Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/16/hillier_id_cards_on_fire/

Manchester's on fire for ID cards, claims ID minister

Support doubles to hit magic 10k mark... allegedly

By John Lettice

Posted in Government, 16th March 2010 12:32 GMT

Home Office Identity Minister Meg Hillier is now pitching ID cards as a weapon against social exclusion, and has mysteriously truffled-up nearly 6,000 extra ID card enthusiasts, meaning enrolments will hit 10,000 next week. Was it not just last week she said they'd only had 4,307 applications? Yes it was.

Furthermore, says Hillier, in an article this week in the satirically-titled wonksheet Progress Online, 62,000 people have requested application packs. "We've had to expand capacity to meet demand."

Which does rather suggest that the Home Office had been expecting the Manchester ID card rollout to be the dismal failure it looked and felt like until yesterday. But good lord minister, Manchester's on fire after all.

We've asked the Home Office to explain the sudden stampede, but they've yet to get back to us, so maybe they're still puzzled.* Or maybe Meg's making it up. On which subject, she also claims that public support for ID cards has "grown consistently over the last year, now close to 60 per cent, whilst opposition has declined".

Early on in the life of the scheme the Home Office's heavily loaded surveys were claiming support of up to 80 per cent, so what Hillier must be claiming here is that a five-year slide in support has been partially reversed in the last 12 months. Other polls however have indicated much lower levels of support, showing the public split on ID cards, and heavily opposed to the database.

And fighting social exclusion? How does that work? Well, according to Hillier, the 20 per cent of the population who don't have passports "are without access to the highest standard of identity verification". They miss jobs because they can't prove who they are (more important, since the Home Office recruited employers as border guards), they can't get flats, open bank accounts or prove credit-worthiness. And young people don't have the means "(household bills, payslips or driving licences) to build up an identity footprint".

Frankly, it's a puzzle how we all managed before ID cards, and how young people ever manage to get an identity in the first place. Or indeed, how they'll be able to get an ID card if they can't identify themselves. ®

Update: The Home Office has asked us to include the following comment, and we are of course happy to oblige:

People across the country are using their identity cards as a secure and convenient way to travel to Europe without a passport and prove who they are in everyday transactions. We are expecting the number of enrolments for an ID card to pass 10,000 by the end of next week. Demand has been strong since identity cards were launched and recent improvements in capacity mean that enrolments are now running at around 1,000 a week.

You'll note that aside from the addition of a highly doubtful travel-related claim, it merely repeats what Hillier said. A Home Office spokesman however pointed out to us that in addition to airport workers, ID cards have now been available to young people in London for the past month. The figure of 4,307 referred to uptake in the North West, so in total 10,000 by next week may be conceivable, although the Home Office is confusing the issue by playing fast and loose with enrolment and application statistics.

The spokesman declined to provide a breakdown of the figures, saying that he would not provide a running commentary.