ESRC Census of Population Programme


The ESRC-funded Census Programme provides data and support services to allow users in UK Higher and Further Education institutions to access the 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 UK censuses.

The programme has been funded by the ESRC from 2006 to 2011 with additional support from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).  The programme consists of data acquisition and specialist data support units.

An online registration service ensures easy access for academic users to census data products including area statistics, geographical boundaries, interaction data and samples of anonymised records from censuses 1971-2001. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Longitudinal Study, Scottish Longitudinal Study and Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study are also part of the programme but are covered by different access arrangements.

The programme launched a Census Portal service in July 2007, which includes online resources and guides for census users. The portal will continue to develop with the addition of increasingly detailed searchable information about the census data resources and an ongoing range of training events.

About the ESRC Census of Population Programme

The 2001 Census of Population was conducted on 29 April 2001 and represents the 200th anniversary of census-taking in the UK. The census questionnaire forms the basis for a wide range of data which underpin many aspects of academic research, public administration and commercial decision-making. Computer-readable datasets are available from 1971 onwards and more detail is generally available for more recent censuses.

Separate simultaneous censuses were conducted by the three government census agencies in the UK (the Office for National Statistics in England and Wales; the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency). These provide the basis for an extensive series of published outputs in the form of printed reports and major computer-readable datasets.

Slight differences exist between the forms used in each country. The data collected on these forms was scanned and encoded in anonymised form (without respondents' names and addresses) to form the census database. Subsequent to data collection, a major Census Coverage Survey was undertaken in order to inform a process known as the One Number Census, involving the statistical imputation of households and individuals judged to have been missed by the census enumeration. From the corrected census database, a full range of data products are produced and a unique online service is provided for academic users, including access to data from previous censuses since 1971.

The programme units are currently actively involved in working with the three UK census agencies to represent the requirements of academic users in preparation for the 2011 censuses.

The major data series covered by the ESRC programme are:

  • Census area statistics (CAS) comprise counts aggregated to various sets of geographical units of which the smallest are census output areas, with a target size of 125 households (in England and Wales). These data are supported by the Census Dissemination Unit (CDU) at the University of Manchester.

  • Digital boundary data (DBD) are computer representations of the coordinates of the boundaries of the geographical areas for which census data are published. These data are supported by the UKBORDERS service and Census Dissemination Unit (CDU) at the University of Edinburgh.

  • Interaction data describe flows of people between places. One set describes journeys to work within and between all areas, and a second set describes migration flows, based on the census question concerning usual address one year prior to the census. These data are supported by the Census Interaction Data Service (CIDS) at the Universities of Leeds and St Andrews.

  • Samples of anonymised records (SARs) provide anonymised records for large samples of households and individuals but with only a coarse level of geographical referencing. These data are supported by the Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR) at the University of Manchester and several of the datasets are available online. CCSR also provide support to research users of the more detailed special licensed household SARs and Controlled Access Microdata Sample (CAMS).

  • The ONS Longitudinal Study (ONS LS) is a major project to link a sample of full census records between the censuses 1971-2001 and other major events in the lives of sample members. Users cannot access the LS directly, but should contact the Centre for Longitudinal Study Information and User Support (CeLSIUS) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

  • The Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) links the 1991 and 2001 censuses for Scotland together with vital events and health data. Research users are supported by the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland (LSCS). 

  • The Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS) is a new dataset, containing records from the 2001 census linked to vital events and health data, representing a 28 per cent population sample for Northern Ireland. Research users are supported by the NILS Research Support Unit (NILS-RSU).

How to access the data

Access to all the programme's services can be obtained through the Census Portal.

All online access requires registration through the Census Registration Service (CRS) at the University of Essex, which is fully integrated with the new portal. Registration is authenticated by Federated Access Management based on users' Institutional IDs and once registered, users can access online census data from any of the census data support units. For access to the three Longitudinal Studies and more detailed SARs and CAMS datasets, users should seek advice from the appropriate data support unit.

Download the Census of Population information sheet (PDF, 393Kb)

Download the Longitudinal Studies Centre Scotland information sheet (PDF, 173Kb)

Further information

  • Census Registration Service, UK Data Archive, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ
    Telephone: +44 (0)1206 872013
    Fax: +44 (0)1206 872003

  • Prof David Martin, Programme Coordinator
    School of Geography, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ
    Telephone: +44 (0)23 8059 3808

  • ESRC resources team
    Telephone: 01793 413158