Monday, 23 December 2013 12:35

Rural warning over census proposals

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Rural warning over census proposals

CHANGES to the way census data is collected must not have a detrimental affect on rural communities, the government has been told.

The warning comes in a Rural Services Network response to a government consultation examining new ways of collection population and housing data.

The Office for National Statistics is reviewing the needs for information about the population and housing in England and Wales, and how these needs might be met.

It has identified two possible methods for taking the census in future.

The first is a census once a decade, like that conducted in 2011, but primarily online. The second is a census using existing government data and compulsory annual surveys.

The Rural Services Network has asked for "complete re-assurance" that any loss of local data would not impact on the official rural-urban definition and the settlement statistics it allows.

A full decennial census is seen by RSN members as having many advantages, says the network's consultation response.

It generates very small area data down to community levels – and provides statistics for units small enough to match accurately to other boundaries.

It also provides a definitive and comprehensive population record; and offers a benchmark against which other data sources can be tested, including the population estimates.

Although some RSN members differ in their views, a "clear majority" of RSN members say the traditional census should be retained.

"Many would like to retain the full census, while also exploring options that would give more frequent data between census years," says the RSN consultation response.

The need to retain a granular level of statistical detail for small geographic areas is the issue raised most frequently by RSN members.

In rural areas, in particular, there is a core need for very small area statistics for policy analysis, the consultation response says.

"This matters – and is of growing importance – because government policy, in the guise of 'localism', looks to communities to take more action themselves," it adds.

The population census is the one official source of data capable of providing data at an appropriate geographic scale, the response continues.

"If data were not available from the census/official sources, this would push more of the burden and cost of its collection onto communities and parish councils."

The full response can be downloaded here.

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