Every ten years or so, a chunky form lands on your doormat asking you to fill it in on a certain day.
It asks you about who lives in your home, how you live, what you do and crucially for us, how we get around.
When governments or local authorities need to make a decision, they need to show that they have evidence to back up their assumptions. You can’t go and plan a transport network, or make assumptions about how people travel without the data to support them. This is where census data comes in.
The census provides information that government needs to develop policies, plan and run public services, and allocate funding.Why we have a census – Office for National Statistics
Rather than an ad-hoc survey, which could be prone to statistical irregularities or simply canvassing the wrong people at the wrong time, the census is a mandatory survey that everyone completes based on a specific point in time. That happens to be today, 21st March 2021.
If the census reports that the majority of people drive for work, the evidence for more road building has been made for them. Similarly, if people say they ride a bicycle to work or get the bus, councils have the data in black & white to say that more buses, or more bike lanes are needed. ONS states that the transport data they collect is used for planning and running roads and public transport, whilst also contributing to the understanding of pressures on transport systems.
Where the census also differs from ad-hoc surveys you might see from Yougov or other pollsters is that the information you report on your census form must be accurate and you have to declare that it has been completed to the best of your knowledge and belief, meaning that the information should be as reliable as it is ever going to get.
We’ve used census data ourselves, way back when we talked about home-working as something to aim for –little did we know just what was around the corner at the time.
What is unusual this year is that unlike a year ago, many of us are working from home. Many of us aren’t travelling anywhere near as much as we used to and likely won’t for the foreseeable future. It will be very interesting to see what sort of policies are implemented as a result and whether the data challenges any of the conventional thinking around road building through precious wetlands that are likely to be under the Severn Estuary in a decade if we don’t radically change course…