All households in Surrey will have received a letter in the post from Census 2021. The access code on the letter is unique to your household and it’s really simple to fill it in online, which is quicker, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. If you’ve lost the letter then go to www.census.gov.uk to get another. However, that’s not for everybody and the letter also told you how to get a paper form, and how to access help if you need it. If you need a form then you can just ring 0800 141 2021. We’re also encouraging people to get help from friends and family to complete their census if they need to. If you or they need more information about that it can be found on the website or again on the freephone number.
You may have already seen the distinctively dressed census staff, with their i/d cards, on the streets. If not, they are raring to go. They’ll be visiting households from which we’ve not received a completed census form. They’ll encourage people to fill in the census and help them to access further help if they need it. They won’t need to visit houses if the census has already been filled in, so we are encouraging everybody to do so as soon as possible – you can fill it in now if you know who is going to be at home on Census Day (21 March).
In organising the teams, our main concern is the safety of the public and our staff. We want everyone to be safely counted during the census. To do this, we’re making sure that our plans are always in line with the latest government safety guidelines. As you can imagine, that means that they have been under constant review and been regularly tweaked. Our field officers will be working in the same way as a postal or food delivery visit. They will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment and will never need to enter your house.
At the end of last year, some people asked me whether the census would go ahead and why now? We are all geared up and, equally importantly, the information it provides is incredibly important. The Office for National Statistics has used past census information to help us understand how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected people in different ways and respond accordingly. Census 2021 will give us fresh information to improve our understanding of the pandemic. Although the questions in the census have not been changed, the guidance about how to complete them in the light of the circumstances of how we are living and working through it has been updated. The results will help to make sure that the services you use meet the needs of our changing society. This could include hospitals, schools, universities and transport.
First results will be available within 12 months, although personal records, including anything that could be used to identify people, will be locked away for 100 years, kept safe for future generations, and nobody has access to it.
The concept of a census has been around for millenia. The first known censuses were taken by the Babylonians nearly 6,000 years ago when they recorded details of population, livestock and the quantities of butter, milk, honey, wool and vegetables. In 2,500BC, the Egyptians conducted a census to assess the labour force available to plan and build the pyramids. And the Romans carried out a census every 5 years which required each man to
return to his place of origin to be registered – such a census decree by Caesar Augustus took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.
In England, William the Conqueror conducted the first census which history records as the Domesday Book of 1086. The next official census of England and Wales was not until 1801 when it was carried out partly to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. The average population growth every 10 years between then and 1911 was 13.6% between then but after the loss of life during the war and the Spanish flu which followed it – that other devastating pandemic just over 100 years ago – the increase in the population decade on decade was in single figures for the first time, just 5%. It was also the only time in the history of the census that a question was asked about orphans.
Incidentally, for those who are keen on researching family history, that means that the 1921 Census returns, taken not long after the end of the First World War, will be soon be available – from 1 January 2022, in fact. Those 1921 census details are particularly important because they will be the last ones published until 2051! All the records for the 1931 census for England and Wales were destroyed by fire in December 1942, during the Second World War, while in store at the Office of Works in Hayes in an event that was not attributed to enemy action. There was 24 hour security which included fire-watching but there was talk at the time of an unextinguished cigarette end… There was no census taken in 1941 due to the Second World War; however, the register taken as a result of the National Registration Act 1939, which was released into the public domain on a subscription basis in 2015 with some redactions, captures many of the same details as the census and has also assumed greater significance following the destruction of the 1931 census.
The 1911 census was the first to use punch cards with mechanised sorting and counting machines; and in 1961, electronic computers were used to process the data – although the production of statistics from these computers took 5 ½ years! The Census Act of 1920 made completion of the census compulsory and this legislation is still in force today.
Over the years, the structure and questions in the census have evolved to reflect the changing nature of society. The 1871 census added the categories of “lunatic” and “imbecile” to the “list of the infirm” and 1911 included questions about marriage and fertility. Before the 1951 census, women were asked to be more honest about their age although many women felt that questions relating to their age were too personal. From 1951 until 1991, households were asked if they had an outside toilet and the reference to “housewife” in the 1971 and 1981 censuses was replaced by “looking after home or family” in the 1990s.
A question about income was tested in 1968/9 but not included in the 1971 census as the tests showed that the accuracy of responses was questionable and this question could lead to a fall in response rates. There is still no income question in the census questionnaire. 1991 also saw the introduction of questions about ethnicity. For the first time since 1851, information about religious belief was collected in 2001
For more information, visit census.gov.uk.