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The government said the census was outdated and a "more effective, less bureaucratic" survey was needed.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MPs acknowledged there were a range of problems with the census in its current form, which is always at least two years out of date by the time the data is published.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A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "The government believes that the census, in its current form, is outdated.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 18.

    Dont know about the census, I would just be happy if our MPs got some common sensus

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.


    It's not Lizard men and David Icke isn't quite right in the head, but there are so many forms wanting to know every private aspect of your life. Why? The gvt know where I work, because I pay tax, they know where I live because I pay council tax, they know how many kids I have because I have recieved child benefit. . . . .It goes on and on. It's a waste of money

  • Comment number 16.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I can see where some of the questions in the census need to be revised or removed. As the state has no role in the provision of religious services, it is none of their business which deity, if any, I worship. As we are supposed to 'celebrate dirversity' I refuse to classify myself by the colour of my hide (and there wasn't an accurate descriptor available anyway: it's a sort of pinkish-beige...).

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I believe the country could be run much more cheaply and less bureaucratically, and that our present system of government is outdated and inefficient.

    Can we please do away with it as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    How many illegal immigrants fill in & return a census form?
    Can any idiot MP or bureaucrat answer that question?

    BTW, I still get rubbish mail from catalogue companies that I used 25 years ago - if they can find me 20 years later after numerous address changes - why do we need a census when most if not all plus a load more, of the information needed, is out there on public & private databases?

  • 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?

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Censuses are not only valuable tools for the social scientists living in their ivory towers but they are also invaluable for the planning of services in local authorities. Combined with effective population forecasting, they are the tools that tell how many school places we need, how many hospital beds, how many care home places. Without accurate checks population estimates are liable to drift.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A national census is something that should remain.

    It is of huge benefit to historians when examining social change. It is of huge benefit when we need to know demographic trends.

    Why should anyone object to taking part? Government should leave it as it is, we are very lucky to have such a resource.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The census is a valuable historical research tool, one of its strengths being the consistency of data collection - once every 10 years, based on where people live, showing family/household groups and occupations. For this reason alone it ought to be retained, never mind contemporary demographic uses for which such a dataset is ideal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    392,000 Jedis say keep the census

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    If the current administration can come up with an alternative that is more effective (and cheaper) than the current census, put it out to comment and let people who have an informed view examine the proposals and provide their views. In the meantime we should proceed with the current approach. The data the census provides is crucial not least of all for study and analysis by future generations

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I always think that electoral registers and census forms are a way for the government to make sure they have correct numbers for the amount of people with a taxable income so they can make sure all of your revenue is accounted for and they can get as much as they can from you.
    It has nothing to do with your right to vote etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Given the way census forms over the years have been abused to meet the ends of the respective governments of the day (see: Japanese-Americans imprisoned, social engineering madness based on ethnic make-up etc.), scrapping this thing will potentially benefit social science no end.

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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