Census data

By Leon A Smith
February 21, 2013

As further analysis of the 2011 Census data starts to trickle through, it’s fascinating to watch. Based on the information which we have, we see the gradual movement of the epicentre of our community – whilst on the one hand the Haredi community continues to grow rapidly primarily in North East London and in Manchester, at the same time there is another phenomena at play. This is the gradual drift of the community further north to South Hertfordshire. Whilst this has been a trend which has been in play now for many years, the population movement is now becoming very significant. Similarly the community in certain parts of Manchester continues to expand rapidly.

Such information is enormously valuable to those providing services within the community. One needs to know where demand for services is likely to come from in the future and where it is likely that demand will decline. Yet whilst this information is invaluable to us, one must also recognise the limits of that data. That excellent organisation, JPR, has already done first class work in producing the information which we have thus far and in the fullness of time will be doing further analysis as more and more information becomes available.

Any charitable organisation providing services in the community must be appreciative of the value of this work. Yet numbers of course do not tell the whole story. In the first instance we need to remind ourselves that the question regarding religion in the Census is an optional one. We can therefore assume that not every Jewish person in the country has chosen to answer this optional question – albeit demographers are able to make assumptions on the likely response rate to that question and therefore are able to make further projections.

Another factor for consideration is just because somebody identifies themselves religiously as being Jewish, this does not necessarily mean that they will automatically avail themselves of services provided by Jewish organisations. There may be a whole host of other factors or criteria that apply in deciding whether or not to use these services. These criteria might include quality, reputation, cost, location, and many other factors.

We must therefore ensure in planning our services for the future that we recognise the science of projecting services for the future is not an exact one and as such demographic data which is available to us should be seen in a wider context.

I am particularly interested in the demographic data that exists for South London where surely analysis is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Jewish community is far more widely dispersed than it is in North London – ie there are no high concentrations of Jewish people in any one constituency or ward – rather they are more thinly spread across the whole of the area. Whilst I am not a demographer, I would summise that drawing meaningful conclusions from this data may be somewhat more complicated.

My reference to “other criteria” which may help people decide what services to use may be helped by the community survey which is about to be put out again by JPR. That will of course give us more indication and information of people’s attitudes towards the use of Jewish services and facilities.

Watching the population drifts of the Jewish community is something which I find fascinating. It is truly remarkable to see the flow of communities over a number of decades. Ultimately one must assume that this is largely because of economic factors and the ambitions of successive generations to enhance their own quality of life and move into areas where property is more affordable and/or at least provides better value for money. One sometimes wonders where the population drift will end. Could it be that one day the population will drift so far north that the south of Birmingham will become the new centre of the Jewish population!

Information is vital to service providers but must only be treated as a guide. Any kind of formal planning needs to be seen in this context and still needs decision makers having to make an enormous number of different assumptions.


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