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Census (Kashmiri Ethnic Representation)

Volume 576: debated on Monday 3 March 2014

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Amber Rudd.)

I am extremely grateful finally to have this debate. As some may be aware, the Kashmiri ethnic representation question was first raised in 2007 by Baroness Nicholson in the other place. Seven years later, it is finally being debated in this Chamber. Various Kashmiri organisations have estimated that about one in four British Muslims are of Kashmiri origin—that is one quarter of the British Muslim population who live in our communities, pay taxes and contribute to our economy. But the true accuracy of that statistic can never be known, as there is no official documentation of their ethnicity on the census.

British Kashmiris play a major role in the social, political, cultural, economic and religious life of the United Kingdom. The Kashmiri people are proud, hard workers who have brought a taste of Kashmir to our cities and towns. We have three Members of the Commons of Kashmiri origin: the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti); and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) and for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood). In addition, Kashmiris hold hundreds of positions as local councillors across the country and heavily influence more than 30 constituencies at election time. This is why it is distressing that as a result of not having a Kashmiri ethnicity category, a community that totals well over half a million people is left vulnerable—I would go as far as to say that this is an injustice.

I wish to focus on two consequences of ignoring Kashmiri ethnicity in the census: under-representation and deprivation. I am of the belief that British Kashmiris run the risk of being under-represented in a population that does not specify their ethnicity. In my constituency, the vast majority of people of Kashmiri origin live in the most deprived wards. They are therefore most likely to be under-represented in terms of higher educational attainment and most likely to be over-represented in terms of poor, overcrowded housing. I have heard from people in my constituency that unemployment in Kashmiri communities is extremely high, perhaps 60% to 70% in some areas. It is also the case that people in these communities are disproportionately likely to rely on state benefits and most likely to be extremely economically deprived. Evidence from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation supports those conclusions. Please note my emphasis on the phrase “most likely” because speculation is all that we can do at this point. Minister, there is a community of people in our constituencies who are suffering because their needs are disregarded and their identities are lost.

Let me take this opportunity to put it on the record that an incredible amount of hard work has been done by councillors of Kashmiri origin in my constituency. They have put in many hours trying to address the concerns that I have just outlined. Councillors Daalat Ali, Amna Mir, Aftab Hussain, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Zaman and Shah Wazir all do incredible work for their communities. The work is extremely demanding because of the challenges that those communities face.

In my weekly surgery, I carry out a large amount of immigration casework. I sometimes make a point of asking people where they are from—what is their ethnic origin. Some respond, “Bangladesh.” Some say, “Ukraine.” Others say, “Poland”, but most respond, “Pakistan.” I stop them and clarify, “Do you mean Kashmir?” Their faces light up. They are delighted that someone in the political system recognises the difference.

It is troubling that while the census forgets about Kashmiris, Kashmiris are being told that their ethnic identity is not valid. Many have an incredibly strong sense of ethnic identity. They do not want to be counted as Pakistani or Indian because that is not how they think of themselves. Is it right for us as a democratic society, built on the differences of the many, to help to strip away the identities of the few? Should we not be celebrating the diverse cultures and identities within our country? Since 1991, the number of ethnicities on the census has doubled. That reflects the growing diversity of our country and the economic opportunities available to people here.

Before the 2011 census, the Office for National Statistics tested more than 20 new ethnicities, of which two would be added to the census. The ONS decided that any additional ethnicities beyond its quota would lead to compromises in the layout of the census. It decided that Gypsy/Irish Traveller and Arab ethnicities deserved to be represented in the census.

We now know, because of inclusion in the census, that Gypsies and Irish Travellers experience huge levels of unemployment, poor health, and often have poor educational attainment, according to ONS figures. They have few qualifications and a significant portion of their young population is not actively searching for work. Such results may be frustrating to hear, but, at the very least, preparations can be made to address the problems. After all, is not the fundamental reason of a census to convert population statistics into efficient, beneficial services?

The British Kashmiri community, the population of which is estimated to be more than four times that of Gypsies and Irish Travellers, will not receive special benefits catered to their needs and, as a result, will continue on the path of deprivation. Perhaps the most pressing issue surrounding these services is the language barrier. People of Kashmiri origin are disproportionately likely to rely on various state and local authority services. We therefore need to make sure that an appropriate number of staff are able to speak Parahi. It is my belief that inclusion on the census will help to ensure that we can take such steps and therefore better co-ordinate our services.

The Kashmiri population in my constituency makes up a significant portion of the night-time economy work force as taxi-drivers, take-away operators and by working in other jobs with unsocial hours. Again, knowing this information in a more statistical way would allow better community engagement strategies to be developed. Improved community engagement from my own local authority and many like it could create vital links to economic and social opportunities, so that Kashmiris can achieve their fullest potential. We could also look at introducing education and integration programmes among Kashmiri communities, who are historically very tight-knit and sometimes hesitant to take outside assistance.

