Since 1801, every ten years the nation has set aside one day for the census - a count of all people and households. It is the most complete source of information about the population that we have. The latest census was held in March 2011.
Every effort is made to include everyone, and that is why the census is so important. It is the only survey which provides a detailed picture of the entire population, and is unique because it covers everyone at the same time and asks the same core questions everywhere. This makes it easy to compare different parts of the country.
The information the census provides allows central and local government, health authorities and many other organisations to target their resources more effectively and to plan housing, education, health and transport services for years to come.
In England and Wales, the census is planned and carried out by the Office for National Statistics. Elsewhere in the UK, responsibility lies with the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
A census is a count of all people and households in the country. It provides population statistics from a national to neighbourhood level for government, local authorities, business and communities.
The last census for England and Wales took place on 27 March 2011 and involved around 25 million households. Data from the 2011 census will take some time to collate.
Why do we have a census?
We all use public services such as schools, health services, roads and libraries. These services need to be planned, and in such a way that they keep pace with fast-changing patterns of modern life. There needs to be accurate information on the numbers of people, where they live and what their needs are.
So the census counts the numbers of people living in each city, town and country area. It tells us about each area and its population, including the balance of young and old, what jobs people do, and the type of housing they live in.
The information it provides enables billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to be targeted where it is needed most. The census gives us invaluable facts about:
Population, health, housing, employment, transport and ethnics groups
The 2011 census included a number of new approaches designed to improve census return rates in all areas and with all population groups. This included:
1. Wide engagement in the community with the help of local authorities, representatives of target population and accessibility groups and a national publicity campaign.
2. Post-out of all household questionnaires (around 25 million), based on a newly developed national address register.
3. Online completion: people will be able to complete and submit their answers online or fill in and return the paper questionnaire.
4. Questionnaire tracking and targeted field follow-up: to identify and follow up households which have not returned a questionnaire.
Advantages of a census?
It helps the government plan for the future
Keeps the government more organised
Shows the government the population status of the country
Keeps detail of all the people within the country
Disadvantages of a census?
People may feel uncomfortable revealing their personal details
Very expensive to conduct
Limited in the data collected, does not get in-depth data
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex