Census: It counts to be counted

The Census returns in England and Wales this month – the one day every 10 years when Government gathers information from each of us to create the most detailed picture of the population.

But there is a big risk this year that many more people won’t be counted, and that has huge implications right across society.

Back in 2011, 94% of people in England and Wales completed the census.

Many of those people would have been supported by others in the community, like charities – making sure people knew the Census was coming, what it was and helping people to complete the form.

This year, with most asked to complete the Census online and with fewer interactions in the community, how many will be counted? And why does it matter?

"But the census isn’t just another survey - it is much more than that because the information that is collected will shape the support that is available in our communities." - Caroline Howe, Policy and National Programmes Manager

Why it is important

The information collected in the Census affects all our lives. It is used to plan public services and to allocate funding. Billions of pounds of government funding are allocated based on information collected through the Census.  

Without accurate data, fewer services could be provided, services might not be located in the right place, and sufficient funding is less likely to be available.

Many charities also use information from the Census to demonstrate needs in their areas, to help make the case for funding and to influence change.

Digital divide

The 2021 Census will be the first ‘digital-first’ census, with every household due to receive a pack with a digital access code.

While this might make it easier for some people to participate, it also presents a significant challenge. Charities have hugely increased their interactions with clients online since the onset of the pandemic, but as we highlighted in our December research report, digital exclusion remains a growing issue.

Census Support Centres have been set up to help people who can’t get online – but people will need to know where these are and how to access them.

How can charities help?

Research we published last month has once again shown that small and local charities are embedded in the communities they serve and are able to reach people that other services fail to support. Charities will have an important role in helping to make sure the people they work with know about the Census, why it is important and how they can complete it.

Information and resources to help charities to spread the word are available online. Key to this is helping people to understand the importance of completing the Census.

When the pandemic has intensified the challenges everyone faces, it would be easy to ignore a request to complete another survey.

But the census isn’t just another survey - it is much more than that because the information that is collected will shape the support that is available in our communities.

Charities might be able to help people understand:

  • Why they are being asked to complete the Census and when to do it.
  • Reminding people on the day (21st March) might help people remember.
  • You might also be able to help people understand the questions – and which ones have to be answered – or to access specific support through one of the Census Support Centres.

Find out how you can help the people you work with to be counted at: https://census.gov.uk/why-your-help-is-vital/what-you-can-do-around-census-day