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The government said the census was outdated and a "more effective, less bureaucratic" survey was needed.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MPs acknowledged there were a range of problems with the census in its current form, which is always at least two years out of date by the time the data is published.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A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "The government believes that the census, in its current form, is outdated.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 38.

    25.Dr Nick Ashley - "Social 'sciences' may suffer? Oh dear, too bad! They aren't sciences at all....."

    Yes they are - this article puts the arguement forward very nicely:

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The less the govt. know the better is my view, given that we live despite not because of them.
    The insolent monetary threats for non-compliance need dropping too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    There are enough databases up and runninng for them to have all the info they need. They even know what car I drive without telling them. It's all there, so I can't see how it's justifiable to keep throwing OUR cash at info that's already out there

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The last census was a joke with no follow up visits

    Any stats derived from it, especially in England, can be safely regarded as nothing better than ball park figures

  • Comment number 34.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    A complete and utter waste of everybodies time and money. It just keeps a few statisticians in a job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    "How can we plan for the future...?" ask some commentators. Well, given the disastrous forward planning in the UK, obviously using census data is not working, so let's scrap the census.
    On immigration levels - does anyone really believe illegals complete the form?
    Why does the census require names? It is not to find out how many people have the same name.
    Data should not be handled ouside the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.


    The fact the borders have been pretty much abandoned in chasing some kind of Global utpoian love in leaves very few tools to hold our political fools to account on the make up of the country.
    Knowledge is power and its best we cattle hold on to some of it lest all we have is to cross our fingers and hope for the best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    How can you plan for the future if you don't know how many, or what type of, people you are planning for? We need the census.

  • 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 28.

    I was sent three separate census forms (one with my name misspelt) plus follow ups for each only to receive a threatening letter to the effect that I would be fined for not returning the form! Questions included a self-evaluation of your health which is statistically useless as the sick-but-in-denials will cancel out the hypochondriacs. Put together by committee. an utter waste of public money.

  • Comment number 27.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Who dreamt up this idea in the first place?

    Is the govt trying to make sure we are still wild awake and or testing their ideas in public before it becomes a full blown policy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Social 'sciences' may suffer? Oh dear, too bad! They aren't sciences at all. The census is outdated as are the nonsense threats to individuals if you don't send it in completed correctly. There are also far too many people in this country who couldn't fill one out because they don't speak or write English.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Could the process be improved? Most likely. The question is whether the benefit outweighs the cost.

    Personally I think it does. The census, along with a policy of counting everyone who comes in and goes out (in terms of births, deaths and immigration) can aid us plan for the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The Census should continue in its current ten year format. It should not fall victim to cost cutting as I am convinced such a move would have long term negative effects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    As an amateur genealogist, the Census data available provides an invaluable resource for research.

    When we can find money to take part in wars that we have no business to be involved in and bale out banks who have gambled with our money to the tune of not millions but billions of pounds then surely £480m is a very small price to pay for a Census.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.


    Do we really need a census to tell us we're over populated? Do our Gvt really think we're so stupid that if they scrap the census we won't know how over populated we are? Seriously? Every one of us know the mess we're in, and spending stupid amounts of time and our money on filling in forms is daft . They already know all about you. You get labelled with a number when your 16!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The 10 yearly Census isn't perfect, but at least it's collections of results mean we have a record that can show changes over time in our demographics, opinons, beliefs etc.

    Being as there is no such thing as a perfect system (at least not if one of us humans invented it) let's stick with the best we do have.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The last census painted a rather depressing picture of population growth that is not reflected in the local fianancial settlements by the government.

    As our services creak under the strain of the worlds economic migrants the politicians are starting to think if we don't paint the picture maybe we won't have to pay the piper. The truth will become a preserve of the priviledged.


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