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Making sense of Oxford's growing population
IT is Mark Fransham’s job to use the latest figures available to create a better understanding of Oxford.
Oxford City Council’s social research officer is tasked with providing the authority with the most up-to-date information on the city’s population, economy and society.
He said: “This means looking at population growth, the age of the population, international migration, house prices, number and types of jobs, unemployment, poverty and lots more.
“If it can be counted, then it’s something I’m interested in.”
Mr Fransham, who has been in the post for eight years, uses official Government statistics – including the Census – to put together his picture of Oxford. He said: “The council employs me to ensure its strategies and policies have a firm basis in the available evidence.
“The work I do helps to shape the work that is done to meet our priorities.”
He said: “One of our concerns is the poor condition of some private sector rented housing in the city.
“My work can tell our decision makers how much private rented housing there is, where it is, where it is increasing and decreasing, and the types of people who are living in that housing.”
The married father-of-two, who lives in Kidlington, said his work showed Oxford was changing rapidly.
He said: “The old university buildings in the city centre give Oxford a sense of permanence, but so much is changing and so quickly.
“The city is currently in the fastest period of population growth that it has ever experienced, growing at around 15,000 residents per decade.”
Figures also show immigration is increasing. In 2011, 28 per cent of the city’s residents were born outside of the UK compared with 14 per cent in 1991.
And Mr Fransham said: “The Oxford economy has changed beyond recognition over the last 40 years.
“We have moved from an economy where car manufacturing was the major city industry, to one where manufacturing employment has declined and the focus is now on the modern ‘knowledge economy’ focused on the universities, science, healthcare, IT and publishing. Tourism and culture are also very important.
- Shoppers in Cornmarket, Oxford, part of a busier city centre than even just a decade ago
“Oxford is at the centre of a wider Oxfordshire economy which is buoyant and growing – unemployment is lower than other parts of the country because it has successfully made the transition from manufacturing-led employment to the service sector.”
Recent statistics show Oxford is the least affordable city for housing in the UK – house prices and rents in London are higher but that is offset by higher wages.
Mr Fransham said Oxford had great social divides, adding: “In a city which educates some of the country’s wealthiest, most privileged children, one quarter of Oxford’s children grow up in poverty and educational attainment at GCSE is below the UK average.
“There are also health inequalities which mean that men living in the city’s most deprived communities will live, on average, eight years less than men living in the least deprived areas.”
The researcher said it was important to keep an eye on the latest statistics as they would always tell the council something new.
He said: “The latest statistics from the 2011 Census have told us many things about our population which we didn’t fully understand before, particularly the dramatic changes in population characteristics and patterns of housing.
“These are things which we can see with our own eyes through everyday experience, but the statistics can tell you the scale and the detail of what’s going on for different people in different areas across the city.”
But he added: “It’s also important to remember that numbers can’t tell you everything.
“When you count something and turn it into a number you are simplifying a complex human experience.
“Statistics provide incredibly powerful information but it’s my job to understand and communicate their limitations too.”
John Clapton, above, who in 2011 acted as Census area manager for West Oxfordshire, Oxford, and Cherwell said it was vital for residents to fill in the survey every decade.
But the 68-year-old Kennington resident said it was always hard to persuade people.
He said: “They do not realise how it affects their lives. The figures obtained will determine how much is spent on schools, transport and building houses in their area.
“The challenge we had was to communicate to the public how important it was because it would affect their lives and their children’s lives in almost every aspect.”
CITY council leader Bob Price, below, said Mark Fransham’s research is invaluable to the council.
He said: “He provides very useful data on which we base policy making.
“It is important for local authorities to have good data to make good policy, in particularly to look forward – what are the trends and what are the indications of what might happen in the future?”
He added: “The Census has been very significant because what it has shown is the growth of the city in the last decade.
“The demographic profile of the city has changed substantially in that period.”
The Labour politician said Mr Fransham had recently helped the council better understand the impact of the Government’s welfare changes in Oxford.
He said: “That has been very useful for us in trying to help the people who have been affected by the cuts.”
Recent changes include a maximum £500-a-week cap on benefits and a 14 or 25 per cent reduction in housing benefit for those deemed to have “spare” bedrooms, called the “bedroom tax”.
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