy.  But perhaps Whitehall overseers pursued this agenda less forcefully during the pandemic, when many distractions arose and when preservation of life and livelihoods was clearly better served by providing speedy financial support to vulnerable populations than by auditing prior applications.

Alternatively, goal conflict can also be address by sequencing – addressing one goal first, and then another. Whereas poor timeliness of benefit processing cannot be subsequently rectified (once a payment is late, it is late), poor accuracy can be corrected subsequently through greater attention to and resourcing of debt collection later in the year or in future years. The debt will still be owed, albeit the risk of debt write-off will be higher. Future research will be able to test this ‘catch-up’ hypothesis once data on debt identification and recovery during subsequent quarters of the pandemic is released.

Overall, then, in contrast to the questionable financial benefits of shared service adoption in the English context, this study has indicated that possible advantages may be gained in terms of service resilience.  We have just secured a research grant to replicate and expand this research agenda into additional service areas and over a longer time frame.

This blog is based on research recently published in Public Management Review.

Dr Thomas Elston is Association Professor of Public Administration at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.  His research focuses on the organisation of public services, and particularly on questions of performance, resilience, reform and democratic control.  His work on shared services has been published in JPART, Public Administration, Public Management Review, and Public Money & Management.

Dr Germà Bel is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Barcelona.  His research deals with the reform of the public sector, with a special focus on privatization, regulation, and competition. His research pays particular attention to local public services, transportation, and infrastructure. His work on shared services has been published in JPART, Public Administration, Public Management Review, Local Government Studies and Urban Affairs Review.

Let’s Tackle Covid

Cllr Ketan Sheth

The ‘mass vaccination event’ at Twickenham Stadium on the Spring Bank Holiday was a proud day for the NHS and local government. The North West London NHS and Hounslow Council, supported by the Rugby Football Union, pulled off this remarkable day with less than a week to plan, following a surge in Covid cases in Hounslow.

The communications around the event included the obvious routes of national, local and social media, but also included targeted door knocking in Hounslow. During the day, as it became clear that there were likely to be some vaccines left over, the local NHS took the wise decision to open up the offer to anyone aged 18 and over and this was quickly picked up and reported by the BBC, Sky and other media outlets. The result was a huge spike in demand towards the end of the day. By the close, over 11,000 people had been vaccinated – a record for a single day at one venue in the UK. Those behind this effort are to be hugely congratulated.

There are three lessons I think we can learn from this remarkable event. First, it may be a myth that young people don’t want to get vaccinated. Most of those turning up when the offer was extended were under 30. Media reports talked of a ‘festival atmosphere’ and those who attended have confirmed to me that there was a real ‘buzz’ among the young people coming forward. A number of young people turned up with older family members, having persuaded them belatedly that they should be vaccinated. While time will tell, this does suggest that there may be more enthusiasm among younger people for getting vaccinated than had been previously suggested.

Second, and perhaps more contentiously, the quicker we open up to all age groups, the easier it will be to coordinate the vaccine effort. Had the whole day been open to anyone aged over 18, it is likely the demand would have been even higher throughout the day. While the initial targeting of older and more vulnerable people made sense, it becomes harder to justify as we move down through the age groups – and harder for the NHS to coordinate and promote vaccination. We might also want to think about vaccinating people at their convenience wherever they live – while the event was targeted at Hounslow residents and others in the NHS ‘North West London’ sector, I know people from Richmond were not turned away.

Finally, what we can learn is that if everyone pulls together and works as one team, remarkable things can be achieved, even in short space of time. This is a lesson that extends beyond Covid-19 and the vaccination programme – and bodes well for ‘integrated care systems’, in which the NHS and local authorities are expected to work in statutory partnerships in the years ahead.

Cllr Ketan Sheth is Chair of Brent Council‘s Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and Chair of NW London Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee 

Help council commissioning to ‘build back better’

Jason Lowther

Local government is digging deep into its financial reserves and hiking council tax bills by double inflation, but still anticipates making further service cuts in 2021–22. The Public Accounts Committee report earlier this month shows how central government support hasn’t matched Covid-related budget reductions. More positively, at the same time, councils and partners are eyeing the improvements made to commissioning and procurement during the pandemic and asking whether these could help balance the budget. Can adding value to local government’s annual procurement spend of £100bn help improve outcomes for citizens, sustain local councils, and build a better recovery?

As NESTA’s recent report, A Catalyst for Change, evidenced, councils’ collaboration with other public sector bodies, citizens and the voluntary and private sectors was at the centre of the response to COVID-19. Local authorities ‘stepped into their role as conveners, leveraged their existing relationships and partnerships, and forged new ones to dynamically address key issues. This allowed organisations to link up volunteers with vulnerable people, support businesses, deliver food parcels or find temporary accommodation for rough sleepers’.

