How the census can help you to understand your customers
What is the census?
The UK census is one of the broadest and most complete datasets available for public use anywhere in the world. It takes place every 10 years and aims to gather information from every household in the country; this makes it invaluable as a nationwide snapshot and a measure of lifestyle changes over time. The census is created, collected, collated and released by the three government offices covering all of the UK: the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England and Wales, National Records Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).
What data does the census collect?
Questions for each census vary to take account of relevant issues and lifestyles at the time but, taking the 2011 Census as an example, the data fields it provides include:
Headcounts, age, sex and social grade:
- Headcounts (Population, Adults and Household)
- Age in 1 year bands
- Sex Male/Female split
- Approximate Social Grade (AB, C1, C2, DE)
How people work:
- Economic activity describes whether people are employed, self-employed, students, retired or unemployed
- Method of travel to work shows the mode of transport for people commuting. Whether by foot, train, as a passenger or driver or on other public transport
- Industry breaks down the work type into 18 categories including Financial and Insurance activities, Agriculture, and Construction
- Hours worked gives counts for full or part time working split by sex
- NS-SEC categorises the skill level and responsibility of a job from Higher Managers and Professionals, through Semi-routine occupations to the Long-term unemployed
How and where people live (and with whom):
- Usual resident population shows whether people live in households or communal establishments
- Living arrangements shows if households live as couples or as single people. Some further breakdowns indicate marriages or same sex partnerships or divorced or widowed singles
- Household composition indicates singles, couples and families along with whether the adults are retired or if the families have dependent or non-dependent children
- Tenure provides counts on property ownership (outright or mortgaged), rental (social or private)
- Dwellings, household spaces and accommodation type describes shared dwellings, flats or houses and the number of spaces they have
Country of origin, ethnicity and migration data:
- Ethnic group counts residents in categories such as White, Chinese, Mixed Ethnic Group, Indian, Black Caribbean or Other Asian
- Country of birth shows counts for the home nations, Ireland and other EU countries before and after 2001
- Year of arrival in UK shows whether born in UK or the decade of arrival from 1941 to 2000 or in 3 year sections since 2000
- Main language detailed shows the common language for a household showing languages as varied as Estonian, Sinhala or British Sign Language as well as the varied Celtic languages and English from the UK
- Car or van availability shows how many cars or vans are in the household
- Occupation shows level of occupation from manager and director to machine operators and basic occupations
- Adult or Household life stage is often a better predictor of behaviour than age
- Persons per room indicates how crowded a dwelling is
- General health shows the healthiness of the household as very good, good, fair, bad or very bad
When did the most recent census take place?
The Office for National Statistics undertook the most recent census in England and Wales on 21 March 2021. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) also committed to completing a 2021 census. National Records of Scotland have announced that Scotland's census will take place in March 2022. Results for these census have yet to be released, so in usable terms, the last census was the 2011 Census.
The ONS census was a "digital-first census", meaning people were encouraged to respond online whether via mobile phones, PCs or tablets. The option to complete over the phone was also made available with traditional paper forms remaining as a fallback option.
Why conduct the 2021 Census during a pandemic?
Planning for England’s census was very far advanced when COVID-19 struck and with no obvious end-point for the pandemic in site, preparations continued during lockdown. ONS reported in January 2021 that they had already started to print census questionnaires. One reason for the March date was “to allow sufficient hours of daylight for field officers to work, and avoiding periods when people are likely to be away on holiday”. So a delay would likely have knock the census back a full year with a significant cost of around £360 million. The data impact would also be significant by disrupting the 10-yearly pattern of data collection.
Rather than seeing 2021 as an outlier, the ONS took the stance that a census is vital at this time to ensure that we can understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit on the nation. As such the 2021 Census was not postponed indefinitely to wait for an unknowable "back to normal" date.
When will data from the 2021 Census become available?
The short answer is: no time soon. The longer answer is: it depends. Previous census data has taken at least 2 years to be made available and it is released in phases rather than all together. Add into this uncertainty the added delays of a global pandemic, and that data collection for important parts of the British Isles won’t be collected until 2022. On the other hand this is the most digital census to date, which may create labour savings in data processing. We expect data to start trickling out some time in 2023. Once this happens, demographic data providers, like us, will then need time to incorporate and model the data into a useable format.
What can I do in the meantime to keep demographic data fresh?
Well, most demographic data providers use other data to supplement census data to both add new dimensions to it and keep it more up-to-date. For our own P2 People & Places demographic data, we use ONS mid year population estimates to keep our data current and accurate. So if you’d like to see what we can do to add depth to your customer or audience data, please get in touch.
We've spent more than 25 years visualising complex data and making it easy to understand.
