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INCOME QUESTION ESSENTIAL IN CENSUS

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Poverty at a very local level throughout Scotland will be measurable for the first time if a question on income is ...
Poverty at a very local level throughout Scotland will be measurable for the first time if a question on income is included in the 2001 census, said COSLA on the eve of the debate on the census in the Scottish parliament. As the main users of the census, Scottish councils need income to plan vital services for their communities and inform their work on social inclusion - a key priority council's share with the Scottish executive

'Information on income would help us to target our resources more accurately at those areas of poverty and need which most need help,' says COSLA president Norman Murray, 'and these are issues which cut right across Scotland's urban and rural areas. We want to deliver the most appropriate services to those who need them most - a question on income in the census would generate a wealth of information which would help councils be more effective both in service delivery and in achieving value for money.

'It is disappointing in the extreme that the Scottish executive is not

taking an income question on board in the census. We believe that their concerns about the willingness of people to answer a question on income can be addressed.

Head of research and intelligence at COSLA Nicki Baker points out: 'The census is a unique source of information at the local neighbourhood level at which councils mainly work. Although there are other sources of information on poverty, such as the numbers of people receiving state benefits, none of them are adequate substitutes for income data from the census. An income question would show us where there are a lot of people on low earnings or not claiming welfare benefit entitlements. These include considerable numbers of people living in low-wage industries and in rural areas.

'Concerns that an income question would lower the number of people

answering the census are based on an unduly negative interpretation of

census test results. These could largely be overcome by a pre-census

publicity campaign saying why information about income is needed and how it would be used. The census in the United States has for a long time included a question on income.'

Stirling councillor Corrie McChord, COSLA's social inclusion spokesperson, comments: 'Social inclusion is a priority we share with the government and with our partner organisations. We want to make a real impression in combating the problems of social inclusion which adversely effect such a large proportion of our population and to do that we need to have as much detailed information as possible about Scotland - right down to the individual councillor's ward.'

And cllr McChord lays to rest concerns that people might have about

answering a question on income in the census: 'The information collected in the census is kept absolutely confidential

and is released in such a way that makes it impossible to identify any

individual or household. Users of census income data will not able to find out how much any individual or household earns, but they will be able to find out how extensive poverty is in different areas of Scotland, right down to the local neighbourhood level. With local income data to hand councils are in a much better position, to identify areas of greatest need and tackle social exclusion.'

'We have developed a strong case for a question on income to be included in the census, which we have argued for since the last census in 1991. The arguments for an income question greatly outweigh the benefits of not having one.

Cllr Murray concludes: 'I hope that MSPs will see the benefits and

value of having an income question and will debate the matter seriously and carefully. If the executive is still minded not to have an income question in the census, it will still need to give a convincing explanation of how the intended. use of income data from alternative sources will allow data to be collected on all income groups at all area levels. Such data will be essential to building an inclusive Scotland over the next decade.'

NOTE

Councils - as the main users of the census - would make extensive use of income data in the following areas of work:

- Informing work on social inclusion - a major government priority

- More accurate targeting of resources to areas of poverty and need

- Providing a direct measure of deprivation - compared with existing proxy measures

- Providing a direct measure of poverty - both urban and rural

- Better targeting of benefit take-up campaigns

- Income information at small area level

- Labour market analyses

- Calculating the spending potential of areas - frequently requested for business planning for incoming or expanding businesses

- Retail spending analysis - for retail impact studies

- Housing needs analysis - particularly including 'housing

affordability'

- Housing demand projections - tenure change

- Socio-economic analyses and classifications

While the above list is relatively short, underlying each item is a very extensive amount of income data analysis needed to inform councils' work, especially at the small area level.

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