Census 2021 is coming

Published 09/03/2021   |   Last Updated 11/03/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

Despite the pandemic, the next census will be held on Sunday 21 March 2021. This article provides some information on what’s going to be in it and how it gets used.

Source: Office for National Statistics

What is the census?

The census is a survey of all households in England and Wales that takes place every 10 years. The 1841 census is regarded as the first modern census, since then the 1941 census is the only census not to take place (due to the Second World War).

The UK Statistics Authority and the Office for Nationals Statistics (ONS) are responsible for managing the census. The Written Statement: 2021 Census in Wales explains how Welsh Government officials are working closely with the ONS on all aspects of the census in Wales. With everyone in Wales being able to take part in the census in Welsh or English.

What questions are asked in the census?

The Census 2021 questionnaire will include questions about age, sex, work, health, education, Welsh language skills, household size and ethnicity. ONS use Census Advisory Groups as one method of consulting with census users. More information on how the questionnaire has been developed in Wales can be found on the ONS website.

Has the questionnaire changed from 2011?

The Census 2021 questionnaire includes voluntary questions for people aged 16 and over on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time.

There is also a new question asking respondents if they have previously served in the UK Armed Forces. In the household section there is a new question on renewable energy systems.

Questions asking about the total number of rooms in your house and the year you last worked have been removed.

How is census data used?

Data collected from the census are used for a wide range of purposes including; policy making, resource allocation, planning public services and understanding the lives of different groups in society. The data are used by the Welsh Parliament, businesses, local authorities, health authorities, charities and many others.

The census provides a granular level of data that is not available from other sources and is comparable over a long time period.

Understanding the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives of people in Wales also makes this census even more important. ONS notes:

The census is coming at a critical point. It will be fundamental to our understanding of the impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on different communities and how we all live.

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 has also increased the need for data to understand the well-being of people in Wales.

How will the census be run during the coronavirus pandemic?

The Welsh Government and ONS are working together to ensure the safety of the public and field staff during the 2021 Census. ONS is monitoring the pandemic and adjusting their plans in accordance with the latest Welsh Government and UK Government guidelines. ONS states:

Our main focus in planning and delivering the census at this time is the health and safety of the public and our staff, and we are ensuring that everyone can be safely counted.

ONS explain how they came to the decision to go ahead with the England and Wales 2021 Census:

We have kept all options open throughout the decision making process, prioritising our ability to ensure the health and safety of the public and our staff. Consideration has been given to the fact that to delay would have meant waiting a whole year. This is because the census needs to take place in late March to allow sufficient hours of daylight for field officers to work... An added consideration is the cost of a delay which would have been approximately £360m, to take account of the need to repeat many activities already undertaken...

The 2021 Census is a ‘digital-first census’, it can be completed on any device including mobile phones, laptops, PCs and tablets. The ONS are encouraging people to complete it online if they can and are hoping for an online completion rate of 75%. Assistance will be available online, by phone, webchat, email, social media or text message, but if people prefer to complete a paper form they will still be able to.

After Census day, field officers will visit households who haven’t completed a census form, encouraging them to do so. The field officers will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and working to government guidance and won’t enter people’s houses.

Census in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Ireland

The census in Northern Ireland will be run on the same day as the census for England and Wales, but the census in Scotland has moved to 2022 due to the pandemic. The census in Ireland has also been postponed to 2022.

When will the results available?

According to the ONS Census 2021 milestones a draft timetable of census outputs will be published in June 2021 with the full details of the timetable of outputs to be made available in January 2022.

The census based local authority population estimates are due to be published in March 2022 with all census outputs released by March 2023.

More information

If you’d like to find out more information please visit the ONS 2021 Census website.

Article by Helen Jones, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament