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How the 2021 Census is being used to shape our future

Census 2921 form headerOne of the most challenging and exciting 3PL projects we’ve done in the last few years was delivering the 2021 Census with the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

  • It was the largest on record – we handled 52 million items
  • 97% completed on time – the ONS target was 94%
  • No items were sent to landfill, supporting Net Zero
  • High value assets were tracked and returned

At this point, where everything has been collected, returned or disposed of, we’ve delivered our side of the project. However, for the ONS, it’s very much alive – they are busy making Census 2021 information available and accessible to everyone who can make use of it.

As a delivery partner for the Census, we’re fascinated by the data that is emerging and the stories it tells about our country. As a 3PL delivery partner for the public sector and the private sector, we also appreciate how informed it’s keeping us about the opportunities to add value and Social Value.

Census data – supporting growth and confidence

Every 10 years (with exceptions), the Census gathers data about everyone living in the UK on one specified day. This data is collated, analysed and used by:

  • Government and local authorities – to plan and fund services like schools, health services, roads and libraries.
  • Businesses – to help them make commercial decisions, like opening new stores or launching new products.
  • Other public sector organisations and the third sector for a combination of both.

2021 Census – an unusual difference

Because the UK’s data is collected on such a regular basis over a long period of time, it’s possible to see trends developing and needs and opportunities beginning to emerge. The Census has been collected every 10 years since 1801, with occasional exceptions.

This time, it took place in England and Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic, a year almost to the day (23 March 2021) since the UK went into lockdown (21 March 2020). The Census in Scotland was delayed until 20 March 2022.

Unexpected unemployment figures, furlough, businesses winding up and lockdown will have affected the data. The ONS states that some data should be treated with caution in respect of planning and policy.

Once data is all electronically combined, paper forms are securely destroyed. The resulting waste material is then baled and sent to UK paper mills. All of it will be recycled into soft tissue and hygiene products such as hand towels and toilet paper.

ONS, Census 2021 – the count is done, the data is in, so what happens next?

Examples of Census data

This data refers to England and Wales only, for 23 March 2021.

1. Businesses and consumers

Understanding people’s needs from the private sector can help businesses provide better products, services and customer support. In Business and commerce, the ONS lists a number of examples, broadly:

  • Supermarkets – new store location and car parking
  • Clean and wastewater facilities – investment in infrastructure
  • Small businesses – designing products and services, advertising
  • Marketing to older people – designing targeted specialist products and services
  • Tailored customer services – tied to area demographics

2. Meeting the needs of our ageing population

Because the data can be compared to previous censuses, it updates our national story and inspires new thinking about what it means to live longer.

  • More than 11 million people (18.6% of the total population) were aged 65 or older
  • Comparatively, only 16.4% were 65 or over at the time of the 2011 Census.
  • Of this 11 million, half a million people were 90 or older.
  • The average (median) age was 40 (up from 39 in 2011)
  • Areas with the highest proportions of older residents tended to be rural / coastal

In Voices of our ageing population: Living longer lives, the ONS explored how data about the ageing population can be used to support a population that is living longer, with a 100-year lifespan becoming increasingly common. How will this affect healthcare, the care sector and pensions? Is housing stock appropriate? What about accessibility to public toilets?

Granby statistics: staff age demographic

  • 14% are aged 25-29, 13% are 40-44, with a fairly even spread between ages 25 and 54. Two colleagues are in the 65-69 age bracket and 3 are aged 16-18.

From our Equality and diversity survey 2022.

3. Ethnic group, national identity, language, and religion

This data will help the public sector understand more about their communities, which could be critical for inclusivity, engagement and cohesion. From a Social Value perspective, it feeds into considerations around Equal opportunities and Wellbeing.

  • 3% (53.8 million) of usual residents identified with at least one UK national identity (English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British, and Cornish); a slight decrease from 92.0% (51.6 million) in 2011.
  • For the first time, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as Christian, a decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011 in response to the religion question.
  • 1% (52.6 million) of usual residents spoke English (English or Welsh in Wales) as a main language (down from 92.3%, or 49.8 million, in 2011). The other most common main languages were: Polish (1.1%, 612,000), Romanian (0.8%, 472,000), Panjabi (0.5%, 291,000), and Urdu (0.5%, 270,000).
  • In 2021, 81.7% (48.7 million) of usual residents in England and Wales identified their ethnic group within the high-level White category, a decrease from 86.0% (48.2 million) in the 2011 Census.

Granby statistics: staff ethnicity, national identity, language and religion

  • 49% are Christian (including Roman Catholic and COE); 8% are Muslim. Almost a quarter preferred not to say
  • 35% are British, 40% are Polish, 6% are Pakistani. Our workforce also includes Lithuanian, Finnish, European, Indian, Bangladeshi, Arabic and British Asian colleagues
  • With so many nationalities comprising our workforce, we speak several languages in our business

From our Equality and diversity survey 2022.

4. Industry

The industry and occupation data set was particularly affected by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes with a caution if using it for planning and policy purposes.


  • Wholesale, retail and motor trade (15.0%, 4.2 million)
  • Human health and social work activities (14.7%, 4.1 million)
  • Education (9.8%, 2.7 million)
  • Construction (8.7%, 2.4 million)
  • Manufacturing (7.3%, 2 million)

Two sectors are worth noting:

  • Employment in human health and social work activities had the greatest percentage point increase in employment (2.2 percentage point increase from 12.5%, 3.3 million in 2011).
  • Employment in the manufacturing industry had the largest decrease (-1.6 percentage points from 8.9%, 2.4 million in 2011).

Granby statistics: employment

  • We are 3PL partners for businesses and organisations across all these sectors except construction
  • 24% of our colleagues had been unemployed for less than a year when they got a job at Granby
  • 12% had been unemployed for more than a year before joining us
  • In the wake of the pandemic and a potentially skewed data set, Tackling economic inequality and Recovery from Covid remain important Social Value themes.

From our Equality and diversity survey 2022.

The Census and Net Zero

Fighting climate change remains high on the UK business agenda. It was exciting to work with the ONS to minimise the Census’ impact on landfill and waste – our logistics planning ensured no items were sent to landfill.

  • Sustainable – zero items sent to landfill
  • 80% of responses were submitted online
  • Paper responses scanned, baled and recycled

Do you have a project?

Granby, a UK packaging company with around 70 years of experience, provides end-to-end co-packing services to retail, private business and the public sector.

Check out our case studies for more examples of how we add value and demonstrate innovation and sustainability. Get in touch and talk to us about your project.

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Think we could be the partner for you and are interested in working together? Call us or fill in the contact form and we will get the ball rolling!