As well as looking at our own communities, we should also be aware of the development of Kashmir itself. The Department for International Development is very active in Kashmir and a large amount of UK aid money is spent there. I recently met people from the RSA—the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce—to discuss its Pakistan Calling project, aimed at engaging the British Pakistani diaspora with development issues in Pakistan. The efforts of such fantastic projects would be greatly assisted if we had proper information about the number of people of Kashmiri origin in our country.

Now, obviously, it is almost impossible to discuss Kashmir without mentioning the current disputed state of that region. I understand that neither the Indian nor Pakistani Governments might be overjoyed by the United Kingdom Government recognising the Kashmiri identity as valid, but I would just like to make this point: I am strongly of the view that we should not let our own domestic arrangements be dictated to us by a desire to keep other countries happy. I hope that the Minister shares this view.

To conclude, I would like to ask the Minister a number of questions. First, will he update the House on the preparations for the next census and whether the Government intend to hold one? Will he clarify whether they will consider adding new ethnicity categories and will Kashmiri be one of those considered? Finally, does he share my concerns about the challenges that face the Kashmiri community in this country, and does he agree that we need proper information if we are to meet these challenges?

If we continue to ignore the issues that people in this community face then it is not just they who will suffer but all British society. This seems a rather dramatic argument for what, at the end of the day, is simply a very small box on a very big form, but I really do feel that it would have important symbolic and practical value; practical, because it would allow us to gather more information on this important group and therefore target resources more effectively to meet their needs; and symbolic, because it would say to British Kashmiris that we accept them for who they are. It says to them that just because they are British does not mean they are not also Kashmiri.

I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) on securing a debate that is arguably overdue. I endorse what he had to say about the important role that the Kashmiri population plays in this country. His speech, powerful as it was, educated me about some of the challenges that that community faces, as I would not know that from my constituency. I very much welcome the opportunity to respond and to report on how the Kashmiri community was recognised in the 2011 census and the current status of planning for the collection of census-type statistics in the future, which is the main thrust of his inquiry.

I should perhaps have prefaced my remarks by explaining that, as the census is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland, I will restrict my response therefore solely to the context of the census in England and Wales, which is administered by the Office for National Statistics on behalf of the UK Statistics Authority. In my response, it may help if I summarise the position regarding the collection of information on Kashmiris in the 2011 census. As in the previous census, the 2011 census included a question on ethnic grouping that allowed people to record themselves as Kashmiri.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Amber Rudd.)

As in the previous census, the 2011 census included a question on ethnic groups that allowed people to record themselves as Kashmiri by using the write-in facility in each of the main ethnic groupings on the census questionnaire. The question was not intended to establish the ethnic composition of the population as it might be understood by, for example, sociologists, but to capture in a common-sense or pragmatic way information on the categories of persons who are likely to be the victims of racial inequality or discrimination.

There is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a wide range of uses for ethnicity data collected in the census, including the opportunity to enable organisations to meet their statutory obligations on race relations and equal opportunities legislation. There is an element in the formulae for grant allocation by central and local government to inform policy development and monitoring, and to provide public bodies with a better understanding of the communities they serve and hence to inform public service provision.

The list of categories used to collect the ethnicity data was designed to enable the majority of the population to identify themselves in a manageable way. However, there is a practical limit to the number of separate tick box categories that can be included in any single ethnicity question. The question was already the longest on the questionnaire in the 2001 census, and consultation with users and communities during the planning of the 2011 census revealed a demand for yet more specific response categories to be included. In all, there were requests for about 20 new categories including Cornish, Gypsy/Irish Traveller, Arab, Sikh and, in particular, Kashmiri. The Office for National Statistics began consulting users in March 2005 on their requirements for the content of the census, with further consultations in 2006 and 2007 specifically on the topics of ethnicity, national identity, language and religion.

Four submissions of the 2,000 or more received during the 2005 consultation were from the Kashmiri community. Some 78 respondents of the 530 to the subsequent consultation in 2007 sought better information on the Kashmiri population. Of these, 20 were from local government service providers while the rest were from special interest groups and private individuals. The need for better information on Kashmiris was also raised by three attendees at ONS’s census open meetings in March 2007. The case for a Kashmiri tick box to be included in the 2011 census ethnic group question was considered carefully alongside the requests for all the other new categories—many more than could possibly be included on the census questionnaire.

With space for only two new tick boxes, ONS developed a set of principles by which requirements for the new categories could be assessed and prioritised. They covered the strength of need for the information; the lack of alternative sources of information; the clarity and quality of the information collected and acceptability to respondents; and comparability with the 2001 census data. The reasons most often cited for identifying Kashmiris as distinct from Pakistanis, for whom a tick box category was already provided, included, first, identity. Although, as the hon. Gentleman knows better than I do, Kashmiris may self-identify as Pakistani, that may not be their strongest or preferred choice; this is linked to the desire by some Kashmiris for a separate Kashmiri state.

The second reason was resource allocation and service delivery. Local authorities and other organisations may not distribute resources effectively among different parts of the self-reported Pakistani population. Organisations may make assumptions about the need for language translation provision for this population—for example, that Urdu is the only language required for those with low English language proficiency. Thirdly, monitoring inequalities was a consideration. There is a suggestion that Kashmiris may be more disadvantaged than other Pakistanis as a result of their rural background. Their experiences may be masked by those of other Pakistanis when they are combined in the same ethnic grouping. That is the core reason often cited for identifying Kashmiris as distinct from Pakistanis.

