Out for the count

Having used a variety of social surveys, which would not have occurred were it not for the national census – this is concerning:

An Office for National Statistics consultation on the future of the UK census could spell the end of a 200-year-old social-science experiment. The risk is quite real: during our recent inquiry into proposed changes to the national survey, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, wrote to the Science and Technology Committee saying that costs were a concern and implying that utilising other data might allow the census to be scrapped.

Many groups, bodies and individuals rely on the census for their work. For example, the data are invaluable for social scientists, who follow people throughout their lives to gain insight into how society is changing; for central and local governments, which have to plan for school places, hospital provision, services for the elderly, etc; for local charities, which can compile information and judge where resources might be needed to address health, social and welfare problems; and for local historians, who can trace people back through the generations.

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Scrap the Census?! Why?!

Historians are queuing up to criticise “crazy and short-sighted” government plans to abolish the National Census after 2011, citing both their own research and wider concerns about the loss of cultural heritage.

Matt Houlbrook, tutorial Fellow in modern British history at Magdalen College, Oxford, is using census records to research the confidence trickster, journalist and royal biographer Netley Lucas.

The proposal risked wiping ordinary people from history, Dr Houlbrook said. “The idea of scrapping the National Census is crazy and short-sighted. It’s the demotic – almost democratic – qualities of the census that make it such an important source of information about even the most obscure and long-forgotten individuals.

“Its records provide us with the traces of everyman and everywoman in the past, rather than just the rich and the powerful. Scrapping the National Census risks silencing such voices for generations of family and academic historians to come.”

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