Guernsey's lack of census leaves demographics uncertainty

Shoppers in St Peter Port
Image caption Guernsey's population statistics are published quarterly

Despite an impending general election, it seems Guernsey's government may not know who is in the island.

Population statistics are published quarterly by the States, but these show little information relating to the demographics of the island's residents.

A census was carried out in 2001, and it is on this that some figures continue to be based, as the States cancelled the 2011 census.

Instead it opted for a rolling database which is not due to go live until 2014.

Until then, how does the island's government know who is living on the island?

The electoral roll offers little help. The Home Department set a target of registering 35,000 names for the election on 18 April.

While it is known that the department fell some way short of this figure, the final number has not yet been released.

Public policy

The information on the roll gives little insight in to the backgrounds of the island's residents as only names and addresses are published.

Guernsey's current population figures are based on records held by the Social Security Department, which are cross-checked with the Education Department.

Currently these are broken down into age and sex demographics only. Nationality, ethnicity and occupation statistics are not published.

Image caption Mr Pires said he estimated about 1,200 Portuguese and Madeiran nationals permanently lived in Guernsey

The States's recently launched new website gives users the opportunity to translate the page into Portuguese, Latvian or Polish.

It is widely accepted that these are the island's three main immigrant groups, however numbers are hard to come by.

Arecent referendum in Latviasaw Guernsey's Latvian Association run a polling booth for the local population.

Lilita Kruze, the leader of the association, said the poll attracted 770 voters - although it remained unknown how many people had not taken part.

Ms Kruze said estimates of how many Latvians were living in Guernsey varied between from 800 to 2,000.

A similar issue exists within the island's Portuguese and Madeiran communities.

Elvio Pires, president of the Guernsey Portuguese Association, said the group estimated there were about 1,200 permanent Portuguese and Madeiran residents in Guernsey.

He added that a further 500 to 600 were in the island on a short-term basis.

Mr Pires said his information was taken from the 2001 census, along with what could be gleaned from the local community and some data from Portugal.

As Guernsey has no formal Polish association, there are no figures available for the island's Polish community.

Guernsey's migrant population extends beyond these three nationalities, however, with residents hailing from countries in every continent.

Dr Jakub Bijak, of the Social Statistics and Demography division at the University of Southampton, thinks keeping track of the number of immigrants is vital.

He said: "If you think about the provision of some services that require translation of some documents ... or provision of education to children whose first language is not English.

"These details are important for very specific areas of public policy at the very local level."

On the subject of a census, he said: "They are the ways of actually verifying the de facto population - the number of people and composition of demographic structure of people who are actually living in a country."

He added: "Especially in the context of Guernsey... getting accurate numbers of the population, I think, would be quite important for the government of Guernsey."

A spokesman for the States' Policy Council said of the planned rolling information database: "This project is due to be completed in 2014 and will provide a permanent method for reporting population data, including population by parish and other information."

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