Census won’t be scrapped before 2021, government confirms

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The government has committed to supporting a decennial census in 2021 while exploring other ways of collecting comparable data for future censuses, it has been announced.

In a letter to Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), Francis Maude of the Cabinet Office confirmed that the government accepts the recommendations made in the committee’s April report, 'Too soon to scrap the Census', as well as the view of the National Statistician Jil Matheson (PDF), that a decennial census should be carried out in 2021 - albeit largely online.

He confirmed however, that this would be the last of its kind and that in future, more ‘regular and timely administrative data would be used to produce statistics’. In a second letter to Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority, he outlined plans for ‘dual running’ an online census with increased use of administrative data. The UKSA is tasked with ensuring that capturing comparable population statistics using only administrative data is fully researched in the run up to the 2021 census.

Maude confirmed that the government does not envisage collecting any more data on citizens than it currently does, but will simply use existing information ‘in a way that the public already assumes we do’. Andrew Dilnot said in his own response to the PASC report (PDF) that 'further legislation may help to maximise the benefits of future data sharing'. Policy proposals on data sharing are due to be published towards the end of this year. Both Dilnot and Maude accept the need to prioritise public communication around data sharing so as not to repeat mistakes made around the recent care.data roll out.

The RSS, which contributed to the original PASC consultation, strongly supported not scrapping the census before 2021. ‘The government has made the right call,’ said Hetan Shah, executive director of the RSS. ‘We said it would be reckless to try to move to an administrative data census by 2021 and we’re glad the warning was heeded. Administrative data have a lot of potential but much work is required before we can be confident they give the nation the information it needs.’

Keith Dugmore, founder of the Demographics User Group (an affiliate of the RSS’s Statistics User Group) also welcomed the government’s response. He told the FT (paywall) that while DUG 'don’t want to be lumbered with a traditional census forever' there was a 'sense of relief' that the 2021 census will be carried out while other methods of data collection are being explored.


Official Statistics Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) Census

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