The 2021 Census – and why it’s important for the VCSE sector

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The UK’s Census takes place on Sunday 21st March.  It’s a snapshot of everyone in the UK, all on one day.  

The census takes place every 10 years. It gives the government a complete picture of all the people and households in the UK, enabling fair comparisons between different groups of people because the same questions are asked, and the information is recorded in the same way throughout the country. 

The census provides information that the government needs to develop policies, plan and run public services, and allocate funding.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has used past census information to help understand how COVID-19 has affected people in different ways. Census 2021 will provide fresh information to improve understanding of the pandemic. It will also help to make sure that the public and voluntary services we all use meet the needs of our changing society.  

It therefore affects the VCSE sector.  Census information can be used as evidence to secure funding and the ONS makes specific reference to this. 

“Voluntary organisations often rely on census data to get information about the communities they are working in. They may also use census data as evidence to support any applications they make for funding.” 

How the VCSE sector can help 

There are ways you or your group can help and encourage people to take part in Census 2021. For example, you may understand the people you help or represent better than anyone and are likely to know what help or encouragement that may need to participate. 

  • Spread the word before the census 
  • Tell people in your community and workplace about the census, its benefits and importance to them 
  • Raise awareness of the census in community organisations, during service delivery activities and anywhere people go for advice and support – even if, during the pandemic, that might be online, phone or video 
  • Promote the census in newsletters, meetings and social media groups 
  • Arrange for information to be added to your community or charity’s website 
  • Run a presentation for your community or service users 


What you can do around Census Day 

Around Census Day, Sunday 21 March, the main priority is to help people fill in their census form. You could: 

  • remind people when the census is happening 
  • help friends, family and neighbours get the support they need to fill in their census form 
  • help carers get advice and support for helping fill in their form 
  • help people fill in the census online 
  • arrange help for people in your community whose first language is not English 
  • direct carers and support workers to help and guidance in accessible formats  


Who to contact for help in raising awareness 

If you need help to promote the census, visit the ONS’ resources page here.  There’s a range of materials from leaflets and posters to content for newsletters and social media posts. 

There is a census engagement manager (CEM) in every area. Their job is to build links with local community organisations, charities and leaders. In some areas, there will also be community advisers working with communities from specific ethnic groups. 

You can find more detail here.  Your local CEM will be pleased to work with you. Email 2021Census.Engagement@ons.gov.uk to find out who your CEM is and where to contact them.