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Census 2021

Volume 717: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2022

The 22nd decennial census of population for England and Wales was taken on 21 March 2021. Today, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes the first results, which I have laid in a report before the House this morning. These results are just the start of an extensive range of Census 2021 statistics and analyses to be published during 2022 and 2023 and beyond.

Census 2021 was a great success. Delivered against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the first digital-first census achieved response rates of 97%, with 89% of households completing it online. This household response rate far exceeded the ONS’s target of 94% nationally and local response rates were above the target of 80% in each local authority area. I thank the public for their response.

The figures published today show that the usual resident population of England and Wales on Census Day—21 March 2021—was estimated to be 59,597,300—56,489,800 in England and 3,107,500 in Wales; this was the largest population ever recorded through a census in England and Wales. The population of England and Wales grew by more than 3.5 million (6.3%) since the last census in 2011, when it was 56,075,912. The report laid before the House provides estimates of the population down to local authority level, broken down by age and sex, as well as the number of households, data on population density, and changes in population and households over time. The statistical datasets underlying the report have also been published today on the ONS website, along with other analysis and information.

Census data are critical to planning and delivering local services as well as informing decision making at national and local levels. Early data from Census 2021 have already been used to inform management of the coronavirus pandemic. Information on where Ukrainian communities are located in England and Wales has been used to inform our humanitarian response to the crisis. The huge range of high-quality data and detail from the census, combined with other sources, will ensure the changing needs of society can be understood and met.

Over the coming months, the ONS will publish data and analysis covering the range of topics and questions included in Census 2021, including the new questions on sexual orientation, gender identity and previous service in the UK armed forces. These will be followed by data releases which will allow users to conduct in-depth analysis using data across multiple census variables, as well as a range of ONS analytical publications exploring the data in more detail across the range of census topics. In total, these releases will include some five billion census statistics. Further detail of the planned releases and publications can be found on the Census 2021 outputs pages of the ONS’s website.

The ONS is producing a suite of tools to enable users of all levels of experience with population data to explore the results of the census. To maintain the privacy of personal census responses, strict measures of statistical disclosure control ensure that no individual person or household can be identified from the information released.

The census in Northern Ireland was conducted on the same day as in England and Wales. However, the census in Scotland took place in March 2022. The statistical offices of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are working together to ensure the production of harmonised statistics across the UK and to address issues arising from the census in Scotland taking place a year later.

Alongside the delivery of the digital-first census in 2021, the ONS is transforming the population and migration statistics system. This work will enable more frequent and timely statistics about our population using administrative data supplemented by surveys. In addition to Census 2021 outputs and regular mid-year estimates, throughout this year the ONS will continue to publish research updates, building towards “experimental” monthly age/sex profiles of the population relating to 2022. This will start with a proof of concept for admin-based monthly population estimates as soon as possible after the first Census 2021 results are released. As its methods mature, the ONS will embed these into its official estimates and move on from the “experimental” status. The ONS is continuing to develop its methods for producing population and migration statistics. It also aims to publish a proof of concept that demonstrates the feasibility of producing statistics from admin data combining two or more characteristics, starting with income by ethnicity, which builds on research published last year on admin-based income and ethnicity statistics. This new approach will inform a recommendation by the National Statistician in 2023 on the future of the census and population statistics in England and Wales.