MPs back call for online census

The government has been urged not to cancel the census by a committee of MPs, which concluded that it should go ahead in 2021 but be mainly carried out online.

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The government should conduct the next census online but also make better use of existing citizen data, according to MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC).

In March, the National Statistician Jil Matheson recommended that the government should keep the census in 2021, but mainly conduct it via the web, and make much better use of the data which it already holds to improve the accuracy of population estimates.

In a report released today, the PASC supported these recommendations, and said that while the census needs to change, it was too soon to conclude that it should be abandoned, which Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude had called for in 2010.

Committee chair Bernard Jenkin MP said: “The government has previously indicated that the 10-yearly census should be axed, but we believe that it is too soon to decide whether or not to scrap the census. We think there should still be a census in 2021. The government should make far greater use of the data it already holds in order to improve population estimates.

“We urge the government to address public concerns about data sharing and to learn the lessons from the flawed rollout of the ‘care.data’ programme, so that the best use can be made of the information already collected and held by the government. The government’s objective of ‘better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper’ depends upon it.”

The PASC suggested that the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which carries out the census, should make the most of existing government data, for example information collected by the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Health.

The ONS’ work on the future of the census has been limited so far, the committee said, recommending that the organisation laid out a “much more ambitious’ vision for the use of this data. The ONS launched a consultation on whether the next national census could be carried out online in September.

In response to today’s report, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We recognise the value of the census but Francis Maude has long said that it is outdated in its current form and could be more effectively and more cheaply delivered.

“No decisions have been made yet however about its future but we agree with the committee's conclusion that the census needs to change. We will respond in due course to PASC’s report.”

 

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