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Written Statement - Census Announcement by the National Statistician

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Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance

The National Statistician announced today that her recommendation to the UK Statistics Authority is that the next census in 2021 should be a predominantly online census. The results of the consultation carried out in Wales suggest that most users of population data in Wales will welcome this development.  The Office for National Statistics recognises that special care would need to be taken to support those unable to complete the Census online.

In 2010 the UK Statistics Authority asked the Office for National Statistics to investigate the possible alternatives to a traditional census for England and Wales. Work on this has been taken forward by ONS through the Beyond 2011 programme. After considering a range of possible alternatives, the Beyond 2011 programme consulted on two approaches:

The Online Census Approach: 
--  a census to be carried out every ten years but assuming that most people will complete the census form online rather than as a paper questionnaire received through the post (alternative response mechanisms will be available for those unable to complete the Census online); 

The Administrative Data Approach: 
--  an approach that depends on the use of the administrative data already held within government, combined with a compulsory annual survey of four per cent of the population.

The data from the Census is important to the Welsh Government and to many users in Wales, and there would have been concerns about any potential lowering in the quality of the data obtained through an alternative to the Census. The continuation of the Census ensures that future population estimates will match the quality of the current ones. This is important for local government resource allocation and the implementation of the Barnett formula. The Census is also vital for our detailed understanding of, for example, the Welsh Language, housing, and equalities in Wales.

It is clearly important where possible to modernise the way things are done and I note that the National Statistician has also recommended the increased use of administrative data and surveys in order to enhance the statistics from the 2021 Census and improve statistics between censuses.

I have written to the Minister for the Cabinet Office confirming the Welsh Government’s support for this approach of a predominantly online census for 2021 (a copy of that letter is attached).