On Wednesday 6th May, Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, spoke at the Draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 Debate virtually and, amongst other things, called for a more accessible census, asked for more clarity over questions about mental and physical health and highlighted how important the protection of personal data is.
A lot has changed in the last ten years since the last census, and even though we find ourselves in a global pandemic it is important to discuss next year’s census. Having up to date and accurate information about our population, economy and society is critical for policymakers and Government to effectively allocate resources to those who need help the most.
Sir David stressed the importance of the logistics of the census; namely, how it will be conducted, what the penalties will be for failure to comply and over what time period it will be carried out. Additionally, it is important to know the basis on which the new questions will be included and who made the decisions. Updating the census’ questions is necessary, but we should not overcomplicate the process as the more questions asked, the more complex it may become and decrease the value of returns.
It is critical not to exclude many of our population and so the census should be accessible for everyone. Sir David said the following when addressing the concerns of accessibility: “What provisions are being made to ensure that the census is accessible to people who are blind or partially sighted? Will it be made available in large print, audio description or Braille? In addition, what provisions will be made for those for whom English is not their first language? Will the census be made available in other languages, and what languages will those be?”
As the Coronavirus pandemic has shown, it is very important to understand a population’s health and healthcare systems. Therefore, Sir David said the following when considering the 2021 census’ questions on mental and physical health: “I note that consideration is being given to changing the question on long-term health and disabilities, and I would welcome some clarification on that. Will the census now make a distinction between mental and physical health, and what guidance will there be on answering the relevant question?”
With an estimated more people completing the 2021 census online, it is very important to ensure that individuals' personal data is secure. Sir David asked if there is a robust system in place to ensure no sensitive data can be susceptible to cyber-attacks, and a contingency plan if a successful attack does happen.
To finish, Sir David concluded with “There is no point in conducting what will inevitably be an expensive census unless we put the information to good use. That debate can perhaps wait for another time, but the evidence produced by the census will undoubtedly prove that Southend should be made a city”.