2011 - the last Census?

Article dated: 7 October 2010

Every ten years, the Government sets aside a day to survey all the people and households in the nation.

The census survey is unique, as it provides a detailed picture of the entire population, it covers everyone at the same time, and it asks everyone the same core questions.


What we learn from those questions informs planning across both public and private sectors. It is also a vital resource for social science research as well as longer-term historical and genealogical studies.

But earlier this year the traditional census came under scrutiny following news that the new government had different ideas about how to accomplish this effectively. It quickly emerged that next year's census will go ahead. Still, questions remain about its future beyond 2011.

If the 2011 census turns out to be the last of its kind, it would represent an historic shift. For a new method of data collection to be sustainable it will be essential that work commences now to ensure that these data are properly managed and archived for future use.

"One of the valuable things about the census is the consistency in the questions that have been asked over a very long time," says Matthew Woollard, Director of the UK Data Archive. "Without the census you can lose the opportunity to make complex comparisons over time."

Getting ready for next year

For now, the focus is on the next census, 27 March 2011. Once the data have been collected, the main route for users to access microdata for secondary analysis will be via secure services such as the Virtual Microdata Laboratory or the Secure Data Service. These services provide the highest levels of security while enabling approved researchers to access data easily.

The forthcoming census has a number of features designed to improve return rates such as a national address register for more accurate targeting of respondents, the option of completing an online form rather than a paper one, and targeted fieldwork to identify and follow up non-respondents.