Census 2021 – What’s the latest news?

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The Census 2021 release will be the most eagerly awaited publication in the UK data world this year and all eyes at OCSI are closely trained on the ONS website to see if there is any concrete news regarding when we can start to see each of the interesting new datasets that will be released and be able to answer all of those who are asking us when they can expect to see this new data. 

What we know so far?

ONS recently published the results from the Output Consultation which sought views on how the data outputs should be released. This covered questions including which themes were most important to people (in order to inform the priority order of release), how to combine census questions to create useful indicators, the geographies that statistics will be published by, how to handle new indicators and the level of supporting information requirements. The document also gives indicative timescales for releasing the data – however, it is worth noting that these are provisional and there have already been revisions from the original timetable. 


What is the latest timetable for release?

The table below summarises the provisional release timetable. A more detailed and firmed up timetable will be available as part of the May 2022 release schedule.

Publish full details of the outputs release scheduleMay 2022Publish the full details of the timetable of outputs.We will have an idea of the exact geographies due to be released here
Publication of initial findingsEarly Summer 2022Publish the initial findings from the census.Will provide first population figures to inform planning and future population estimates and projections.
Releases by themeSummer - Autumn 2022Key statistics at Output Area level.Their plan is to stagger the types of indicators as opposed to the geographic levels. This means that data for some themes will be released later than others. However, all data should be available for neighbourhood geographies on release.
Final release of outputsMarch 2023Release of all census data outputs for England and Wales.

The data will be released in stages, with the first release in ‘late spring’ to include unrounded population and household estimates for England and for Wales, at Local Authority level and cross-tabulated by sex and age. The ONS then aims to stagger topic summary releases from Summer to Autumn 2022.

The proposed theme order (informed by consultation responses) is as follows:

  1. Demography and migration
  2. Ethnic group, national identity, language and religion
  3. Health, disability and unpaid care
  4. Housing
  5. Labour market and travel to work
  6. Sexual orientation and gender identity
  7. Education and skills
  8. Armed forces veterans

This will be followed in autumn by the release of more detailed single (univariate tables) including data from new themes, multivariate data (combining two or more themes together e.g. health and ethnicity) followed by non-standard populations such as resident and workplace population, migration and commuting flows.


What do we know about Census geography in 2021?

Output Areas (OAs) will be the main geographical base for Census 2021 outputs. In addition, they will make the following administrative geographies available by aggregating OAs, on a best-fit basis.

The geographies are:

  • Clinical commissioning groups, soon to be replaced by NHS England Regions
  • Counties
  • Local Authority Districts
  • Local Education Authorities
  • Local Enterprise Partnerships
  • Local health boards in Wales
  • National Assembly for Wales constituencies
  • Parishes or Welsh communities
  • Postcode districts or sectors
  • UK Parliament constituencies
  • Wards (2022)

ONS are continuing to investigate how they can best provide other geographies. These are those with boundaries based on census data, such as workplace zones, travel-to-work areas and built-up areas. One option is providing users with tools that allow them to create and upload their own geographies.

ONS plan to publish further detail about the full range of Census 2021 output geographies on the ONS website before they publish the first results in late spring 2022. 

All main Census 2021 statistics will be published to geographical boundaries as of May 2022. ONS will provide users with geography guidance. This will include how to use Output Area look-up files to aggregate data on a best-fit basis to boundaries at different time periods, including the 2011 Census. The geographies will be largely based on the 2011 approach, continuing to use OAs as the main geographical base for the Census 2021, a review will be done on OA population size accordingly:

“We will review OAs based on Census 2021 population and household data. We will then merge or split them as needed to ensure they remain within the established population and household size thresholds. We expect around a 5% overall change between OAs compared to 2011, including some targeted re-alignment of OAs to better fit ward and parish boundaries.“

In other words, no more than 5% of Output Areas will change boundaries (largely where there has been large change in population) – this compares to 2.6% in 2011. This will have knock-on impacts for the LSOA and MSOA boundaries as all Output Areas will continue to nest into LSOAs and MSOAs. It is unclear how this will ripple up to MSOAs – however as an indication in  2011 2.6% of OAs were changed, which affected 1.4% of MSOAs.


What do we know about new data?

A number of new indicators (not available in Census 2021)  will be released as part of the new census. ONS have consulted on how best to present this new information – balancing the need for data for granular categories vs granular geographies i.e. do we want more detailed breakdowns or do we want the data to be available at smaller geographical levels like Output Area. Ultimately, they aim to do both, with summary breakdowns at small area level and detailed breakdowns (where there are potentially small number impacts) at Local Authority level. 

There will be a range of new data on specific minority groups which will be of interest to those exploring equality, diversity and inclusion in the communities they work in. The following key topics will be explored:

Gender identity 

ONS also intend to investigate the feasibility of producing a detailed univariate table at Local Authority level that include for example: gender-fluid, non-binary, trans man and trans woman 

Sexual orientation 

ONS are planning to produce small area data on broad sexual orientation categories

e.g.  • straight or heterosexual • gay or lesbian, bisexual or other sexual orientation • not stated.

In addition they will produce a detailed  table that includes additional categories

e.g • asexual • pansexual • queer.

To protect confidentiality, these may need to be published to higher levels of geography (Local Authority+). 

UK armed forces veterans 

ONS will publish breakdowns at household level including:

armed forces veterans • armed forces veteran status of household reference person • number of armed forces veterans in household

New Ethnic groups

ONS will consider the feasibility of producing statistics on the Eritrean, Romanian and Showman populations. They may do this by including them within the detailed ethnic group classification or by producing bespoke small population tables for these groups

More housing breakdowns

There will be a number of additional breakdowns relating to housing stock. The following new categories will be available:

  • “a flat, maisonette or apartment: part of another converted building (for example, former school, church or warehouse)”
  • Heating – “Mains gas” and “Tank or bottled gas”
  • Heating – “Wood (for example, logs, waste wood or pellets)” and “Solid fuel (for example, coal)”
  • Heating – “Renewable energy (for example, solar thermal or heat pumps)”, “District or communal heat network” and “Other”
  • Unpaid care – more broken down hours – 0-9, 10-19

The heating categories are likely to be of interest to groups exploring impacts of energy efficiency and fuel poverty. 


What next?

The next key date will be in March 2022 when the ONS publish full details of the outputs release schedule and the dates and shape of the releases become firmed up. At this point we will hopefully also have a clearer understanding of the extent of and nature of the small area geography changes brought about by changes in population revealed in the Census. 

In the meantime the ONS are running a number of webinars to share their updated plans for the phase one release of Census 2021 in more detail, looking at each product and the data it will contain, where or how the product is likely to be published and summarising changes they are making to products following the outputs consultation session. You can register for this here. In the meantime we will continue to monitor and share any developments in terms of the Census 2021 outputs when we have them.

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