Making Census

This Friday, the ONS consultation on the future of the census (“Beyond 2011”) closes. As we’ve mentioned before, this is an important consultation for charities. We found in the recent Data Navigator project that census data is important for many charities, who use it to help plan their services, evaluate what’s working and to assess need in their areas.

You won’t be surprised to hear that there are financial pressures on the census, as well as other reasons for making changes. With this in mind, the ONS have proposed two options for what the next census will look like:

  • The first option is something similar to the current census – every household in the country will receive a survey form, once every ten years, and these results will provide detailed data down to the local area level. The difference in this option from what is currently done is that there will be a heavy emphasis on the form being filled in online, with less use of paper forms.
  • The second option is more radical, and proposes to replace the census every ten years with annually-updated data based on administrative data sources (such as NHS and DWP records). These sources would be anonymously matched together, and then supplemented with a survey of around 5% of the population.

These methods have advantages and disadvantages that are outlined in the consultation documents [PDF, 176KB].

Broadly, the advantage of the first method is that you can get accurate data down to a very small area, which can be useful for charities which operate at neighbourhood scales. But you only get this data every ten years, so it quickly goes out of date. The second method would make producing these small scale estimates much more difficult, but would make annual data for larger areas available.

There’s only three days left before the consultation closes, so you don’t have long to submit your response. NCVO and the Small Charities Coalition have drafted a joint response which I’ll be submitting this week – we’d welcome any comments you have on this or the census using the form below.

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David Kane was formerly NCVO’s Senior Research Officer. He discusses open data and emerging trends in the voluntary and community sector and wider civil society.