The Society is delighted that Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, has accepted the National Statistician’s recommendation that the traditional census should be retained in 2021, albeit with online returns where possible and use of administrative data sources where appropriate.
The Society and many individual members of the community argued strongly for this outcome in a consultation late last year.
The England and Wales population census, currently undertaken every 10 years, provides a unique, high quality source of information which is detailed both in terms of population characteristics and geographical scale. The census achieves a very high level of coverage, making it possible to understand the presence and characteristics of small population groups in small areas.
The Society was concerned that proposals to replace the traditional census with the use of administrative data would result in the loss of the small area data that are so vital for many areas of policymaking, policy implementation, research and business.
They are critically important, for example, in helping to understand change over time, in guiding the allocation of resources and in assessing accurately which people will be affected by an emergency or whether a policy will meet the needs of a particular group effectively.
Professor David Martin, who led a public discussion at the Society on small area data and the future of the census in October 2013 says: “The government’s response to the National Statistician’s recommendation is a very positive step on the necessarily long journey from a traditional census to the greater use of administrative data, while maintaining the exceptionally important small area statistics. It should be noted that the proposed 2021 census, with its focus on online data collection, will itself present new methodological challenges.”
The detailed form of the 2021 census is far from finalised and anyone taking part in the continuing debate on the future of population statistics needs to understand the importance of small area data and the many ways in which a well ordered society relies on this important body of evidence for policy and practice. The Society has therefore produced a collection of case studies to help non-experts understand why these data are so important.
The case studies, published in the policy booklet Small area data: looking towards a 2021 census, include examples of the use of small area data in flood emergency management, housing policy and understanding the flow of people between places.
The Society’s Director, Dr Rita Gardner says: “We thank Professor David Martin and others in the community who have been so active in this debate and in helping to inform the Society’s consultation response and the production of the case studies. The latter provide not only a wide range of examples of the use of small area data, but also evidence of the impact the data have on people’s lives.”
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