Saturday, 10 July 2010

UK Census to be scrapped

Cabinet officer Francis Maude has revealed that the UK census is to be scrapped, and that the government is looking for a new method to enumerate the people, perhaps every five years, from alternative sources such as databases held by the Royal Mail, councils and government. The 2011 census will not be affected, though the minister is looking at ways to reduce its costs - the last government has already spent £300 million preparing for it. But as things stand, the next census will be the last in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The modern decennial census was first carried out in 1801 (1821 in Ireland, part of the UK at that time), but purely on a statistical basis. From 1821 in Ireland it included information on members of the household, and from 1841 in the rest of the UK. To say that it forms the backbone of 19th century genealogy would be an understatement - it's usefulness can easily be gauged by what has survived and what has not. Most Irish censuses prior to 1901 were destroyed either deliberately by the government or by fire in 1922, whilst most of those for the rest of the UK have survived. If, like me, you have split ancestry in Ireland and Scotland, you will understand just how useful the census really is for family history research.

Genealogical sources do change from era to era. The loss of the census may not be a big deal if the methods used to gather the same information a) do in fact provide the same information, and b) are made equally available to the public in years to come for genealogical research. If what being proposed does do that, I am, for the record, a monkey's uncle (bananas welcome).

The full story is available in the Daily Telegraph at

Still, it does help me with my holiday plans in future years - we'll just have to plan our trips to see family in Ireland to coincide with its census nights. It's the least I can do for my grandkids and the Irish economy!

(Many thanks to Guy Etchells for the tip off)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)


Brenda said...

Hmmmmm ... I wonder if this is where Canada got the idea to scrap the "long form" for the 2011 census. On 26 June it was announced the "short form" would be retained. A special "survey" for a percentage of Canadian households will ask most of the long form questions. But that survey is not considered a census and nominal/personal information will never be released! I don't know if this URL will still hold up:


Chris Paton said...

I suspect it may have something to do with the UK being close to bankrupt! It's been on the cards for a long time. Different to the Canadian situation - the long form is being scrapped, but all of the public still have to fill out the short form - and there s a voluntary long form beinh introduced (the NHS) which will be sent to more people. The real issue there, from what I can gather, is that the new form will ot be covered by census legislation, so may never be released in the future.

There's mre on the Canadian situation at


Brenda said...

Sorry, Chris! I missed your earlier post.

Chris Paton said...

No probs Brenda, it's still a valid story, worth flagging up again! :)