Traditionally this has always been one of the richest sources of population statistics for many statisticians and market and social researchers. However the way in which the data is collected and produced is changing and it is important that we ensure it's future quality when transitioning. Hear the future plans with an international comparison too.

Census 2021 was a great success, with more than 97% of households across England and Wales completing their questionnaire. ONS have been processing the wealth of census data that the public provided and are working closely with local authorities and using a variety of other data sources to quality assure the census data before they publish results in late Spring.

Looking to the future, for many of us, where and how we live, study and work is now quite different compared to the beginning of 2020. The census gives us the richest picture across England and Wales at a point in time and the value is maximised when we use its results alongside other data sources. ONS are transforming the way they produce population statistics to make best use of all available data to ensure that decisions are informed by the most relevant and timely data.

Callum Foster and Vicky Staples from ONS will present an update on their plans to release Census 2021 results in late Spring 2022, and their plans for the future of the census and population statistics.

Population and housing censuses across the world, and especially in Europe, are undergoing a process of transition. The ‘traditional’ approach, in which information is gathered directly from respondents via a questionnaire administered every ten years, is gradually giving way to alternative methodologies, involving the collation of information already existing in data sources that were not primarily designed for the production of population statistics, known as administrative sources.

Fiona Willis-Núñez statistician at United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) will give an overview of how and why this transition is taking place. Some countries made this transition decades ago, while others are in the midst of or contemplating making the change. The presentation will look at the pros and cons of censuses that are partly or entirely based on registers and administrative sources, focusing on the impacts on quality, in its many dimensions. Fiona will explain how the international community such as UNECE supports countries to tackle these challenges. Finally Fiona will look briefly at how the Covid-19 pandemic has played into this pre-existing trend and what effects this will have on censuses in the long run.

The Netherlands are one such country that have already made the transition and the Dutch Census tables are now being produced by combining existing register and sample survey data from the Labour Force Survey for the variable occupation. Since the last census based on a complete enumeration was held in 1971, the willingness of the population to participate has fallen sharply. Statistics Netherlands no longer uses census questionnaires and has found an alternative in the register-based census, using only existing data.

The register-based census is cheaper and more socially acceptable in the Netherlands. Characteristics of the Dutch census are described and conditions to facilitate the use of administrative data are given. The table results of the Netherlands are not only comparable with earlier Dutch censuses, but also with those of other countries, although most other countries do not yet have register-based censuses. Eric Schulte Nordholt from Statistics Netherlands will present about their transition to a register-based census. 

Callum has worked at ONS for over 25 years, with the majority of that time being involved in making census data available to users. He is currently responsible for preparations for Census 2021 Outputs and Dissemination (including the recent Outputs Consultation), alongside responsibility for services that continue to provide access to 2011 and earlier data (including the Census Customer Services team). Callum has previously worked on both the 2011 and 2001 Census in the outputs and dissemination space and has been involved in many of the key changes, such as making small area census data free at the point of use and provision of data in more digital and accessible formats. Between 2001 and 2011 was Service Manager for the Neighbourhood Statistics Service. More recently and prior to his current role, Callum was responsible for delivering a new system for processing births and deaths registration data currently used for ONS outputs.

Vicky has worked at ONS for 13 years and is currently part of the Census Transformation Engagement Division. As a social researcher at ONS her work has focused on programmes transforming our population and migration statistics, including current work towards the 2023 recommendation on the future of the census and population statistics, as well as previously working on the Beyond 2011 and the Migration Statistics Improvement Programme. This has included feasibility research into the potential use of administrative data in population statistics, population coverage surveys, engaging with users and evaluation. Vicky has also previously worked on planning and preparation for Census 2021 quality assurance.

Eric studied mathematics at the University of Utrecht and econometrics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He is a senior researcher and project leader at Statistics Netherlands. After graduating in Mathematics and Econometrics, Eric Schulte Nordholt joined Statistics Netherlands in 1992. He first worked in the department of Statistical Methods and since 1996 he is working in Social Statistics. In 1995 he had a secondment at Eurostat in Luxembourg and in 2006 at Statistics New Zealand. Eric Schulte Nordholt is Statistics Netherlands’ advisor on the Statistical Disclosure Control of social data. He is responsible for the Dutch register-based census where all tables are estimated based on already existing data sources (registers and surveys). Eric Schulte Nordholt acted as an observer in the Censuses of 2011 (in Kosovo) and 2013 (in Bosnia-Herzegovina) on behalf of the Council of Europe. He presented his work at various conferences and has published in different refereed journals. He is regularly giving lectures and statistical courses. Since 2018 he is international coordinator of social statistics at Statistics Netherlands and since 2020 he is chair of the steering committee of the UNECE Expert Group on Population and Housing Censuses. Eric Schulte Nordholt is a member of the ISI, IAOS, IASS and Netherlands Society For Statistics and Operations Research.

Fiona Willis-Núñez is a statistician at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), where she has worked since 2010. She currently leads UNECE’s work on population and housing censuses, helping countries to develop and make use of international guidance to conduct and modernize their censuses. She also manages UNECE’s public communications on statistical topics, and leads an international group dedicated to measuring the value of official statistics. Previously she has been responsible for UNECE’s gender statistics work and has also led projects in many areas ranging from modernizing data collection and metadata to ageing-related statistics and measuring human capital. A demographer by training, Fiona has a passion for improving the communication of statistical and demographic concepts for the public good.

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