What is the census?
The census is a count of all people and households in the country, and provides an estimate of the population and a detailed analysis of its characteristics. In the UK a census has been conducted every ten years since 1801 (with the exception of 1941).
In England and Wales the census is carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with comparable censuses carried out on the same day by the relevant authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The last census was conducted on 27 March 2011 and involved around 25 million households.
Why are the results important?
Many people now find old census returns a valuable tool for tracing their family history. However, the latest census outputs have a vital role in planning and delivering services at a national and local level.
Central government funding is directly related to how many and what kind of people the census shows live in our area. The results of the census also influence future funding for local authorities and communities in the years between censuses.
The census is the only survey which asks everyone the same set of questions, on the same day – providing a detailed snapshot of the characteristics of our population. Like all local authorities, Walsall Council and its partners rely on census outputs to identify local needs for public services and allocate resources accordingly. The results of the 2011 census are therefore crucial for planning national and local services including education, healthcare, transport and housing:
(an accurate count of the population assists in the allocation of grants and planning services)
(information on age and socio-economic make up of the population and more specifically on general health, long-term illness and carers enables the planning of health and social services)
(information on housing and its occupants allows the identification of inadequate accommodation, and information about the way we live as households identifies the need for new housing)
(identification of how many people work in different occupations and industries helps government and businesses to plan jobs and training policies, and to make informed investment decisions)
(information on travel to and from work, and on the availability of cars, contributes to the understanding of pressures on transport systems and to the planning of roads and public transport)
(information on ethnic groups helps us to allocate resources and plan programmes to take account of the needs of minority groups)
ONS have continued to work on producing and releasing census-related outputs ever since Census Day in March 2011. Questionnaires were sent to 25 million households and communal establishments, all of which had to be scanned and processed. Following Census Day, additional work was carried out to account for people who may have been ‘missed’ by the census, including a Census Coverage Survey. The initial results have gone through extensive quality assurance processes to ensure they are valid.
Confidentially of individual census returns is crucial (household-level data remains sealed for 100 years). A more rigorous ‘disclosure control’ process is therefore necessary before lower-level statistics can be released that explore detailed characteristics (such as occupation or nationality) down to small geographies. This means that these are some of the last datasets to be released.
Planning is already underway for the 2021 Census, with users such as local authorities, researchers and special interest groups feeding back to ONS about the data they found most useful from 2011. Consultation demonstrated the continued need for the detailed data on people and households that at present only a full census of population can provide. A 'modified traditional census' is therefore planned to take place, this time relying more heavily on internet delivery and data capture, and seeking to draw on administrative data sources wherever possible. Information about the plans for 2021 and beyond can be found on the ONS Census Transformation Programme webpages:
Assistant Census Liaison Manager
Civic Centre (2nd Floor)