Digitisation will help make census safe says ONS

Written by PublicTechnology Staff on 10 February 2021 in News
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Statistical agency hopes that three-quarters of responses in England and Wales will be digital

This March’s census will rely on digitisation to minimise physical contact during the pandemic, according to national statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond.

In a letter responding to a series of parliamentary written questions from Labour peer Lord Adonis, Diamond said that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has adapted its plans for the census in England and Wales on 21 March in the light of Covid-19, with a target that 75% of responses are made online.

“The ONS has designed Census 2021 to be simple, straightforward and safe to complete,” wrote Diamond. “This will be a digital-first census and the ONS will be encouraging people to respond online if they can on their mobile phones, laptops, PCs or tablets, with a comprehensive range of support for those who are not able to complete the census online.”

 “This will be a digital-first census"

He added that field officers, who will primarily offer help and encouragement to those who have not filled in the census online or on paper, will be supplied with personal protection equipment and will not enter people’s homes. “They will be operating in the same way as a postal or food delivery visit,” wrote Diamond.

This year’s census will make increased use of other surveys and administrative records to improve its quality, he added. There will be specific guidance on how to complete the census for those whose circumstances have been affected by Covid-19, including students.

In a parliamentary statement on 3 February, Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith pointed out that 2001’s census took place during the foot and mouth crisis, and that the United States successfully carried out its census on 1 April 2020. “The ONS have learnt valuable lessons from these experiences,” she said.

Northern Ireland’s Statistics and Research Agency will hold its census on the same day as England and Wales. However, last July the Scottish Government decided to postpone its census, run by National Records of Scotland, to March 2022.

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