Home > Uncategorized > 2011: the last Census?

2011: the last Census?

Rich Harris


There has been much discussion about the 2011 Census and whether it will be the last.

The Census remains important as a prime source of social and demographic data used for population forecasting, allocating monies to local authorities, service planning, and in commercial marketing such as geodemographics.

The problem, however, is that is already dated by the time the data are published (typically two years after Census day: this year March 27th) and these are only updated on a ten year cycle. It can be argued that in precisely those areas of most social interest – those of rapid demographic and social change – the Census soon tells us least.

Could private sector organisations provide the data instead? Well, it has been suggested but such data are not necessarily representative of the entire population and what could be lacking is both the opportunity for small area studies of geographical differences and free access to the data which the Census currently provides for.

Could other Governmental data be used instead? Again, possibly, but it would be perverse to argue (as some seem to) that this would be less intrusive: do we really want the Government creating large, linked datasets describing all aspects of our lives? There are strict confidentiality controls around the use of the Census: the data are made available for areas not for individuals and where there is a risk that specific people could be identified the data are suppressed.

What the Census does do is allow for questions to be asked about the social and economic make-up of the country and to ask socially relevant questions about, say, the inequalities between neighbourhoods or of trends towards or away from social and ethnic segregation. It is useful for holding governments and policy-makers to account. Perhaps that is why they are becoming less keen on it?

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