West Sussex residents urged to take part in census: here’s everything you need to know

A huge national effort is underway to complete the Census 2021, which will shed light on the make-up of our communities and how they are changing over time.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 12:38 pm
An aerial shot of Worthing in West Sussex

The census is a survey that happens every 10 years and gives a snapshot of all the people and households in England and Wales on a particular day.

All households will now have received a letter in the post with information on how to fill in their details online, or how to access a paper form.

People are being encouraged to fill it in as soon as possible. It can be done immediately if they know who is going to be at home on Census Day (21 March).

Completing the census is compulsory, however some questions are marked as voluntary, and people can be fined up to £1,000 if they do not take part, or if they supply false information.

The first results will be available within 12 months – although personal records, including anything that could be used to identify people, will be locked away for 100 years, kept safe for future generations, and nobody has access to it.

What is the census used for?

John Heaton, the local Census Engagement Manager for Arun, Adur, Worthing and Chichester said the very first piece of information to be revealed will be the total population of England and Wales. This will be announced with much fanfare by a primary school, which will be selected through a competition, and broadcast on national TV.

More detailed breakdowns of information will then be released.

The census can tell us a lot about the character of communities, which can help make sure the services people use meet the needs of our changing society.

“We know there are a lot of older people in my patch of Arun, Adur, Worthing and Chichester,” Mr Heaton said.

“Not so much in Shoreham, but certainly in Arun, parts of Worthing and parts of Chichester. We are a retirement destination.

“But there are pockets where there are concentrations of younger people.

“We know just how much housing there is being built in our part of Sussex, and of course many of the people in these houses have young families. So it’s important to know where there are older people so services can be put in place for them, and also where there are young people for schools and things like that.”

He added: “A big thing for everyone is doctor’s surgeries. One we have the census figures, where doctor’s surgeries are can be compared to where the population centres are. Is there a disconnect between the two?

“Transport is another critical one, because again knowing how many people are in particular areas and also knowing where they work helps to inform transport decisions.”

Questions around work may be a challenge this year, with the pandemic having altered the employment landscape. But Mr Heaton said: “There’s very clear guidance as to how to answer particular questions, so that even though the census is a point in time, the figures can be extrapolated so that it gives an indication of where people are likely to be when we return to a degree of normality. That’s enormously helpful for planning purposes.”

He added: “Local authorities rely enormously on census data. Of course they get information from other sources, but that’s usually patchy, whereas the census gives a truly comprehensive picture.”

Various organisations make use of the census to help them determine how to support their clients.

“Age UK use the census figures to get a clear profile of older people in particular areas, and quite often the census can be used to support funding requests for charities,” Mr Heaton said.

“The Citizen’s Advice Bureau use census figures, they might get a profile of an area they work in to make sure their service is a truly inclusive one.”

Previous census data had been used by The Office for National Statistics to help understand how the pandemic has affected people in different ways and how to respond accordingly, Mr Heaton said, and the Census 2021 will give fresh information to improve our understanding of the pandemic.

Holding the census during a pandemic

Mr Heaton was also involved in the last census, which was held back in 2011, where he held a similar engagement role as well as an operational position.

His engagement responsibilities involve working with local authorities, service providers and communities to encourage people to complete the census.

However the pandemic has meant the job is quite different this time round.

“Last time one of the great joys of the job was being able to get out and meet people,” he said.

“Nowadays I can’t do that. That’s a shame, but I’m in regular contact with people by video conference or telephone or email. I’m still able to engage with people.”

One of the other big differences since the 2011 census is that, back then, only 17 per cent of people completed the form online.

This time, there is a big push towards the website and it is hoped that 75 per cent of people will fill it in online, Mr Heaton said.

In light of the pandemic, some of the guidance around completing the census has changed.

Census staff, dressed distinctively and bearing id cards, will be visiting households who have not yet submitted their completed census forms.

They will encourage people to fill in the census and help them to access further help if they need it.

Staff will not need to visit houses if the census has already been filled in – so people are urged to do so as soon as they can.

John Heaton, the local Census Engagement Manager for Arun, Adur, Worthing and Chichester, said: “In organising the teams, our main concern is the safety of the public and our staff.

“We want everyone to be safely counted during the census.

“To do this, we’re making sure that our plans are always in line with the latest government safety guidelines.

