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The UK census is a collaborative effort between the three national statistical offices representing England and Wales (the Office for National Statistics), Scotland (the General Register Office, Scotland) and Northern Ireland (the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency), each of whom are planning their next census for 27 March 2011, and are actively working together towards the goal of providing fully harmonised statistics.

This will be particularly important following the introduction of a new European Union Regulation in July 2008 which will require all 27 Member States to provide Eurostat with harmonised outputs on the range of core topics recommended by the Conference of European Statisticians and published by the UNECE.

The 2011 UK Census

Details of the proposed design for the 2011 Census in England and Wales were announced to the UK Parliament on 11 December in a Government White Paper (Helping to shape tomorrow), and are now available on the Office for National Statistics website at: /2011-census/2011-census-questionnaire-content/2011-census-white-paper--english-.pdf

The White Paper recognises that modern times demand modern approaches to census taking, and that whilst a traditional census remains currently the only practicable way of collecting the range of information required in the UK, it also needs to adapt its methodology to reflect both up-to-date technology and public attitudes and behaviour.

The findings of a number of extensive reviews of the 2001 Census, including those by the House of Commons Treasury Sub Committee and Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office, the former Statistics Commission and other bodies such as the Local Government Association, as well as ONS’s own post-census evaluations) have all helped to shape the design of the 2011 Census. The design also reflects current world best practice and takes account of the views of users following an extensive programme of consultation over the period 2003-2008.

The White Paper highlights the statistical and operational strategic aims that helped to frame the design. It gives detailed proposals, covering the topics and questions to be included, innovations in the data collection, processing and dissemination operations, and plans for a fully integrated rehearsal in October 2009.

The design includes the following major innovations:

  • multiple enumeration approaches, targeted at specific areas, including post-out of questionnaires as well as hand delivery, supported by an accurate and up to date address register;
  • online completion of questionnaires;
  • a robust form tracking system;
  • new questions to enable a better understanding of migrant stocks and international migration patterns;
  • more functions for the call centre, acting as a hub for query resolution and the issuing of additional forms;
  • flexible field force for follow-up, targeted on poor response areas;
  • use of technology in the field to monitor progress and direct the follow up operation; and
  • improvements to the post-enumeration coverage survey to provide better estimates of non-response.

Similar arrangements for the 2011 Census in Scotland have been published by the General Register Office for Scotland at:

Northern Ireland's statement will be posted on the NISRA website shortly at:


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