Appendix 1: Government Response |
Letter from The Rt Hon Francis
Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, to Bernard Jenkin MP,
Chair of PASC, dated 18 July 2014
I am responding on behalf of the Government to the
Committee's fifteenth Report of Session 2013-14, Too soon to
scrap the Census (HC1090), published on 17 April 2014. The
Government welcomes the Committee's report.
A number of the recommendations relate to actions
that would need to be carried out by the UKSA, to which the Chair
of the UKSA will respond independently as is appropriate. I have
set out our detailed responses to the recommendations addressed
to the Government in relation to England and Wales.
Government has long said that the census in its current
form is outdated and could be delivered more effectively and cheaply.
A paper based census is extremely costly and time intensive and
customarily only done every ten years - so we're often relying
on data that's out of date almost as soon as it has been analysed
and then published.
Much work has already been carried out on the future
of the census, and Government lauds the efforts of the Office
of National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA)
in this area. Government agrees with the recommendation of the
National Statistician that the 2021 census should be conducted
online (or partially online), which would help us compile the
data more cheaply and, when supplemented by greater use of administrative
data and surveys, allow us to access more up-to-date population
statistics. The Government's response of 18 July 2014 to the National
Statistician's recommendation sets out these issues in more detail,
which is attached for reference.
Responses to Recommendations
Population estimates are of fundamental importance
to the statistical system, policy makers and society more widely,
but the days of the traditional, ten-yearly, paper based census
are numbered. The Government has a wealth of detailed administrative
data which is currently unexploited and which could provide a
rich seam of information to improve the nation's knowledge of
its population and boost the quality of public services. Data
from administrative sources can be richer, broader, cheaper and
timelier than the equivalent from a traditional census; it can
be made available far more frequently than every ten years. The
National Statistician has recently recommended that there should
be a census in 2021, albeit conducted where possible online, and
that there should be greater use of administrative data and surveys.
It is too soon to decide whether to scrap the census. We believe
that it is right to have a census in 2021; as insufficient effort
has been made in recent years, the alternative options for the
collection of population statistics have not been adequately tested
and plans are not sufficiently advanced to provide a proper replacement,
given the importance of the resulting data. (Paragraph 27)
The Government has long said that the census is outdated
in its current form and holds the view that it could be delivered
more effectively and more cheaply. As such, Government has accepted
the National Statistician's recommendation to conduct a census
in 2021, where possible online, and that alongside that there
should be greater use of administrative data and surveys. The
Government's ambition is that the dual running of the decennial
census and use of administrative data should not extend beyond
2021. The future should be based entirely on administrative data.
However, any final decision on moving to the use only of administrative
data beyond 2021 will be dependent on the dual running sufficiently
validating the perceived feasibility of that approach.
However, in order to get the most use out of the
information already held by the Government, for the purposes of
high quality and granular population statistics, and before we
can be sure that there can be, eventually, a full and proper replacement
for the traditional census, much more work must be done. We are
concerned that the work on the future of the census has been done
in isolation. (Paragraph 28)
Government does not accept that the work on the future
of the census has been done in isolation. The ONS has conducted
extensive consultation into the future of the census, and received
evidence from Government, academics, and members of the public.
Much work has already taken place, particularly to ensure that
public authorities are able to share administrative data with
ONS for statistical purposes.
As Government has now accepted the National Statistician's
recommendation, work on the census in 2021 and beyond is ongoing,
led by ONS. It is the Government's ambition that beyond 2021 the
decennial census would not be undertaken, instead more regular
and timely administrative data would be used to produce statistics.
Public concerns about data sharing must be addressed
and must not be a barrier to making the most of the information
already collected and held by the Government. The Minister's objective
of "better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper"
depends upon this. (Paragraph 33)
Government is mindful of the need to maintain the
trust and support of citizens, and so have launched an open policy
making process. We are working in a collaborative and open manner
with civil society organisations and the wider public sector as
well as groups with a specific interest in privacy. This process
will explore whether government data can be better used in order
to improve our understanding of the economy and society, deliver
more targeted and joined-up public services, and save public money
lost through fraud, error and debt. We are not envisaging the
creation of any large databases, or collecting more data on citizens,
just using information in a way that the public already assumes
we do. We plan to develop and publish policy proposals on data
sharing towards the end of this year.
The Cabinet Office and the Office for National
Statistics must make every effort to publicise the benefits of
greater sharing of administrative data within Government and to
the wider world, in order to realise the considerable benefits
of using administrative data for policy-making, policy understanding
and efficiency, and of course for the production of population
statistics. The Government should use the lessons learnt from
the problems with the "care.data" rollout to embark
upon a public information campaign about the future of the census
in order to raise understanding of the benefits of sharing administrative
data, give information about the safeguards which will be in place
to protect people's personal information and privacy, in order
to smooth the way for its greater use. (Paragraph 34)
As we have already detailed, the Government is mindful
of the need to maintain the trust and support of citizens, and
so have launched an open policy making process in which we are
working collaboratively with groups with a specific interest in
individual privacy, local practitioners (through the LGA), academics,
Government officials and some private sector organisations. This
process has been informed by some of the issues that arose during
the care.data rollout. Communications to support the publication
of our proposals later this year will seek to learn appropriate
lessons from the care.data rollout.
Finally, I wish to thank you and the other members
of the Committee for this Report.
Attachment to Government Response:
Letter from The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister to the Cabinet
Office, to Sir Andrew Dilnot, Chair, UK Statistical Authority
dated 18 July 2014
Thank you for your letter of 27 March regarding the
census and future provision of population statistics in England
and Wales. The Government welcomes the recommendation for a predominantly
online census in 2021 supplemented by further use of administrative
and survey data.
Government recognises the value of the census and
its history as a bedrock of statistical infrastructure. The census
provides information on the population that is of fundamental
importance to society. At the same time, Government has long said
that the census in its current form is outdated and - with modern
technology - could be delivered more effectively and more cheaply.
Modernising the approach could significantly improve the speed
of analysis and outputs. In addition, we are not making the best
use of the considerable data that government already collects.
We agree with the recommendation for an online census
in 2021 as a modern successor to the traditional paper-based decennial
census, with support for those who are unable to complete the
census online. We welcome the increased use of administrative
data in producing the census in 2021 and other population statistics,
and to improve statistics between censuses, since this would make
the best use of all available data and provide a sound basis for
the greater use of administrative data and surveys in the future.
We welcome ONS plans for further research to determine the most
appropriate blend of methods and data sources for the 2021 census.
However, our support for the dual running of an online (decennial)
census with increased use of administrative data is only relevant
to 2021 and not for future censuses. Our ambition is that censuses
after 2021 will be conducted using other sources of data and providing
more timely statistical information. However, any final decision
on moving to the use only of administrative data beyond 2021 will
be dependent on the dual running sufficiently validating the perceived
feasibility of that approach. In the period up to 2021 UKSA's
plans should include ensuring that adequate research into the
use of administrative data and surveys is carried out to enable
a decision about the future methodology for capturing population
and census data.
The Government recognises that the public must be
assured of privacy and confidentiality with the use of administrative
data for statistical purposes, which is why we have launched an
open policy making process. We are working in a collaborative
and open manner with civil society organisations and the wider
Public Sector as well as groups with a specific interest in individual
privacy. This process will explore how government data can be
better used to improve national statistics and our understanding
of the economy and society. Colleagues from ONS are fully engaged
in this work.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you
and the UKSA Board for the work on this important matter and look
forward to receiving the detailed financial estimates which underpin