July 22, 2010

United Kingdom May Drop Traditional Census

The United Kingdom will conduct a traditional census next year, but it may be the last of its kind, according to the British Cabinet minister in charge of the count. Francis Maude told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that there are ways to “provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper.”

Britain has conducted a census each decade since 1801, with the exception of 1941 during World War II. But Maude said the count is out of date by the time its results are published the following year. He noted that 1.5 million households did not fill out census forms during the 2001 census, making the count incomplete. Maude suggested that one alternative would be to use administrative data in government records or from private databases to assemble a population count, and that it might be done more frequently than once each decade.

The government’s Office of National Statistics has issued a statement that changes to the traditional census are being considered as part of a project called Beyond 2011, whose missions is to “develop a range of options for the production of population statistics beyond the 2011 Census. It is considering how a number of different data sources could be used to produce the key information needed to support effective decision-making.”

As with the U.S. Census, census data are used in the U.K. to guide government funding and social programs. Some demographers and historians have expressed concern about scrapping the traditional census without having a good alternative in place to supply population data.

Nearly half of European countries will use an alternative to the traditional headcount for population data collection in 2010-2011, according to a recently published review of changes in census-taking in that region. A growing number rely on population registers kept by local or provincial governments.

The Canadian government recently announced that it would drop the mandatory long form from the 2011 Census, and replace it with a voluntary survey that asks the same detailed questions; the decision has become so controversial that the nation’s chief statistician resigned in protest.