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The government said the census was outdated and a "more effective, less bureaucratic" survey was needed.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MPs acknowledged there were a range of problems with the census in its current form, which is always at least two years out of date by the time the data is published.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A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "The government believes that the census, in its current form, is outdated.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 78.

    In some metro areas of UK, like Birmingham & Manchester - so many avoided completion of the census eg illegal immigrants - tax dodgers, welfare scroungers etc - that the Labour councils have been left short of money as their budget is partially based on the census data.

    The rationale for having an expensive census exercise needs to be examined with this scale of criminality, avoidance and abuse

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    @72. coram-populo-2010

    "You are kidding, right? Do you live off your friends too? Ah, you got me, I almost believed you."

    No I am not kidding as you put it, I am self employed, and I pay my taxes as legally required, I even pay council tax, but I do not give them my name.

    My name is for my friends as I stated.

    They can call me anything they like, but they still wont have my name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    If the Government want to save a few bob, they could usefully sack the odd Chief Whip without pension!

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The census remains the only practical way to get comparable data about the whole population - nationally and locally.
    Its main fault is getting out of date so quickly. That should be dealt with by having the census every five years - something the Census Act provided for back in 1920.
    It's almost the only big government computing project that goes well!
    But maintaining confidentiality is vital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Quote "35.

    The last census was a joke with no follow up visits"

    We had 3 follow up visits and each time I told them to take a hike!

    The final visit was some pleb who said he was from the court who asked for my name, I told him to take a hike. He told me a Police Officer would be visiting, it never happened, and even if it had, I would still be under no obligation to give my name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    why dont they just ask Tesco?

  • Comment number 72.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.


    "If you refuse to be counted you can't complain if there is no provision made for you."

    I'm white, male, English and not a child or an OAP, and I work full time and earn a non-terrible wage. Therefore I can guarantee no provision will be made for me by any government agency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    How would the Government know if you had filled it in correctly. As most of my twon claim single person benefit for council tax - are they really going to fill out the census with the true details?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Tez I agree it should continue but I doubt it will help find "illegals" as you put it. Im sure they would not be silly enough to put down on any sort of future census that they were here without leave. If that was the case we would'nt have a problem with people overstaying and going missing now.

    The main points you make though for infrastructure, housing, health, historical use needs continuing

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Last UK Census 2011 contract was awarded to American private company Lockheed Martin. Information on UK citizens was available for sale just months later. That is just wrong.

    Any organisation under-taking such an important Census should be UK only and comply with UK Data Protection Act. I suggest that Francis Maude wants the next Census be online only - and we all know how insecure that is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Not everyone bothers to complete the Census, I never have and I have never registered to vote, I refuse to give my name to the council for council tax or anyone else for that matter.
    My Name is for my Friends, these people are not my Friends, they are my enemies.
    The less they know the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    56.Reel2Real - "...The one that I found weird though was the one that asked "who is sleeping in your house overnight on precisely 31st March 2012?" How was I supposed to know who was going to be stopping over at my house on that date?.."

    A lot of people complete the form early but if you cannot be certain in advance then you wait and complete the form on the day in question

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    No, it's not different! The government can collate information for local council budgets from electoral registers, and BOTH electoral registers AND census forms that contain your information can be sold by the government

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    A census is all well and good but eu migrants, none eu illegals don't fill in those forms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Perhaps some of the people who are against a census would like to explain what they are afraid of revealing or embarassed about.

  • 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 61.

    The census is used for all manner of planning.

    It has the happy side effect of producing a vast amount of incidental information that is useful to sociologists and others.

    It is done at a relatively low cost- far less than the Olympics (which lasted a few weeks) or the recent QE exercises.

    It's good value.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    29 Minutes ago
    Don't forget that one of the main uses of the census is to provide government funding for each local authority, based on the increase/decrease of people living there and using the resources, so the more accurate the data, the more money each Council gets

    Not true, depends on the political colour of the Government and the Council.

  • 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!


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