“Our field officers will be working in the same way as a postal or food delivery visit.

“They will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment and will never need to enter your house.”

How to fill in the census

Each household will by now have received a letter with a unique access code which can be used to fill in the census online.

Using the online form is simply, as well as the quicker, more efficient and more environmentally friendly option.

However the letter also includes information on how to get a paper form if people would prefer to fill out a hard copy.

Anyone who needs a form can ring 0800 141 2021. If you have lost the letter, you can visit www.census.gov.uk to get another.

Census Support Centres operated by West Sussex Libraries have also been opened to help people fill in their online questionnaire.

These are currently offering a telephone service on 0330 222 3455, Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.

This support service is being offered in 15 libraries across Adur, Worthing, Arun and Chichester.

These are: Southwick, Shoreham, Lancing, Worthing, Goring, Durrington, Findon, Broadwater, Littlehampton, Rustington, Bognor, Willowhale, Chichester, Midhurst and Selsey.

A total of 95 members of staff have been trained to help.

Deborah Urquhart, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “There are many benefits to completing the census online but we understand this can be more challenging for residents without internet access or for those who struggle to use technology.

“This free service will be easy to access and will enable all residents to fulfil their legal requirement to complete the census.”

When was the first ever census held – and how has it changed over years?

The concept of a census has been around for millenia.

The first known censuses were taken by the Babylonians nearly 6,000 years ago when they recorded details of population, livestock and the quantities of butter, milk, honey, wool and vegetables.

In 2,500BC, the Egyptians conducted a census to assess the labour force available to plan and build the pyramids.

And the Romans carried out a census every five years which required each man to return to his place of origin to be registered - such a census decree by Caesar Augustus took Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

In England, William the Conqueror conducted the first census which history records as the Domesday Book of 1086.

The next official census of England and Wales was not until 1801 when it was carried out partly to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic Wars.

The average population growth every 10 years between then and 1911 was 13.6 per cent between then but after the loss of life during the war and the Spanish flu which followed it - that other devastating pandemic just over 100 years ago - the increase in the population decade on decade was in single figures for the first time, just 5 per cent.

It was also the only time in the history of the census that a question was asked about orphans.

Incidentally, for those who are keen on researching family history, that means that the 1921 Census returns, taken not long after the end of the First World War, will be soon be available - from 1 January 2022, in fact.

Those 1921 census details are particularly important because they will be the last ones published until 2051!

All the records for the 1931 census for England and Wales were destroyed by fire in December 1942, during the Second World War, while in store at the Office of Works in Hayes in an event that was not attributed to enemy action.

There was 24 hour security which included fire-watching but there was talk at the time of an unextinguished cigarette end…

There was no census taken in 1941 due to the Second World War; however, the register taken as a result of the National Registration Act 1939, which was released into the public domain on a subscription basis in 2015 with some redactions, captures many of the same details as the census and has also assumed greater significance following the destruction of the 1931 census.

The 1911 census was the first to use punch cards with mechanised sorting and counting machines; and in 1961, electronic computers were used to process the data - although the production of statistics from these computers took five and a half years.

The Census Act of 1920 made completion of the census compulsory and this legislation is still in force today.

Over the years, the structure and questions in the census have evolved to reflect the changing nature of society.

The 1871 census added the categories of “lunatic” and “imbecile” to the “list of the infirm” and 1911 included questions about marriage and fertility.

Before the 1951 census, women were asked to be more honest about their age although many women felt that questions relating to their age were too personal.

From 1951 until 1991, households were asked if they had an outside toilet and the reference to “housewife” in the 1971 and 1981 censuses was replaced by “looking after home or family” in the 1990s.

A question about income was tested in 1968/9 but not included in the 1971 census as the tests showed that the accuracy of responses was questionable and this question could lead to a fall in response rates.

There is still no income question in the census questionnaire.

1991 also saw the introduction of questions about ethnicity.

For the first time since 1851, information about religious belief was collected in 2001.

This year, members of the public are being asked to provide information about their sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time.

The questions, which will be voluntary and for people aged 16 and over, will mean that reliable data will be collected on the percentage of people identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender for the first time.

The ONS said it would help to build a clearer picture of the LGBT population for policy-makers and service-providers.