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The government said the census was outdated and a "more effective, less bureaucratic" survey was needed.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MPs acknowledged there were a range of problems with the census in its current form, which is always at least two years out of date by the time the data is published.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A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "The government believes that the census, in its current form, is outdated.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
    0

    Comment number 98.

    We need details of the Conservative objections. What features cost too much and how can it be done more cheaply? Francis Maude hasn't told us what the cheaper ways of doing it are. He thinks they exist, but do they?
    If we all had a chip implant at birth we could be swiped every ten years - at huge cost.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 97.

    Another wonderful idea from the Condems who are realy showing just how stupid they are. How else are we to have correct data on the number of people in the country and what they have been doing at a particular time in history.

    Mr Cameron will soon earn himself the title Nutty PM as he really hasn't a clue but thinks he is of course an expert on eveything.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 96.

    The census is a valuable research tool if the data are any good. But I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of it is total rubbish. The main and to me the most important one is population. Do you believe the official figure, because I don't. It's time to dump this expensive invasion of peoples privacy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 95.

    The cost of the last census is a drop in the ocean compared to average public sector waste, but its importance should not be underestimated. Censuses have considerable value in determining population changes and demographics, and help those in power plan infrastructure sensibly for the years that lie ahead. Without such information, everything would be unsubstantiated guesswork.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 94.

    the census should linked to determining legislative district sizes like USA.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 93.

    Pretty typical of the current government: "I see no immediate benefit to this, therefore let's get rid of it!"
    Screw the long term when you can have short term gain!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 92.

    74.Spindoctor What a sad little man.
    The census is an integral part of planning for the countries future and therefore must be kept. It is not a means to spy on people, (what have they got to hide?) but a way of evaluating infrastructure needed by society such as hospitals, policing, etc.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 91.

    I'm uncertain of the value of the census; it seems to assume that people answer the questions honestly. I'll defer to the experts though, and if they think its worth it then fair enough.

    I'm still a Jedi though.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 90.

    i dont know if it is a way foward but look at the way we all give out info in the shops we frequent-it seems everytime you purchurse they want details-nat-insurance-medical-car lience etc..there is so much information floating around these days-surely it is about the brains to correlate it all-produce an ongoing census allways there at the fingertips-imigration count would be effective

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 89.

    Yes, keep the census. Anyone not completing it should not receive any benefits or face a large fine. How else will the government plan future expenditure? Only those with something to hide will argue against it.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 88.

    How many hours, days, weeks were consumed omn this "enquiry". If we have enough time for our MPs to sit in a room listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry with an axe to grind, then 11 of them try to write a report together, then we realyy should have fewer of them. They should all resign from this pointless exercise and go and do some work for their constituents insead.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 87.

    ref 46

    It would be more interesting to have the gov answers to their census questions from data they have collected elswhere for the householder to verify or not as is the case. If householder doesn't reply the info is used as it stands. It would satisfy my curiosity as to whether they were getting it right.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 86.

    @76 'Phil Sears'
    ~~
    Yes Phil, let's have a HYS debate on why the new Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell & Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, gave a police officer, public servant, a verbal thrashing for doing their job.

    No apologies, no excuses. Resign. Cameron should make this MP call a by-election in Sutton Coldfield. Not done with Liam Fox. Or are Ministers exempt from your manifesto promises?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 85.

    82. coram-populo-2010 - thanks

    Golly! Wish I could be paid £150m for not seeing or touching personal data.... and then being able to sell it
    It's a bit like G4S being paid £57m for not providing security...

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 84.

    Francis Maude claims there are better ways of collecting this information, but he doesn't say what these better ways are. Typical empty rhetoric. Leave the census alone, it is vital for planning, etc. Perhaps Maude should spend time on improving his English. "There are, I believe, ways of doing this which will provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper." is bad grammar.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 83.

    76.Phil Sears - "If the Government want to save a few bob, they could usefully sack the odd Chief Whip without pension!"


    True enough - from what I hear on line there's plenty of "busty Russioans girls" looking to to give an MP/British mean their thrills...??!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 82.

    @79 'Parallel World'
    ~~
    I know! Unbelievable!. What a pack of lies we were sold by out-sourcing our 2011 Census to a private company based in America that were not obliged to comply with UK Data Protection Laws.

    Not unlike having your bank account online - safer to leave your bank statements on your doorstep these days.

    The internet is amazing, but never for personal/financial data - ever.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 81.

    As for 'follow up' visits, a fellow came round and tried to ask the same questions on the doorstep as were on the form. I refused to give him any such details as there was no way to preserve anonymity... even had he had any clear ID to present over a scruffy card that could have been anything really.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 80.

    @77 'Spindoctor'
    ~~
    I think see what you mean now. You use a pseudonym to pay your council tax bills at your address.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 79.

    68. coram-populo-2010 - Lockheed Martin sold the data? How can this be when... (Guardian 19/2/11)
    "ONS dismissed fears 'No personal census data will be handled or seen by any American-owned company. No Lockheed Martin employees will see or handle any personal census data. The public can be reassured that their personal details .... will be kept confidential and will remain so for 100 years'

 

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