MPs call for 2021 census to be spared axe as alternative methods ‘not advanced enough’

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The 2021 census should not be scrapped, as alternative methods for collecting information about the country’s population would not provide a proper replacement, MPs have said.

The Government has indicated that the 2011 census could have been the last, ending the system of data collection carried out every 10 years since 1801 with only one interruption due to the Second World War in 1941.

The cross-party Public Administration Select Committee acknowledged that the census needed to change but “much more work needs to be done” before it can be retired.

If the 2021 census goes ahead in England and Wales, the majority of people will be required to fill out a form on the internet instead of the traditional paper survey, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said. In 2011, 16 per cent of respondents chose to respond online.

The MPs said: “The days of the traditional, paper-based census in Britain and elsewhere are numbered.

“The Government should make better use of its wealth of detailed administrative data which is currently unexploited.

“The National Statistician has recently recommended that there should be a traditional census in 2021, albeit conducted primarily online, but that there should be at the same time greater use of administrative data and surveys.

“Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude MP expressed strong doubts about keeping the traditional census, but the Government would be wrong to cancel the 2021 census.

“The alternative options for the collection of population statistics are not sufficiently advanced to provide a proper replacement.”

The committee called for the ONS to do more to make the best use of the data which the Government already collects through bodies including the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Health.

But following the concerns raised about the NHS records-sharing programme, the MPs said lessons needed to be learned about managing people’s information.