The End of the Census

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Britain has recorded its history through a series of population reports since 1086 when the Domesday Book was compiled and the current day Census has become increasingly important in tracking the DNA of the country as working patterns become more diverse, the population becomes more mobile, and people live longer.

A formal Census has been collected in the UK for the past 200 years and over time it has evolved to collect relevant information about Britons, and now it looks like it will evolve again as Census-keeper, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has consulted on its next phase.

The next iteration could see the Census tweaked slightly to move from postal to online completion of the Census survey or a radical push away from the traditional once-in-a-decade Census to a more frequent use of administrative data to compile more current snapshots.

The changing of the Census, which is relied up by government departments to allocate resources and funds, and also the private sector and charities to determine the future of their own operations, shows just how quickly demographics is changing and how vital it is to acknowledge the impact this change is having.

One of the biggest areas of change that has already been recognised and must continue to be scrutinised is around the UK’s ageing population. The last Census, completed in 2011, revealed almost one in five people were aged 65 or over, an increase of nearly one million from 2001.

The increase in older age groups has a significant impact on government resources, including the provision of the state pension and other benefits – the number of state pensioners will increased by a third between 2012 and 2037, healthcare and long-term care.

In the private sector specialist insurers such as Partnership Assurance take their steer from the Census in order to determine longevity and health of consumers and create solutions that will enable them to live in financial comfort in older age. ILC-UK are working with Partnership on the new demographic series entitled Population Patterns (#populationpatterns). Through this project we will look at the impact demographics has on public policy and how policymakers should respond to demographics.

It is not sufficient to acknowledge and record the UK’s ageing society, the government must make a concerted effort to tackle the significant challenges that it brings. The first instalment of the Population Patterns series The End of the Census establishes just how vital the Census is in helping to take-on this challenge.

The Census is the cornerstone to understanding and dealing with our ageing population and any change in the make-up of the Census must ensure retention of the subtle details about older peoples’ lives which help the government and the private sector to provide adequate solutions.

Living longer should be celebrated but it is not without its challenges and Population Patterns aims to shed greater light on those challenges and how they can be addressed to ensure retirement and older age is lived positively not in poverty.

Michelle McGagh

ILC-UK’s response to the ONS Consultation on the future of the census is available here.

ILC-UK’s report of the first Population Patterns event is available here.

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