If you'd like to see if we can help you please get in touch.
online or call us on:
Our other blogs
What is geodemographic profiling?
More than 64 million people live in the UK, each with their own outlook, priorities, needs and way of life. Geodemographic profiling offers a way to group these individuals to try and identify the right audience for your product or service.
Who spends most on Fruit and Veg
National Vegetarian Week (#NationalVegetarianWeek) this year ran from 10th to 16th May. It gave us the opportunity to highlight how GIS mapping can be used to create marketing campaigns and raise awareness of the benefits of eating more fruit and veg.
Using geographic intelligence to grow the UK’s broadband network
Using geographic intelligence to sustainably grow the UK’s broadband network.
Data visualisation and colour blindness
John, our director talks about living and working with colour blindness in the mapping industry where colours are pivotal in adding dimensions to people's understanding.
How far is it to the beach
We use Beacon Dodsworth's scripting technology to answer that most important of questions when the sun finally does threaten an appearance.
All you need to know about postcodes but were afraid to ask
The humble postcode has been around for years. We look at how postcodes are used and what led to their introduction.
TimeTravel: the latest update
We look at the latest update to TimeTravel, our dataset of drive times and distances between any postcode sector or district. What has changed in the UK road and geographic network, plus new features to make it even more accurate.
British Population Survey (BPS)
The British Population Survey (BPS) is a survey of household income and shopping habits collected by face-to-face interviews. We take a look at the BPS in detail, what exactly it is made from and how its data can be usefully applied by businesses and public organisations.
Cycle to work day
Each year for #cycletoworkday we take a look at cycling statistics across the country and try to map that data and find interesting trends. This is mainly because we at Beacon Dodsworth are either a little bit obsessed about cycling, or we tend to worry about the environment.
As a Yorkshire-based company, we wanted to help celebrate Yorkshire Day, which takes place on 1st August. Naturally, we wanted to put a geographic spin on the celebration, so we took a look at drinking preferences within God’s own county.
Administrative geography is a way of dividing the country into smaller sub-divisions or areas that correspond with the area of responsibility of local authorities and government bodies. It provides an alternative to postcode geography but because it tends not to be used by consumers, it is often overlooked. We take a look at administrative geography, what it is and how to use it.
Mapping for local projects
Recently, we were contacted by a company responsible for organising charity door knockers. They needed more than 9,000 postcode sectors mapped at A4 size to pass to ground staff showing street level detail. This would enable them to use maps at a local level to plan fundraising routes and clearly define territories for each agent.
The foundations of geographical analysis
Displaying data on maps makes it easier to understand as well as giving a new perspective on a problem. Using a GIS to prepare and present data has become increasingly popular over the last 20 years, but graphical displays of data on maps were around long before computers came along.
Social change over 10 years
With the next census due to take place this year, we thought it was a good time to take stock of some of the changes and trends we noticed between the 2001 and the 2011 census. What difference does 10 years make to our society and the people that live within it?
How to back up your Prospex data
Keep your GIS projects safe by using the in-built Prospex back up process. Here is how.
The power of postcode sectors
Postcode sectors are aggregations of individual postcodes and they provide meaningful geographical reporting areas in any GIS. However, they aren't as easy to map as you might think. Here is how we do it.
Living Costs and Food Survey
The Living Costs and Food survey (LCF) is compiled every year and is used by the UK and European governments, Department for Transport (DfT), and Her Majesty’s Revenue and the Customs (HMRC). But what is it, and why should we care?
The new normal for the GIS world
Toby, our Account Manager, looks at the changes to working style and client needs in the geodata industry following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Where is the North
We've used the territory manager tool in Prospex GIS to split the UK into north, south and east and west with equal population counts.
What is GIS software?
A Geographical Information System (GIS), is a tool for analysing, visualising, managing and presenting data that is related to a physical, geographical location. That link to geography is the key difference between GIS and other data visualisation techniques.
Mapping GP prescription data
An article by Allan Brimicombe (Head of Centre for Geo-Information Studies at the University of East London) & Pat Mungroo on using GP prescription data to understand health needs.
Geodemographics and the University of East London
The University of East London explain how they have been using our P² People & Places geodemographic classification.
Postcode to postcode drive time and distance
What happens if we want a postcode to postcode drive time lookup table?
The census helps you to understand your customers
The UK Census 2021: what it is, how is it made, and how can it be used to help your organisation with demographic analysis.
Google Fusion Tables
After almost 10 years of service, Google retired their Fusion Tables product at the end of 2019. This tool was very useful at visualising and sharing large amounts of tabular data - particularly amongst small and mid-sized businesses. So what can we do to fill the gap left by this tool?
Your continued use of this site is taken as implied consent to receive cookies from us and our analytics partners.