To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the next census, due in 2021, will include questions asking about respondents’ (1) main language, and (2) proficiency in English, as was the case in 2011; whether, when using census data to inform public policy, they consider a person’s main language to be the (a) first language learnt, or (b) language used most frequently; and what discussions they have had with the Office for National Statistics about how the terms in questions relating to language might be clarified for the 2021 census, including through associated guidance notes.
14 December 2018
The information requested falls within the responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority. I have asked the Authority to reply.
Letter from John Pullinger, National Statistician, to The Lord Blunkett, dated 10 December 2018.
Dear Lord Blunkett,
As National Statistician and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, I am replying to your Parliamentary Question asking whether the next census, due in 2021, will include questions asking about respondents (1) main language, and (2) proficiency in English, as was the case in 2011; whether, when using census data to inform public policy, a person’s main language will be considered to be the (a) first language learnt, or (b) language used most frequently; and how the Office for National Statistics might clarify terms in questions relating to language for the 2021 census, including through associated guidance notes (HL12057).
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published an update in December last year laying out the latest position on the recommendations for which topics will be included in the 2021 Census. This included our intention to recommend main language and proficiency in English, as was the case in 2011.
In 2011, the guidance notes for the main language question in 2011 read: ‘Your main language is your first or preferred language. It could be the language you were brought up using, the one you feel most comfortable using, the language you use at home, or the one you use most often’.
ONS is finalising its plans for guidance notes (including a definition of the main language) for the 2021 Census and intends to complete this work in 2019. For the 2021 Census, ONS will offer a wide variety of services to provide all respondents with help and assistance to complete their questionnaires.
The 2011 Census was the first to gather information on main languages used and English language proficiency. This followed a programme of research, consultation, testing and analysis to establish the most suitable questions. Data from these questions have been used to identify people for whom English is not their main language and to identify areas where a particular language is in use. This information helps councils and other organisations plan support strategies and monitor the impact of policies. Data have also been used for targeting the delivery of services, such as language support, translation, and study programmes at a local level to promote integration and cohesion within communities, to help eliminate discrimination, and to ensure that people are treated fairly.
The topic consultation held in 2016 ahead of the 2021 Census established there was still a user need for the data produced by these questions. You may be interested to read our topic report on language for more information.
Recommendations on the content and conduct of the 2021 Census are being put forward in a White Paper, which is planned for publication later this year. The final topics and questions to be included in the 2021 Census will be put before Parliament for approval, in the form of a Census Order in 2019 and Regulations in 2020.