Jonathan Werran 21 September 2012

MPs issue census warning

MPs have warned Government plans to scrap the 10-yearly national census and find cheaper ways of collecting population data could prove ‘a costly mistake’.

A report issued today by the Science and Technology Committee says ministers might be frustrated in their stated aim of exploring less expensive alternatives to the census - last conducted in 2011 at a cost of £480m.

Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, has instructed officials to develop a population survey capable of providing ‘better information, more frequently and cheaper’.

Government statisticians, the Office for National Statistics, are currently working on a designs for a replacement to the population survey which has taken place at 10 year intervals since 1841. Recommendations are set to be published in 2014, ahead of the next census in 2021.

But MPs reported although there are many other social science surveys which seem to overlap with the census, these themselves are reliant on census data for validation. ‘This dependence would appear to be due to the fact that there is no other survey that can approach the breadth of the census,’ the report states.

Additionally, the Committee said a number of other key qualities of the census could not be replaced by other means, including a snapshot of the whole country at a moment in time allowing historic and regional comparisons to be made.

Chair of the science and technology Committee, Andrew Miller said the census ‘is incredibly valuable to social researchers, charities and the public sector and a move to cancel the census on financial grounds may prove to be a costly mistake’.

 
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