I’ve heard from some of the council managers on INLOGOV’s teaching programmes of the amazing agility and flexibility councils have been able to develop with partners in areas such as social care and housing. Commissioning and procurement processes that in the past were seen as inflexible, slow, risk-averse, price-obsessed and lacking innovation were transformed rapidly in response to the immediate threats of the pandemic. Data was shared in more depth and quickly, enabling better targeting of services. More flexible financial and performance management arrangements opened the door to flexible service delivery.

Now, a major research programme led by Dr. Richard Simmons at Stirling University, called Optimising Outcomes, is looking at the impact of Covid on partnering and procurement. The programme is working with key sector bodies such as CIPFA and SOLACE as well as universities and research councils, to answer key questions such as:

  • How, and how effectively, are local authorities deploying their commissioning and procurement functions to address the challenges posed by Covid-19? What are the successes to be celebrated? Where are the tensions that need to be managed? Where is the system at risk of breaking down?
  • What are the opportunities for improved procurement performance? How do local authorities optimise every aspect of procurement spend?
  • Can local authorities adopt more innovative, strategic, entrepreneurial and relational approaches to strengthen local resilience and avoid a weak and incapacitated system?
  • What role can greater data-analytic capacity play in supporting a more agile and effective response?

As part of this research, council managers have been invited to take part in a survey to capture learning from the many challenges and achievements of the sector during the last year.  The survey is aimed at all UK council managers (there is a separate survey for procurement teams) and takes around 10 minutes to complete.  The closing date for responses is 21st June.

If you are a UK council manager and haven’t yet taken part, please would you complete the survey here.    

This is a great opportunity to ‘build back better’ by applying the lessons and innovations councils and partners have developed over the last 18 months. I’ll report back on the results later this year.

Source: DHSC website

Jason Lowther is Director of the Institute for Local Government Studies (INLOGOV)

Sunday’s Census: A billion pound historic curiosity?

Chris Game

In a recent blog entitled ‘Elections in a pandemic’ Jason Lowther concluded, along with the great bulk of surveyed council Returning Officers and Chief Executives, that ‘Super Thursday’ on May 6th may not be a great idea.  Over 5,000 representatives in 4,300-plus separate ballots, including councillors in 150 English councils and the London Assembly, 13 mayors, 40 Police and Crime Commissioners, plus the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd, town and parish councils, and the odd local referendum – to complete what might well be our “most complex elections ever”.

On balance, and notwithstanding that well over 100 countries have managed to hold significant public votes over the past 13 months, Jason’s conclusion was that, while:

      “as always, local government will rise to the challenge if the decision is to go ahead in May, … the Westminster government … might be wise to start contemplating a Plan B.”

I happen to agree, although I can’t pretend to share the “incredulity” of those council chief executives Jason had consulted “that the Government seems unwilling to seriously consider delaying until October”. Indeed, it serves as the starting point for this blog.

Postponement of ‘Super Thursday’ – including now probably the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election – would still be perfectly feasible.  It would reassure at least some potential voters, and almost certainly increase turnout – as evidenced in a recent online survey by Hope Not Hate, the anti-racism charity, and the National Education Union, as part of their #MAKEVOTINGEASIER drive. Over a quarter of respondents felt the Covid-19 situation would make them less likely to go to the polling station to vote, rising to around 40% of ethnic minorities and the largely unvaccinated under-25s.

Ah, but, Government Ministers and the Electoral Commission probably responded, you didn’t describe polling stations’ additional safety measures, and how easily – if you remember and have a working printer handy – you can apply for a postal or proxy vote by April 20th or 27th respectively.

But detailed dates aren’t the real issue.  Last year’s postponement came on March 13th, this year’s current deadline is March 29th, and even could be stretched. But it won’t be, because those Ministers have nil incentive to jeopardise any political ‘vaccine bounce’, or #MAKEVOTINGEASIER for more young and ethnic minority voters to turn out and support mainly other parties.

Even that vanishingly small chance, though, is a big difference from Sunday’s Census, which passed its optimal postponement date sometime last summer – when Covid’s potential impacts were already apparent, leading the canny Scots and Irish  to postpone their scheduled Censuses until March and April 2022 respectively.

The Chief Executive of the Scottish Public Record Office, National Records of Scotland, described it as “the right decision”, as it has surely proved.  Scottish academics, or at least some, disagreed – one labelling it “an act of scientific vandalism”, while “the country’s leading historian” (name in URL), almost incredibly, could “not understand how the incidence of coronavirus in a year’s time would affect the collection of census data in Scotland” – which even then made you wonder what he thought the purpose of the Census actually is.

