Scotland's Census questions unveiled

27 Nov 2009 11:22 AM

Proposals for the comprehensive population survey that helps to decide how billions of pounds worth of future public services are planned, were unveiled yesterday.

The Scottish Parliament has been asked to consider the draft Census (Scotland) Order, which is required to set out the date for the next census - March 27, 2011 - and the questions that should be asked of us all in order to provide quality services for Scotland's five million people.

The 2011 Census will ask 14 household questions and up to 35 questions for each individual. These questions have been recommended following five years of research and consultation, led by census organiser the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS).

Six new questions are proposed and will look at:

  • long-term health conditions
  • national identity
  • household income (weekly or annual)
  • month/year of arrival in the UK
  • language (two questions)

Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Jim Mather said:

"The once-a-decade census is the only survey of the entire population, from national to neighbourhood level.

"Responses to the recommended census questions will shape everyone's future because the census provides government, local authorities and health boards with a robust picture of the population. This helps them to determine how to best deliver vital public services, like health, housing, education and transport.

"The 2001 Census was the first for devolved Scotland and the plans for 2011 build on its contribution to society by ensuring that, in the 21st century global community, Scotland remains an inclusive country where growth and progress are nurtured throughout our society."

Registrar General Duncan Macniven said:

"In deciding on what questions to include we have consulted a broad range of census data users and the public about what they need from the census. We received positive ideas and contributions which have informed our recommended approach to 2011.

"The draft Census Order proposes a question about long-term health conditions because that will inform us about how common different conditions are in the population, for example, visual or hearing problems. That helps to plan health and social services.

"We also recommend that a national identity question is introduced, with tick box options for selected groups within Scotland and space for people to write in other responses. People can then select as many or as few of these as they feel necessary. This, in conjunction with the ethnic group question, allows people to fully express what they feel their identity to be.

"A question on which income band each household falls within will help to identify areas of deprivation - that vital information will be used to support decisions about services which will help the poorest members of our society. This information is not available from any other source.

"Collecting information on the month/year of arrival in the UK will help create a snapshot of migration trends.

"The language question we asked in the last census - about how well people can speak, read or write Gaelic - has been extended to include English and Scots. There are also new questions on how well people feel that they can speak English and which languages they use at home. Responses to these will help us to understand modern Scotland's languages and where our ethnic minority communities need to be supported."

Personal data collected through the census is safeguarded by law, which means it will be kept confidential for 100 years. Only then will the individual census records be available to future generations as a rich source of information about 21st century Scotland.

Scottish Ministers laid the draft Census (Scotland) Order in Parliament today.

The census is held in accordance with the Census Act 1920. Each individual census needs to be approved by the Scottish Parliament, in the form of the Census (Scotland) Order - and more detailed Regulations which will be presented to Parliament once the Order is approved. The Scottish Government published the plans for the 2011 Census in a statement in December last year.

March 27, 2011 is earliest census date since the very first of the 10-yearly national census, in 1801. It was chosen so that the collection of questionnaires can be completed before the next expected Scottish Parliament election. Censuses will also take place on the same date in the rest of the UK.

GROS runs Scotland's Census with the support of around 10 main contractors, and their subcontractors. Personal information collected in the census is confidential and only used for the production of statistics and for statistical research. Information on individuals is never disclosed and is kept secure. Staff who have access to individual data must ensure it stays confidential or would face prosecution if they disclosed it.

Paper questionnaires will be delivered to households in March 2011. Most householders will be able to complete the census online for the first time, in English or Gaelic.

Participation in the census will be compulsory. Question 13 (religion) is voluntary but the other questions must be answered. The penalty for failing to return a census questionnaire is a fine of up to £1,000.

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