The future of the census: RSS responds to ONS consultation 

In the midst of much media scrutiny regarding the proposals from Office for National Statistics (ONS) to replace the census, the RSS has published a detailed response regarding the future of population and migration statistics in England and Wales. 

While broadly supportive of the aspiration of replacing the decennial census with annual population estimates based on administrative data, the response to the ONS consultation raises six key areas of concern that we would like to see addressed before a final decision is made: 
  • Data sharing: the need for reliable data sharing across government departments and concerns about data availability and changes due to administrative shifts. 
  • Census-dependent statistics: some other official statistics depend on census data, and these may be impacted by the change. 
  • Breadth of data: whether administrative data will cover all the same areas as census data in a holistic way, including information on ethnicity, religion, occupation, and qualifications. 
  • Depth of data: the need for in-depth data, particularly at the local-authority level, which is vital for users in local government and civil society. 
  • The role of surveys: the need to specify what role social surveys will play in continuing to deliver certain statistics, as well as ensuring those statistics continue to be representational despite declining response rates. 
  • Coherent UK-wide outputs: given the different approaches that Scotland and Northern Ireland may take, coherence issues may arise in UK-wide population data.

There is also a question about cost. It is possible that any new system could be very reliant on surveys. Given that response rates for surveys is declining, these could be expensive to run – it would be worrying if the estimate that the new system would cost less than half the cost of the 2031 census served as a budgetary cap. That may leave the new system underfunded and not providing the same rich data as the census.

The Society also points out that clear communication and user engagement are crucial in successfully replacing the census with administrative data and expresses willingness to work with the ONS on achieving this. 

Read the full response

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