UK census 2011 – the last?
In Britain, Francis Maude has described the 2011 census as “wasteul”. He is the Cabinet minister in charge o it. Forthe uture he is examining using databases rom credit check agencies, Royal Mail and councils instead o a census.Save our census, says
– but oers an alternative to its present orm.
“Invasive”. “Intrusive”. “Unsuitable”. Those aresome o the words members o the current gov-ernment have used to describe the orthcoming2011 census. Francis Maude declared that 2011may be the last time the census is carried out –and he is the man charged with carrying it out.He believes that the cost o it – estimated at£482 million – is unjustied. But he has alsoattacked it as inaccurate and slow – “out o datealmost beore it has been done”. For the uture,“there are, I believe, ways o doing this whichwill provide better, quicker inormation, morerequently and cheaper”, he has said.Last time around, in 2001, nearly 400 000people lled in the box or “religious aliation”with the word “Jedi”. About 1.5 million house-holds ailed to ll in their orms at all
To them,and even to the more normal respondent whois not a an o
, the end o the censuswould be relatively meaningless. However, tothe householder whose day job is quantitativeresearcher, or market researcher, or statistician(and who doubtless lls in his or her orm prop-erly) – or indeed to anyone who uses demographicdata – the end o the census could be seen asa monumental event. Perhaps it is up to us tosave it. I can already hear non-researchers (and aew Cabinet Oce ministers) asking “why?” and“how?” Let us start with the why.
When any statistician or researcher receivesa demand or a sample to be representative o demographic proportions, where does he or shego? Most immediately view the data o the lastcensus to nd out the demographic proportionsrequired to meet the sampling criteria. Further,census data provides an instant and accessibleoverview o the UK population at the click o aew buttons, giving demographic and economicinsights along the way, something ew research-ers would want to sacrice.
The saviour – Census 2.0?
As researchers, we should obviously want to pre-serve the lie o the census. Which makes it onlyair that we should suggest ways o making thispossible. The modern census has, methodological-ly speaking, progressed somewhat since its incep-tion in 1801. It has advanced rom headcounts topostal questionnaires. Nevertheless, it is possibleto argue that we are still applying 20th- or even19th-century methods to a 21st-century problem.The internet has made barely a dent on censustechniques. The questionnaires are still printedon paper, delivered by post, lled in by hand, andreturned again by post. And there are some 23million o those questionnaires, since that is thenumber o UK households. Other industries havebeen moving as ast and as ar as they can toshit as much o their workload as possible to theinternet – especially the parts that use paperwork(in huge quantities), and sta, and cost money.Given the urore about its cost, surely it is nowtime to consider using the modern, cost-ecientdata collection abilities o the internet, thusspawning Census 2.0.The Oce or National Statistics (ONS) tellsus that 70% o UK households now have accessto the internet. This means that potentially 70%o households can be reached at a vastly reducedcost. This huge saving comes rom cutting theexpense o producing the paper questionnaires,delivering the document to every householdthen back to the census oce, and enteringthe paper-based data into computers. There is areduced spend in all o these labour- and time-consuming processes. Why not use the internetinstead? Critics will argue that online data col-lection will not capture the inormation o theentire population. This is certainly true; but eveni the missing 30% o the population had to bechased in the traditional manner, collecting ull-population census data would still be ar morecost-ecient. I 70% o households providedtheir details online, only 7 million postal (or
A census enumerator taking details rom a gypsy amily or the Dutch census o 1925