Speaking as a definitely non-leading academic, and nowadays merely tax-paying UK citizen, I can honestly claim to have applauded the Scots’ July decision at the time, and, as circumstantial witnesses, would call on the undergrad students to whom I once taught ‘Research and Measurement in Public Policy’.  I offered to bet the class of 2000/01 that that April’s Census would be the last traditional count-everybody-on-a-random-Sunday Census of its type, and that by 2011 we would have followed the increasing number of at least European countries who even then were switching to alternative, more efficient, flexible, and significantly cheaper methodologies.

I would have lost hands-down, of course, but I’m not completely stoopid, and knew that by then they would have long left Birmingham, forgotten the bet, or both.  Rather more importantly, though, the Scots’ decision and the questionable value of significant chunks of Sunday’s data should finally end the mythology of our 200-year old decennial event being uniquely capable of providing policymakers with the comprehensive statistical data they will require over the next decade.

Yes, mythology, in several ways.  First, there is no ‘UK Census’ and never has been. Nothing to do with devolution. Right back to the first official census in 1801 – of England and Wales – it has always been censusES, with Scotland then Ireland in 1821 doing their own thing. Usually that has meant the four countries using the same arbitrary Sunday, asking similar but not identical questions, and separately processing and publishing their results.

Genuine UK-wide statistical comparability – “harmonisation of outputs” is the favoured euphemism – is a real struggle. Even the Office for National Statistics rated only half the last Census’s roughly 50 questions as ‘highly comparable’ across the whole UK. A quarter were ‘broadly comparable’, the rest ‘country specific’.

Sunday’s exercise, therefore, will be a sophisticated snapshot of Scotland-less pandemic Britain at the most exceptional, unrepresentative point in most of our lives. And costing close to £1 billion – much of it going to the Zurich-based Adecco company, for expensively recruiting and training 30,000 inexperienced ‘field staff’ for door-to-door ‘completion-checking’  – a further Covid-model scandal in itself.

The Scots’ foresightful postponement obviously scuppers any genuine UK-wide comparability. It should, however, enable them to reconsider and potentially rephrase key questions and reduce obvious pitfalls: over-counting those working from home; under-counting street homelessness, the unemployed – by excluding the ‘furloughed’ –  and the vulnerably housed; miscounting travel-to-work patterns, migrant workers, early availability for work, and our own university students.

Then there are potentially hugely important new questions – on vaccination perhaps, place of work, mode of travel-to-work, travel days per week. Plus the opportunity to get some existing ones aired and re-clarified – why Britain’s Jews and Sikhs aren’t treated as separate ethnic groups, for example, and the really rather basic difference between a person’s sex and their gender identity.

We know this Government doesn’t like gender self-identification, but that hardly justifies muddying its Census guidance. It was only finally sorted last week, thanks to the crowd-funded campaign group, Fair Play for Women, and a High Court judge – after an estimated 3 million of us had, albeit prematurely, completed our forms.

To clarify: ‘sex’ is one’s legal sex, as registered on birth or gender recognition certificate – but not necessarily one’s passport, which, like a driving licence, is alterable without a formal legal process, and so, contrary to the original Census guidance, NOT technically a legal document. Gender identity is an entirely separate, voluntary question for over-16 respondents.  You’d think someone official over the preparatory decade might have clocked that – wouldn’t you?

All of which shambles surely means we may finally join – possibly as early as 2026 with an emergency, catch-up census – at least most other European countries in using census methodologies more appropriate to the 21st Century than the early 19th – more frequent perhaps, thus more continuously reflective of change, and significantly cheaper. 

It is 50 years now since Denmark held its last ‘traditional’ census and started modelling the switch towards register-based – and in some countries five-yearly –  censuses, with information on population, households and dwellings being continuously compiled in various registers, files and databases.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe, in announcing that some 15 countries have so far postponed planned censuses to some degree – just contemplate all that “scientific vandalism”! – suggests that approaching 60% of the 2020-22 round of European censuses will be at least partly register-based, leaving the UK, Ireland and mainly small and/or Eastern European countries with their ‘traditional, direct collection’ methods – plus France, forever proud in its exceptionalism, with its ‘rolling census’.

However, some Stop Press news from the Office for National Statistics: “We are investigating the feasibility of moving to a census based on administrative data after 2021.”  Fingers crossed that they don’t rush things.

 

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Chris Game is an INLOGOV Associate, and Visiting Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan.  He is joint-author (with Professor David Wilson) of the successive editions of Local Government in the United Kingdom, and a regular columnist for The Birmingham Post.