The case for a Kashmiri tick box scored well in the ONS prioritisation exercise, but not as well as the two new ethnic group categories that were eventually included: Gypsy/Irish Traveller and Arab. Moreover, there were other ethnic groups of the Indian subcontinent—Sikh, in particular—that respondents would have expected to see if a Kashmiri category had been included. Introducing further tick boxes on the census questionnaire would have meant removing something else or making unacceptable compromises with questionnaire layout and the consequent quality of the information collected.

Following representations and meetings—in particular a meeting at the ONS on 1 May 2009 between senior ONS officials and Kashmiri representatives, including the co-ordinator of the Kashmir national identity campaign, who I understand is one of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents—a Kashmiri research project was undertaken in 2009. A subsequent report was published, with which the hon. Gentleman is no doubt familiar, given his role as treasurer of the all-party group on Kashmir. It is available on the ONS website, the details of which I can provide to him later, should he so wish.

The conclusions of the research project were that the addition of a Kashmiri tick box increased the likelihood of multiple ticking, because people could consider themselves to be Kashmiri and Pakistani, Indian, or some other ethnic group; and the overall rate of multiple response in a postal test had been low, but focus groups and interviews had revealed that the addition of a Kashmiri tick box might cause confusion among respondents over which box to tick.

Many of the arguments for information on Kashmiris are related to the need to ensure that services are provided in the appropriate languages, a point the hon. Gentleman made. Kashmiris speak more than one language from the Kashmir region, and a key concern was that service delivery organisations assume that the only language needed for Pakistanis is Urdu. However, the ONS argued that that information would be better collected from the question on main language that it proposed including in the 2011 census for the first time. That would identify those people whose main language is Pahari or Mirpuri. Service providers would then have the information required to identify the services needed to support the Kashmiri people who would otherwise be disadvantaged because of language difficulties.

Taken as a whole, the programme of consultation with the Kashmiri community, whether through formal advisory groups, public and invited meetings, or the ONS’s innovative community liaison programme, successfully contributed in the end to a high level of support for, and participation in, the census. Although some representatives of the community actively opposed the census, even in the latter stages of the consultation, the community eventually ran its own self-funded publicity campaign to urge Kashmiris to “be counted and get recognised” by using the write-in option on the questionnaire.

The lack of a specific Kashmiri tick box has not prevented information about the Kashmiri community from being available from the 2011 census results. Write-in responses to the ethnic group question were coded according to the main ethnic grouping under which they were recorded, as was done following the 2001 census, and the results have been published. As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, some 25,265 individuals identified themselves as Kashmiri in that way. Almost all wrote in their response under the main “Asian/Asian British” ethnic group, but a small minority identified themselves among some of the other main groups— 125 under the “Mixed/multiple ethnic” group, 105 under the “White” group, and 352 under the “Other” group. The total figure compares with the 23,191 who reported themselves as Kashmiri in the 2001 census.

The hon. Gentleman asked how information on Kashmiris will be collected in any future census. I have to advise him that it is too early to know whether there will be another census in England and Wales in the form that we have previously known, or what questions might be asked, but he can be reassured that any proposals for a question on ethnicity in any future census will be based on a comprehensive programme of consultation and testing to ensure that it will meet users’ requirements and be acceptable and understandable to respondents. He will already be aware of that from the ONS’s answer to his recent parliamentary question.

The UK Statistics Authority established the Beyond 2011 programme in April 2011 to consider the best way of meeting future requirements for population and socio-demographic statistics in England and Wales by assessing the relative merits of a number of alternative approaches. Over the last three years the programme has undertaken extensive research to determine the best way of providing population statistics in future. The results of that work show that there are two potentially viable approaches to census taking in future: once a decade, like that conducted in 2011, but primarily online; and using existing administrative data and compulsory annual surveys. The issues and implications associated with the findings, including descriptions of each approach and its strengths, weaknesses, risks and opportunities, as well as information on the statistics that each method provides, formed the basis for a major public consultation in the latter part of 2013. One response has been received from a private individual that referred to the recognition of people with a Kashmiri heritage, but it did not specifically call for a Kashmiri tick box in the ethnic group question in the next census.

The results of the consultation are being analysed and a full report will be published in spring 2014. It is expected that the national statistician and the UK Statistics Authority will make a recommendation to the Government based on a comprehensive assessment of the research undertaken. It will then be for the Government and Parliament to agree the arrangements for conducting any future census in England and Wales on the basis of that recommendation.

I should stress to the hon. Gentleman that at this point no decisions have been made on the topics or questions that could be considered for any future census. Consultation on the 2011 census questions did not start until 2005, so whatever the form of the next census, the ONS would not expect to start consultations on its content until next year at the earliest. However, in securing this debate and in his speech, the hon. Gentleman has played an important role in ensuring that the voice of the Kashmiri community will be heard loud and clear in that process.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.