Census 2021 - Armed forces veterans to be counted in Census 2021

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Census 2021

Press release

18 February 2021

Census form on laptop

Armed forces veterans to be counted in Census 2021

The decennial census is almost upon us and, for the first time, people will be able to say if they are a veteran of the armed forces.

The census, run by the Office for National Statistics, is a once-in-a-decade survey that gives us the most accurate estimate of all the people and households in England and Wales. It has been carried out every decade since 1801, with the exception of 1941.

Among the new questions this time is one asking people whether they have served in the armed forces, to support commitments made by central and local government under the Armed Forces Covenant - the deal between the country and those who served it. Anyone who has served in the armed forces for at least one day is classed as a veteran.

“A successful census will ensure everyone from local government to charities can put services and funding in the places where they are most needed,” Iain Bell, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said.

“This could mean things like doctors’ surgeries, schools and new transport routes. That’s why it is so important everyone takes part, including those who have previously served in the armed forces, and we have made it easier for people to do so online on any device, with help and paper questionnaires for those that need them.”

One of the greatest challenges in addressing need is knowing where it is in the first place. Therefore, a better understanding of the numbers, locations and age ranges of our armed forces veterans will help the Government, NHS and service charity sectors target resources and expertise where they are needed most.

The Royal British Legion led a campaign for the inclusion of the new question.

Charles Byrne, director general of The Royal British Legion, said: “The inclusion of a military question within the Census, added after The Royal British Legion’s successful campaign, will significantly improve our understanding of the Armed Forces community which up until now has been limited.  

“This is something we have been striving towards for many years. The RBL believes as many as 1 in 10 people in the UK are members of the Armed Forces Community but there is currently very little definitive information about where they are located or what their needs may be. This question will have a huge impact on service personnel, veterans and their families well into the future as it will ensure that we, along with other charities and service providers, can deliver the best service possible to them when and where it is needed most.

“We would urge all members of the UK Armed Forces Community, both regular and reservists, to record their status as a veteran in the upcoming census.”

The UK's Strategy for our Veterans committed the government to making the country the best place in the world to be a veteran. Having a clear understanding of the veteran population is a major part of achieving this ambition. 

Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer added: “I urge all ex-service personnel to take advance of the opportunity to identify as a veteran in the upcoming census. 

"Better data means better support and the census is a key step in ensuring that public services support veterans in the best way possible."

The census, taking place on 21 March 2021, will shed light on the needs of different groups and communities, and the inequalities people are experiencing, ensuring the big decisions facing the country following the pandemic and EU exit are based on the best information possible.

Census 2021 will be the first run predominantly online, with households receiving a letter with a unique access code in March, allowing them to complete the questionnaire on their computers, phones or tablets. Paper questionnaires will also be available on request, while there will be lots of support available for those who need it.

Results will be available within 12 months, although personal records will be locked away for 100 years, kept safe for future generations.

For more information about the census, visit census.gov.uk.

To arrange broadcast or print interviews, please contact Media Relations on 0845 604 1858 or 0203 684 5070 or email Media.Relations@ons.gov.uk

Office for National Statistics