Populations up and down – bad news for some local authorities

The census data on population in England and Wales makes for interesting reading. The media have homed in on the changes in age profiles and the impact these will have on various public services, especially the NHS and adult social care.

But my attention was caught by the changes in population at local authority level, because government grants to local authorities are based on population. The specific timing of the census during the pandemic means that the population figures may not accurately represent the situation once it is over.

You can read the ONS report here. It usefully includes this interactive map which shows the changes in each local authority.


If you zoom in to London you can see that in the three central London boroughs of Camden, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea the population has reduced since 2011, the latter by nearly 10%. It has been suggested that some of this is accounted for by wealthy residents in these boroughs who moved out to their second homes during the pandemic, so does not present an accurate picture.

Of course, the population in some other areas has also gone down, and there may well be different reasons for them, especially those in rural areas.

There is another issue. Between one census and the next the ONS estimates the population for each local authority, and Government funding is based on these estimates. Many more local authorities are shown in the census to have populations in 2021 which are below the estimates for 2020, even if their populations have in fact increased. You can see graphs showing some of these in this FT article. (As an aside, the figures for Kingston upon Thames will have no impact on funding since the borough receives zero – yes, zero – in support grants from the Government)

All this does mean that some councils are going to receive a double whammy – with grants reduced because of population decline plus increased demand for adult social care. How will it be resolved?

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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