Understandably, only a few of us can invest much time in following the plans for future censuses and you may therefore be unaware of recent developments. If you are a user of small area census data, please read on and act if you can – there is a real risk of losing the small area census data that you currently take for granted.
ONS are currently undertaking research on potential replacements for the conventional census in 2021. Although that seems a very long way off, recommendations need to go before parliament next year and the preparatory work is already well advanced. Based on the series of roadshows run by ONS last autumn, they have not received convincing high-value use cases for small area population attributes. Arguments such as “they are used to target local services” are not sufficiently robust to stand up to the inevitable financial scrutiny. A leading option is to derive basic age/sex data from linked administrative records and to use social survey data to obtain the types of population attributes that would previously have been obtained from the census – (ethnicity, LLTI, tenure, car ownership, employment, etc.) This would clearly not deliver small area data of the current quality, if at all.
We are urgently appealing to the research community to have your say: if no case is made, it seems entirely likely that ONS will not be able to include generation of costly small area data as part of the recommended option. If you can demonstrate high-value research (and ideally high-valued impacts!) based on small area 2001 census data, please mail us – we need to marshall further evidence by the end of February.
Ideally, we are seeking identifiable research with an estimate of value and impact and/or an indication of why it could not be done without high quality small area data. If you can supply a paper or URL where further details could be pursued, better still. NB This is about England and Wales, although Scotland and Northern Ireland will be reviewing the same issues in due course.
If you want to find out more about Beyond 2011, see http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/about-ons/what-we-do/programmes—projects/beyond-2011/index.html Although there is not a formal consultation currently open, you can also mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org