‘MPs have warned that a decision to discontinue the census would have a negative impact on the Government’s social science analysis, as well as social science research in the UK, and that alternative systems for collecting population data may not prove to be any cheaper.’
These are the headlines from the enquiry undertaken by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, chaired by Andrew Miller MP, into The Census and Social Science, whose two-volume report was published today (21 September 2012) as HC 322. It is available at:
The context for the study is the consultation Beyond 2011, which is being undertaken by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) into the alternatives to running a full population census in 2021. ONS will report its findings in 2014. The census has its detractors, especially those who regard it as costly and failing to provide timely enough data.
The Select Committee’s report is relatively brief (thirty pages) and generic. It does not explicitly mention religion, which has been the subject of a census question in 2001 and 2011. However, the importance of religious data is recognized in about a dozen of the forty-two submissions of written evidence and in oral evidence given by Professor Leslie Mayhew of City University. The oral and written evidence is included in the report.
Only two of the submissions of written evidence came from religious bodies: the Salvation Army and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research jointly with the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Both were naturally concerned about the census as a source of community statistics as well as of specifically religious data.
The fact that faith communities in general failed to respond to the Select Committee’s enquiry is perhaps surprising, given that several were active from the 1970s onwards in pressing for the inclusion of a religion question in the census. Seemingly, they do not identify strongly with social scientific research. Hopefully, they will be contributing to the ONS consultation in other ways.