What Census information is vital to you?

This is a guest blog from Joy Dobbs, Research Consultant and NCVO Associate.  We’re working with Joy on the voluntary sector’s information and research needs, currently focusing on information traditionally obtained from the Census.

Joy-profile_50pxAre you a charity that works in health or housing or works with asylum seekers or people in BME or religious groups? Then make sure that over the next week you tell the people at the statistics office about the information you could not do without.

Many of us in the voluntary sector use information from the ten-yearly Census, sometimes without realising it. But there may not be another Census in England & Wales; big changes are being considered in the way that Census information is collected and what information is collected. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is running a consultation about user requirements for data that has normally been provided by the Census.

It is important that we make sure the views and requirements of our sector are clear so we safeguard the future provision of information that is crucial to what we do. Public and academic organisations are good at responding to these consultations and making their views known, whereas in the voluntary sector we are not so good at it. And not many people I’ve talked to have heard about this particular consultation.

If you are already thinking this sounds rather technical and nothing to do with you, please read on just a bit further – you might be surprised to realise that Census data provides the foundation for much of the information we take for granted in our work.

For example, do you ever quote the characteristics of the people and households living in your local area, such as their age and sex, ethnicity, religion or main language or the proportion of single-parent households? If so, you may well be using Census data. One of the great advantages of the Census compared to most other data is that Census information is available for very small geographical areas, important for many small voluntary and community groups. The consultation asks whether users would trade less geographical detail for more frequent information; you might want to stress how important it is to have detailed information specifically for your small community area.

Or do you use figures about people’s health or housing or levels of deprivation to show the level of need and unmet need that your organisation is trying to address? Again they may come directly from the Census, or from surveys or other data that use the Census indirectly, for comparison or to adjust their findings to be representative of the whole population. For example, all the English Indices of Deprivation use Census data/population estimates as their base.

Another way the information within the Census is used is to help distribute the funding and resources of public services. So, whilst you may not directly use the data within the Census, it may be very important to your organisation and your beneficiaries that the government has reliable information on the particular characteristics of people in your area.

There is a questionnaire to help you respond to the consultation.  It splits Census information into 7 topics (population; household & family structure; housing; labour market and socio-economic; ethnicity, identity, religion and language; health; migration) and asks about our important requirements for information about each topic and whether those have declined or increased over the last 5 years. We are also encouraged to look ahead  to think about changes over the next five years, including new and emerging requirements.

So do have a look at the link and tell ONS about what you need. NCVO will be putting in a response but we can’t cover all your specific requirements and it’s important that they are heard. The closing date is Friday 20th January.

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