The 2021 census should not be scrapped, MPs tell ministers

2011 census form

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It is "too soon" to decide whether to scrap the national census and the 2021 survey should go ahead as planned, MPs have advised the government.

In its latest report, the Public Administration Select Committee said the days of the "traditional, paper-based" census were "numbered".

But alternative options were not yet "sufficiently advanced to provide a proper replacement", it concluded.

The government has indicated that the 2011 census could have been the last.

But it added that it had not reached a final decision.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said that compiling information from existing state and private data stores would produce "more accurate, much more timely data in real time".

Cheaper?

In 2013, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) held a public consultation on two options for the future: holding a census once a decade, but primarily online; and a combination of making more use of existing government data and holding smaller, compulsory annual surveys.

The committee acknowledged said "much more work needs to be done" before the census, which has been carried out every 10 years since 1801 with only one interruption as a result of World War Two in 1941, can be retired.

MPs urged the ONS to "set out a more ambitious vision for the creative and full use of administrative [ie government-held] data to provide rich and valuable population statistics".

The body should also explain "clearly the advantages and disadvantages" of moving to such a system, it added.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We recognise the value of the census but Francis Maude has long said that it is outdated in its current form and could be more effectively and more cheaply delivered.

"No decisions have been made yet however about its future but we agree with the committee's conclusion that the census needs to change.

"We will respond in due course to the Public Administration Select Committee's report."

In 2012, the Science and Technology Committee said they were not convinced that alternative ways of collecting the data would be cheaper than the present system.

The MPs on that committee also raised concerns that social science in the UK would suffer without serious consideration given to how the data would be replaced and that any alternative may not be able to provide nationwide coverage like the census.

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