Census in the United Kingdom

Census in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has taken a census of its population every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941 (during the Second World War). In addition to providing a wealth of interesting information about aspects of the make-up of the country, the results of the census plays an important part in the calculation of resource allocation to regional and local service providers, by governments in the United Kingdom and European Union levels.


In the 7th century, Dál Riata (parts of what is now Scotland and Northern Ireland) was the first territory in what is now the UK to conduct a census, with what was called the "Tradition of the Men of Alba" "(Senchus fer n-Alban)". England took its first Census when the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 for tax purposes.

The UK census as we know it today started in 1801 (championed by John Rickman who managed the first four up to 1831), partly to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic wars, partly over concerns stemming from "An Essay on the Principle of Population" by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1798). Rickman's 12 reasons - set out in 1798 and repeated in Parliamentary debates - for conducting a UK census included the following justifications:
* 'the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy'
* 'an industrious population is the basic power and resource of any nation, and therefore its size needs to be known'
* 'the number of men who were required for conscription to the militia in different areas should reflect the area's population'
* 'there were defence reasons for wanting to know the number of seamen'
* 'the need to plan the production of corn and thus to know the number of people who had to be fed'
* 'a census would indicate the Government's intention to promote the public good' and
* 'the life insurance industry would be stimulated by the results.'

The census has been conducted every ten years since 1801 and most recently in 2001 "(see United Kingdom Census 2001)". The first four censuses (1801-1831) were mainly statistical. That is, they were mainly headcounts and contained virtually no personal information; a very small number of older records exist in local record offices as by-products of the notes made by enumerators in the production of those earlier censuses, these might list all persons or just the heads of households. The 1841 Census was the first to intentionally record names of all individuals in a household or institution;

Because of World War II, there was no census in 1941. However, following the passage into law (on 5 September 1939) of the National Registration Act 1939 a population count was carried out on 29 September 1939, which was, in effect, a census.

Although the 1931 census was taken on 26th April 1931 the returns were destroyed by fire (in an accident and not after bombing) during the Second World War. [ [http://archiver.rootsweb.com/th/read/GOONS/2007-01/1168380983 RootsWeb] ]


The census is undertaken by the government for policy and planning purposes, and the results are also published in printed reports and on the ONS (GROS and NISRA in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively) website. Public access to the census returns is restricted under the terms of the 100-year rule (Lord Chancellor's Instrument no.12, issued in 1966 under S.5 (1) of the Public Records Act 1958) and the most recent returns made available to researchers are those of the United Kingdom Census 1901.

However, the 1901 and 1911 censuses for Northern Ireland have been available for inspection since 1960 and the 19th century Scottish censuses were all released after 50-80 years of closure. In exceptional circumstances the Registrar General for England and Wales does release specific information from 70-, 80-, or 90-year old closed censuses (including the 1911 census).

It has been argued that in England and Wales no attempts were made by ministers and civil servants strictly to enforce the 100-year census closure policy until 2005, five years after the Freedom of Information Act 2000 was passed, which some have argued abolished the 100-year rule. However, personal information provided in confidence is clearly exempted if its disclosure could result in a successful prosecution for breach of confidence. [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/00036--g.htm#41 Freedom of Information Act 2000, Section 41] ] The 1911 Census is now partially accessible following a decision by the Information Commissioner's Office . [http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/decisionnotices/2006/101391_dn_rt_changes.pdf] A March 2007 internet petition to reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years received a response from the government explaining why this was not possible. [ [http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/CensusInfoFreed Petition to reduce the classified period for census data from 100 years to 70 years] ]

In January 2002, the much-anticipated [http://www.1901censusonline.com England & Wales census for 1901] went online. Within minutes it was inaccessible because of server and network load, and it had to be taken offline. Later in the year, after upgrades had been made, it came back online.


The census is usually very accurate, and, with a fine of up to £1,000 for those who do not complete it, filled in by a high percentage of the population. There may be exceptions in the case of the following censuses:: The Women's Freedom League, a suffragette organisation campaigning for female suffrage in the United Kingdom, organised a boycott of the 1911 census, and women were encouraged to go to all-night parties or to stay at friends' houses in order to avoid completing the census.: Some people avoided the census conducted during the year of the poll tax (1991), in case it was used for enforcing the tax.


Although the 1851 census had included a question about religion on a separate response sheet, whose completion was not compulsory, the 2001 census was the first in which the government asked about religion on the main census form. New legislation was enacted through the Census (Amendment) Act 2000 to allow the question to be asked, and to make its response optional. Perhaps encouraged by a chain letter that started in New Zealand, 390,000 people entered their religion as "Jedi Knight" (more than any of Sikhs, Buddhists or Jews), with some areas registering up to 2.6% of people as Jedi. Thus, 'Jedi' was fourth largest reported religion in the country."(See: Jedi census phenomenon)".

Controversially, the Northern Ireland census included a supplementary question on what religion a person was brought up in for those stating no religion in response to the main question.

See also: Demographics of England from the 2001 United Kingdom census

UK Census dates

ee also

* List of United Kingdom censuses
* Demographics of the United Kingdom
* Demographics of England from the 2001 United Kingdom census
* Jedi census phenomenon
* Population of England historical population estimates
* Census Act 1920
* Census Enumerators' Books (historical)
* Census of Ireland, 1911
* Citizen Information Project


External links

* [http://www.findmypast.com/home.jsp Findmypast.com] , a website with UK censuses, birth, marriage and death indexes, parish records, passenger lists and other genealogical resources.
* [http://www.1911census.co.uk/ Official 1911 census website]
* [http://www.statistics.gov.uk The Office for National Statistics] , which is responsible for the Census in England and Wales
** [http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/default.asp Census 2001 website] (England & Wales)
** [http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/cb_8.asp Bicentenary of the Census in the UK]
* [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/1911census/?homepage=news The National Archives]
* [http://www.nisra.gov.uk/census/censushistory/index.html The Census Office for Northern Ireland]
** [http://www.nisra.gov.uk/census/start.html Northern Ireland Census of Population]
* [http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk The General Register Office for Scotland] which has been responsible for the taking of the census in Scotland since 1861.
* [http://www.scrol.gov.uk/scrol/common/home.jsp Scotland's Census Results OnLine]
* [http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/CensusInfoFreed/ Online petition]
* [http://home.clara.net/denis.mccready/ Campaign to disclose the 1911 Census]
* [http://www.1911census.info 1911Census.Info] Unofficial census news site
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2000/20000744.htm The Census Order 2000] (England & Wales)
* [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2000/20000036.htm Text of the Freedom of Information Act 2000] from the Office of Public Sector Information
* [http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmhaff/130/13004.htm House of Commons] The Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs of the UK Parliament noting the 1939 Registration Act and the historical background associated with proposals for the (re)introduction of identity cards in the UK.
* [http://www.statewatch.org/news/2003/jul/26ukid.htm Statewatch] for information about the National Registration Act of 1939, the information that was required to be collected, and the issuing of identity cards.
* [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk A Vision of Britain through Time] Selected statistics from British censuses presented as local time series, plus [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/census searchable full text] of selected reports 1801-1961.
* [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/contents_page.jsp?t_id=Cen_Guide&show=ALL Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966] On-line version of official guide.
* [http://www.histpop.org Online Historical Population Reports Project (OHPR)] Digital library of British census reports, 1801-1937.
* [http://www.censusfinder.com/united_kingdom.htm United Kingdom Census Records] Historical UK census records online.
* [http://www.dcsv.co.uk/pcens.htm UK Census for Family Historians]
* [http://www.192.com 192.com] Over 600 million records including historical UK census data.

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