Next Year’s Census To Include The Homeless

Ahead of Census 2021, Emily Stidston, the Census Community Partnerships Manager at the Office for National Statistics, tells Homeless Link how people who are homeless or vulnerably housed can take part in the once-in-a-decade survey of the population of England and Wales – and why it is important to do so.

In March 2021, everyone in England and Wales will be expected to complete their census questionnaire – and it is vital we reach people who are homeless and vulnerably housed. The census is for everyone. Once every 10 years, it helps build the most complete picture of the country. The whole population has the chance to provide information that ensures all communities are represented in decisions on funding and services. For the first time, it will be a primarily online census, making it easy for most people to complete on any device. However, while the census will be digital first, support centres and phone lines will be available to help people get online. Paper questionnaires can be requested for those who need them.

In the build up to Census 2021, our census engagement managers will be getting in touch with shelters, hostels and day/night centres to organise times for our census officers to visit to provide paper questionnaires and guidance on filling them out. They will also be raising awareness of the census and encouraging participation. Nearer the time, census officers will hand-deliver a manager questionnaire, which contains a unique access code for online completion, and should be filled out by the centre or shelter manager on census day – 21 March 2021 – as well as individual forms to be completed by those staying at the accommodation. The forms will contain an access code that will enable people to complete online if they prefer.

Working closely with local authorities and grassroots organisations we will be encouraging homeless people to attend homeless accommodations, hostels and day/night shelters in order to complete their census form. Field officers have a 3-day window (20-22nd March) to complete the count for the homeless community and will make individual arrangements with each centre/shelter. A successful census will help give the best picture of the needs of everyone living in England and Wales and it benefits everyone. Based on the information people give, it ensures millions of pounds are invested wisely in areas such as emergency services, mental health care, school places, hospital beds, roads, GP and dental services.

It’s crucial everyone takes part. If analysis that feeds policy decisions doesn’t reflect all sections of society then there is a risk of the needs of different groups not being met. There are also some changes to the way Census 2021 is being run to reflect how we must work in the coronavirus pandemic. We understand the difficulties shelters, hostels and day/night centres are facing currently. Community engagement is vital, so we are working in line with the government’s coronavirus guidance and are able to reach out using new platforms that have emerged during the pandemic. Covid-19 has also made this census more important than ever. Much like the 1921 Census after World War I and Spanish flu in the early 20th century, Census 2021 will be crucial in giving a snapshot of life in the 21st Century.

It is vital that the census sheds light on long-term trends, while also reflecting today’s society; from highlighting areas of deprivation to information on living arrangements and how society has changed since the last census. As well as questions on sex, age, work, health, education and ethnicity, there are new voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity for those aged 16 and over. Gathering this information will ultimately help local communities by allowing charities, local and central governments to understand the services these communities will need, and to monitor equality.

There is also a new question on armed forces veterans to help understand numbers, locations and age ranges of our armed forces community for central and local government, as well as charities providing support for veterans and their families. This is so they can target resources and expertise where they are most needed, to meet their commitments under the Armed Forces Covenant. Although results will be available within 12 months, personal census records (the information people will give next year) will be kept secure for 100 years. Only then can future generations view them.

If you want to get in touch with your local census engagement manager, please email.