why do we have to do a census
Last week I attended a Census event organised by the and the P(ONS). The attendees came from central and local government, private companies that utlise census data, and a few universities. The majority there (based on an approximate straw poll) believed that there would not be a census in its current form in 2021. This is because census data collection is a very costly exercise and its results are becoming more out of date more quickly as the pace of societal change (through migration, for example) increases. So, we need to find an alternative but from where? Census data collection has been taking place for centuries and has, untilPrelativelyPrecently, Pbeen our only source of
concerning the population characteristics of the UK. Why then, when we have finally achieved the computational and analyticalPcapabilitiesPto efficiently analyse it are we prepared to throw it all away? The reason relates to the fact that we have hundreds of big data sources available now and, if used properly, Pwe can potentially generate the same levels of insight (and more! ) as those provided by a traditional census form. For example the 2011 Census only accurately recorded where people live, not where they work. What good is this for emergency planning in central London? Why not use Oyster Card trip data, or mobile phone usage instead to give daily updates on population movement? Another issue is the fact that we have a more mobile population and we miss a lot of change by only takingPdecennialPsnapshots. Other government datasets are updated more often, such as the NHS Patient Register or the Electoral Roll, and can provide an indication of where we are living this year, rather than where we lived 5-10 years ago (I moved house 4 times between censuses).
We also, and perhaps controversially, hand over loads of personal dataPevery-timePwe use aPstore-card or credit card, log into Facebook, use our mobile phone orPsurf the web. This has contributed, perhaps for the first time, to many private companies having a much better idea about aspects of the population of the UK than the government. The question is do we want companies to share it for the greater good (or evil depending on what you think of the big brother state), or should we let them keep the data and have the government spend more to source it itself? We also have to be sure to count those who don t feature on private company databases (put crudely, often because they aren t worth anything to that company) and it is these groups, often the most vulnerable in society, that we are most likely to miss with a non-census solution. I think there is more than enough data to go around without having to fill in lengthy census forms, the issue is wePhaven tPworked out how to join it all together yet. Once we solve that problem we then need to work out who we have missed and that is much harder to do without a compulsory census! If you want to contribute to this debate please fill in the by Danny Dorling, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield The Census held in 2011 could well be the last of its kind. There is currently a review underway, but already government has proposed that there be no traditional Census held in 2021. A two-century-old decadal tradition, interrupted only by World War Two, is currently ear-marked to end. I do not believe it, but I am told that if the current government decision is not reversed during 2013, then there will be no budget for another Census and too little time to reinstate it in the planning, even if there is a change of governing party in 2015.
What is so odd about all this is that the Census is a cheap, old-fashioned, rather conservative survey. A Coalition that believes in small government would normally be expected to favour a Census over most of the workable alternatives, unless it would rather there were no reckoning at all. Other countries have population registers so they know how many people there are and how they are coming and going, but the current UK government is opposed to ID cards and hence a population register. Several Scandinavian countries put their registers on-line including information on the tax paid by each individual so that everyone is able to check and ensure there is no evasion. I donвt think this is what the UK government had in mind when it announced the end of the Census, but maybe I am too pessimistic. The Census allows social scientists to determine in what direction the trends are going. Within a week of the 2011 results being published, Ludi Simpson and Stephen Jivraj, on behalf of the, had analysed the results and determined that every single ethnic minority group within England and Wales had become more dispersed geographically despite rising in numbers in most cases. The same was true of every religion group except for the Jewish religion . In the week beforeВ Simpson and Jivrajвs analysis was complete, the UK press had already decided that the rising numbers of many groups of people born outside of Britain meant that there had to be ethnic polarization within Britain.
They were wrong, and because we had a Census and hence data for every local authority, it was possible to show that they were wrong. Without a Census we would not know. Without a Census we will have no idea about how our towns and cities are changing. We will not know whether we are more all in it together, or if we are polarizing yet more economically while still mixing more by ethnicity. If there is not even an adequate replacement for the basic counts of people by age and sex in small areas then we will not be able to determine whether life expectancy has begun to fall in any area in the years to come. It last fell in particular places for particular groups during the 1930s depression. Without a Census in 2021 there will be no graphs of the kind shown in the. The shrillest voices will win over the most informed. Without a Census we will not know if there are actually enough bedrooms for all to be housed and where they are, we will not know who is working at more than one job, for too many hours, and who has too little work. We will not know where children are doing worse at school in a way that allows us to take account of all children (not just those at school and in the state-schools records) and we will not know where their prospects are most favourable when measured more widely. We will not know what it is that we are all together in, and how it has changed. 1. В В В From в More segregation or more mixing? в briefing document from The Economic and Social Research Councilвs Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE). A pdf can be downloaded here
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