Census failures and political accusations

The 2018 census has been a bit of a disaster, with the first use of extensive online responses, and a large reduction on the number of people who took part. This had led to significant delays in releasing what data they have gathered as Stats NZ has been doing what they can to fill the gaps in data.

The problems may impact on things like health funding, education planning and electoral boundary fixing.

And political accusations are flying, with National blaming the Minister of Statistics James Shaw, and Shaw and PM Jacinda Ardern blaming the last National government for underfunding the budget.

But this has been questioned – the 2013 census budget was $72 million, while the 2018 census budget was $117 million.

Planning for the census started while National were still in Government, but the actual census was done after Labour-Greens-NZ First took over.

RNZ – Census 2018: Stats NZ sets September release for ‘robust’ data

Stats NZ says it has plugged enough of the gaps in last year’s census to be able to start releasing data from September, but some data – including iwi statistics – are too incomplete to be regarded as official statistics.

Using a methodology that combines 89 percent of real census data and 11 percent of other government administrative data, Stats NZ said it now had records for 4.7 million people in the dataset.

In a statement, government statistician Liz MacPherson said the data now met the quality criteria for population structure information, meaning it could be used for planning, population-based funding for DHBs, and electorate boundaries.

“This means Stats NZ will use 2018 Census data to update the official population estimates and projections that many organisations use for their planning,” Ms MacPherson said.

Earlier this month, Ms MacPherson admitted that nearly one in seven people did not complete the census. The low response rate has delayed the data release twice.

“The release of data has been delayed twice because of the complex and careful work required to lift the quality of the census dataset,” Ms MacPherson said.

She said she wanted to make it clear this dataset was reliable, robust, and based on maths, not guesswork.

While government records helped to fill in gaps, Stats NZ said it could not be used for all the census topics and as a result some data might not be released as official statistics.

Newsroom:  Māori miss out in Census 2018

Data relating to iwi affiliation, for example, will not be available for the 2018 Census.

A lack of iwi affiliation data could have an impact on Treaty settlements.

A Te Arawhiti spokesperson told Newsroom it used iwi affiliation to build understanding of the groups it was negotiating with and to create regional profiles and help the public sector with iwi information.

The data was also a “secondary” factor the Crown considered when developing its Treaty settlement offers.

The spokesperson said Te Arawhiti would work with Statistics NZ and iwi to gather the best usable data from 2018.

Data on Māori ethnicity had been collected accurately, and would be able to be used – just not at the level of iwi.

The Government has announced extra funding, and has slammed the last Government for cutting funding.

James Shaw:  Stats Minister confirms funding for Census fix

Extra funding has been confirmed in this year’s Budget to fix issues arising from the 2018 Census and to ensure the next one is the best it can be, the Minister of Statistics announced today.

“Stats NZ has now confirmed it will provide reliable, quality 2018 census data to calculate how many electorates will be needed for next year’s General Election and to revise electorate boundaries where necessary,” James Shaw said.

“It had to delay other work and re-allocate funds to do it.  As a result there’s a shortfall of $5.76 million needed to complete the delayed work, and that’s being covered in this year’s Budget,” James Shaw said.

“There’s also Budget approval this year of $10.36 million to enable Stats NZ to get ahead of the next census. The money will develop the business case for the 2023 Census and start development work on it.

“The previous National-led Government decided to shift the Census to a mostly online survey and, at the same time, directed Stats NZ to cut costs over two census cycles,” Mr Shaw said.

Moving to a mostly online survey has been contentious. It appears that not enough effort was put into making it easy for people to still do it offline.

But the cost cutting accusations have been challenged.

The way data was collated was changing, and that rate of change is being accelerated.

Newsroom:  Annual census could replace five-year form-filling

The five-yearly national census could become an annual affair as the official statistics agency uses more of the data constantly collected by government agencies rather than rely on declining response rates from individual citizens.

The agency had been testing and refining models for use of administrative data for seven years already. It had intended to use an increasing amount of such data from the 2023 census onwards and instead accelerated its modelling processes to create a statistically robust 2018 census result, McPherson said.

Some 1.2 percent fewer people participated in the census than anticipated. Data gaps left by people not completely filling in their forms meant partial information equivalent to around 500,000 citizens was drawn from administrative data sources rather than census forms filled in on census night, March 6 last year.

“The team at Stats NZ has risen to the challenge and delivered a new way of confidently combining the strengths of census and administrative records to create the 2018 census dataset.

“There are now records for approximately 4.7 million people in the census dataset. The number of records is 1.2 percent, or 58,000 people, less than our best estimate of the population on Census Day 6 March 2018. In 2013, the official census undercount was 2.4 percent, or 103,800 people.

McPherson said the 2018 data was robust enough to allow the re-setting of electoral boundaries for the 2020 election and the population funding models used by public hospitals to determine their budgets, contrary to speculation from critics of the census process.

Change was inevitable. The transition seems to have been stuffed up.