NEWS17 July 2020

Scotland’s census delayed for a year due to Covid-19

Covid-19 News Public Sector UK

UK – Scotland’s next census, due to take place in March next year, is being postponed until March 2022 as a result of Covid-19, while the England and Wales survey is set to go ahead as planned.

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The census usually takes place every 10 years and is conducted by the National Records of Scotland. 

Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for economy, fair work and culture, said ongoing disruption caused by Covid-19 is “impacting” on the census preparations.

The decision to delay the count was taken following an options assessment carried out by the National Records of Scotland during April and May.

The last time a census was postponed in the UK was 1941, as a result of the second world war. 

Hyslop said: “Following careful consideration and on recommendation of National Records of Scotland, ministers have informed the Scottish parliament of their intention to move Scotland’s census date to March 2022. This reflects the unprecedented impact which Covid-19 is having across a wide range of sectors.

“This decision was not taken lightly. However the quality of the census data must remain robust, and by moving to 2022 National Records of Scotland can continue to deliver a census which ensures the highest possible response rate from people across Scotland, to allow government, local authorities and key services plan for every element of public life, from building homes to NHS support.”

Hyslop said NRS will work with census stakeholders to make sure that “appropriate data” is available to support work that had expected to use census data, which is used to inform funding allocations and policy decision-making.

Paul Lowe, registrar general and chief executive of NRS, said: “This is the right decision for Scotland which will allow us to undertake a high quality and safe census in 2022 that will produce the rich data we need for many years to come. That remains our absolute priority.”

The 2021 census was set to be the first where the majority of the population would be encouraged to participate online.

Lowe said that Covid-19 has led to the delay or prevention of various census planning procedures, including engagement with key organisations, from taking place.

In the UK, the decennial census takes places across England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on the same day, but involves three separate surveys. 

The census in England and Wales is still scheduled to go ahead in March 2021, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

A spokesperson for the ONS said: “The ONS is working to deliver a high-quality census in England and Wales as planned on 21 March 2021, as set out in the recent census legislation [census order and regulations]. We will continue to be guided by the evidence and latest advice from government and experts to run a safe operation where everyone is counted.”

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), which is responsible for the census in Northern Ireland, said the census there would also go ahead next year.

“The 2021 census will be a digital-first census with people being encouraged to fill out the census form online,” a spokesperson for Nisra said. “A full census rehearsal was held last autumn and, as set out in recent census legislation, officials continue to work to deliver the 2021 census next March. In doing so we will continue to be guided by the latest evidence and advice from government and experts.”