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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 13:29 GMT
Census 'should be reviewed'
People
The current census is modelled on that of 1801
The tradition dating back to the Domesday Book of conducting a census of the British population should be reconsidered, an influential committee of MPs has suggested.

Last year's census of the UK cost 254m and the House of Commons treasury committee says there needs to be some way of justifying that expenditure.


We believe that any future census should be justified in cost-benefit terms

Treasury Committee report
It also says, that if there is to be another census, greater effort should be made to target those areas where the response rate was below the 98% response estimated as a whole for England and Wales.

One of the problems which developed between the 1991 and 2001 Census had been the growth in entryphones and security systems and more irregular working hours which meant more people not being at home at any "sensible" time.

'Pen and paper exercise'

The MPs suggest that the modern Census, derived from the Census of 1801, should include a question about how much people earn - information which, the report says, would be of wide interest to users of the Census.


As society has become more complex, and demand for information has become greater, the number of questions on the form has increased

Michael Fallon
Committee chair
However, in addition to suggesting improvements, the committee also suggests that the Census could be abandoned - despite an ever-growing appetite for information.

Michael Fallon, the chairman of the sub-committee which undertook the inquiry said: "The 2001 Census, like its predecessors dating back to 1801, was essentially a pen and paper exercise involving millions of households.

"As society has become more complex, and demand for information has become greater, the number of questions on the form has increased.

"But we found no cost-benefit analysis had been undertaken to justify the 254m expenditure involved in carrying out the 2001 Census."

Headcount?

He added that any future Census needed to be justified on financial terms "and that before any decision is taken, all the alternatives to a full Census, including doing without one altogether, should be evaluated".

The report says that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) were unable to supply the Treasury sub-committee with "robust evidence to justify expenditure of over 250m on the Census".

If the current detailed format of the Census were abandoned then a "simple headcount" was one alternative, as was a rolling Census or the use of already available data.

"Any evaluation will also need to take account of the likely acceptability to the general public of drawing on other data sources, such as tax and benefit records," the report says.

The interest in Census information was demonstrated at the start of the year when the 1901 Census became the first to be published online - the demand was so huge the site was unable to cope and it has remained closed.

The MPs also criticise the length of time it takes for any information to be published from the Census - with the first being available from August 2002.

The committee report follows earlier suggestions from Sir John Kingman, chairman of the Statistics Commission that computer technology and data could make a 2011 Census unnecessary.

See also:

26 Feb 02 | England
'English' census rebel jailed
19 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Days numbered for census?
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