MPs warn census axing could harm social science

census form The committee said the census was incredibly valuable to social researchers

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Scrapping the 10-yearly national census could harm social science in the UK, a group of MPs has warned.

The government is looking into whether there are less costly alternatives, with a view to scrapping the next census in 2021.

But the MPs said other methods of data collection may not be adequate and might not be any cheaper.

The government said the census was outdated and a "more effective, less bureaucratic" survey was needed.

The last census, which took place in 2011, cost an estimated £480m.

In 2010 Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said: "There are, I believe, ways of doing this which will provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper."

'Costly mistake'

But the Science and Technology Committee said they were not convinced that alternative ways of collecting the data would be a cheaper option.

The MPs also raised concerns that social science in the UK would suffer if serious consideration was not given to how the data would be replaced and that any alternative may not be able to provide nationwide coverage like the census.

However, the MPs acknowledged there were a range of problems with the census in its current form, which is always at least two years out of date by the time the data is published.

Chair of the cross-party committee Andrew Miller said: "Ministers must think hard before they take the decision to scrap the census."

"The census has provided the UK with one of the richest collections of population data in the world.

"It is incredibly valuable to social researchers, charities and the public sector and a move to cancel the census on financial grounds may prove to be a costly mistake."

The Office for National Statistics is currently consulting on alternatives to the 2021 census and is expected to report its findings in 2014.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "The government believes that the census, in its current form, is outdated.

"We are supporting ONS' work to design a replacement which will allow for more effective, less bureaucratic collection of the information necessary for the operation of public services. We will keep Parliament informed about the progress of this work."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Whilst we have Government driven by accountants the census will be under threat. It may be that it could be carried out in a better manner, but that does not remove the benefits, both short and long term, of accurate and regular figures on population and social trends.The thought baby and bathwater comes to mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I don't think that those who are against the Census are much into family history somehow! Granted if we're talking about an up-coming census it will not be used till we're long gone, but if i hadn't had access to censuses 1861 -1911 I would know a lot less about my family than I do. perhaps some day someone will want to know about you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    However it is conducted - the Census should continue.
    We MUST know the numbers of People in the UK and their dwelling arrangements etc etc.
    How can we possibly know the Infrastructure-needs etc, without it?
    It SHOULD also pinpoint the 'illegals' problem.
    It should also be mandatory to complete the Form...

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I'm confused about why this is an issue. All that's being said is that the current method of taking the census is outdated. Which is hard to deny.

    There's no indication that the entire process will be done away with, quite the opposite. The propsal I see here is for the census to be rethought as a process and a better solution developed.

    Where's the sky falling in here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    We need the national census every ten years but I am not convinced that we need the whole range of questions that get asked. Maybe that is one way to simplify things - rely on sample surveys for the detail and censuses for the numbers.


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