Plans for the digital first census in 2021 have been set out in a white paper published today.

Information gathered by the Office for National Statistics through the census will help shape public services and ensure they are targeted into communities and groups where they are needed, in 2021 and beyond.

And, for the first time, ONS will be drawing on additional sources of information to create the most comprehensive picture of today’s society.

Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, said:

“The census is the foundation for national and local policy, for planning and for targeting resources.

“The information gathered on the population, people’s characteristics, education, working life and health, enables public services and businesses to properly serve our communities.”

The next census is due to take place on 21 March 2021, subject to parliamentary approval. Recommendations were set out in the Help Shape our Future white paper published today.

National Statistician, John Pullinger, said:

“The Census is for everyone; it gives us all the opportunity to stand up and be counted in democratic debate and policy decisions.

“We have designed it with people at its heart and we consulted widely to ensure it meets the needs of society. Unlike previous Censuses, it will be digital first which will make it easier to complete electronically, with help available for those who need it.”

The Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith MP, said:

“The proposals for the 2021 Census will help decision-makers and citizens get comprehensive data on our society and provide an unparalleled snapshot of how people live and work in our modern society.

“The census is essential for informing policy, planning and funding decisions, across all national and local public services.”

With every census, consideration is given to new questions which should be added to provide information which is not available from elsewhere.

The 2021 Census will, for the first time, collect information on veterans of the UK Armed Forces. This enables monitoring of the Armed Forces covenant – the deal between the country and those who served it.

And it is proposed that there will also be a new voluntary question on sexual orientation for those aged 16 and over. In addition to the usual question on being male or female, there will also be a voluntary question on gender identity for those aged 16 and over.

ONS is transforming the way it collects, processes and shares data and the next census is part of a wider drive towards making more use of data already held and moving surveys online.

Previous censuses have been shown to deliver many times their cost in indirect benefits. Return on investment in census has been shown to be £5 for every £1 spent.

In line with previous censuses, ONS will hold a census rehearsal in October 2019 and is currently reviewing which local authority areas will be included.


Notes to Editors

For more information, see the white paper which has been laid today in Parliament.

Following the publication of the Census White Paper for England and Wales, a draft Order will be prepared in respect of the census in England and Wales to be laid before Parliament in autumn 2019. The draft Order must be approved by both Houses of Parliament.

Following approval of Census Order, the Minister for Cabinet Office is expected to lay Census Regulations for England before Parliament in early 2020, which set out arrangements for conduct of census in England; including operational activities and field procedures.


For more information, please contact the ONS Media Relations Office:
+44 (0)845 604 1858 or +44 (0)203 684 5070