Agenda: Why it is vital we all fill in the Census

HAVE you ever wondered how the Government and key decision makers decide where to invest public money? Well Scotland’s Census is one of the most important evidence sources used to take these decisions.

This unique once-in-a-decade event counts every person and household in the country. The vital information the Census provides allows the Scottish Government and other decision-making bodies to plan, deliver and create services and infrastructure, to improve standards of living in our communities across the Nation. These include how money is spent on transport, the building of new schools and healthcare facilities. When planning the Queensferry Crossing – the longest three-tower cable-stayed bridge in the world – for example, Transport Scotland used Census data to determine the need for, size and location of the bridge. NHS Western Isles used Census data for Lewis to ensure remote communities stayed connected with health services. These are just two real-world examples of census data at work in our daily lives.

From this week, households across Scotland have been receiving their census letter, with instructions on how to participate. For the first time the majority will complete their return online, but paper forms remain available to those who need them. We are working to make the census as accessible as possible, reflecting the diverse needs of Scotland’s people. With support available both online and over the phone, we are here to help.

The Census is one of the biggest national conversations we have about our nation, its needs and how these are changing. It’s the only way we can form that accurate and detailed snapshot of Scotland’s population now and over time. But it can only be effective if everyone across Scotland, from our towns, villages, cities, islands and rural communities, takes part.

Since the first Census in 1801, the information we gather has grown and changed; the Census evolves as Scotland does. Historically, the Census was little more than a population count, but today’s Census will provide a far richer vision of what’s going on in Scotland. In the 2022 Census we include for the first time new questions about British Sign Language, passports held, previous armed forces service, sexual orientation and trans status and history.

In these days of privacy concerns and big data it is also important to reassure that all personal data gathered is confidential and secured. No one receives your personal data from us, just anonymised high level results. Individual census records are closed for 100 years. Indeed I will shortly release the records from the 1921 Census, which will fascinate historians, family history researchers and academics. One of my successors will have that same task in 2122. I wonder what that future Scotland will make of our nation, based on the results of the 2022 census.

For more information on how to fill it in, please visit or call 0800 030 8308.

Paul Lowe is Registrar General and Chief Executive of the National Records of Scotland

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