National censuses are expensive. They are conducted infrequently. They collect information that some feel infringes their human rights, and people are required by law to complete them. The outputs are not perfect, and in some situations may be misleading. Some suggest that censuses hark back to a period when regularly collected administrative data were not available. These are some of the views held about national censuses. Why, then, would others argue that they are an essential resource? In this paper, we consider some of the pros and cons of conducting national censuses, before introducing a series of papers that draw on early data available from the 2001 UK census. We argue that these papers, and the wealth of research that will be conducted in the future with 2001 census data, make a strong case for supporting the compulsory collection of personal information about the ‘entire’ population every ten years.
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