Testing the schools
In the 1840s the Registrar General George Graham produced one of the earliest reports on education standards using the register of births, marriages and deaths. Graham examined the proportion of people who were unable to sign the marriage register with their names and used a cross instead. From the average of the previous three year he found that 33 per cent of men and 49 per cent of women signed their name with a mark. Using these data he was also able to show how the situation had improved when he revisited the study 35 years later.
Fighting with figures
The UK population was numbered in 1939 so that a national register could be drawn up as a security precaution while preparing for war. The results were used to hand out national identity cards which also enabled food and clothing rationing and the distribution of labour in military and other vital wartime services.
National Registration ended in 1952, but the identity numbers were used to create a new system within the National Health Service whereby everyone was given an individual number. These were entered into a National Health Service Central Register. People who had a national identity number during the Second World War still have the same number as their NHS identity to this day.
The use of statistics regarding war medals led to significant savings following the Second World War. The Government originally thought it would need to produce enough Campaign Stars and Medals for all those people who would be eligible to receive them – more than 19 million. But a survey found that only around 30 to 40 per cent of those eligible were likely to apply, so only that amount of medals were made.
There were three major cholera epidemics in 1849, 1854 and 1866 when Statistical Superintendent Dr William Farr worked for the General Register Office. Farr took detailed notes of when and where the deaths occurred and worked alongside first medical officer to the City of London, Sir John Simon, and Dr John Snow. Both Snow and Farr believed the cholera outbreaks were linked to water supplies, predominantly from London wells but had to fight the medical establishment which believed cholera was being spread by a foggy 'miasma'. The two men kept records of each death by occupation and residence. When a death occurred in a part of London previously unaffected by cholera they discovered that the householder had sent her footman to fetch water from the pump in the area where many deaths had occurred. In this way Farr and Snow identified water as the source of the epidemics.
Using death figures, Dr Willam Farr again, was able to establish a cause for hydrophobia - or rabies. By studying the weekly returns of deaths he noted there had been no deaths in five successive summers from hydrophobia in London. In those same summers the police had rounded up the stray dogs, especially those with rabies. He suggested there may be a link between rabid dogs and hydrophobia.
In 1857 Farr began working with Florence Nightingale. The famous nurse compared Farr’s mortality tables with her own figures showing the incident of death among soldiers. The numbers showed that a soldier was twice as likely to die, even during peacetime, compared with a civilian. Nightingale used these figures to make a case for better sanitary conditions in army barracks. She also used figures to show that even after heavy battles far more soldiers were dying from infections than from the injuries they sustained on the battlefield. She used these numbers to argue for better sanitation in military hospitals.