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Why I think the census should go further

British flag

Those boycotting the census and joining the ‘Count Me Out’ campaign are missing the point – the census is a vital planning tool for government and councils, and I think it should go even further and ask us more.

I think the census is a great idea: it allows councils and government to target their resources on actual, rather than perceived, needs. And it gives us a clearer idea of who we are as a nation, celebrating and acknowledging the differences between us.

Plus, whether you call it social anthropology or simple curiosity, I want to know where I fit in with my fellow islanders – unlike Sarah Kidner who is more concerned about privacy issues than these benefits.

Understanding the bigger picture

For a start, the census is a vital planning tool for both central government and local councils – further budget cuts are coming and I want to know that my local council is targeting its spending exactly where it’s needed.

So if a family of five is sharing a two-bedroom house, the government needs to know about it, and needs to alter its social housing programme to reflect reality.

Even the sillier looking questions have a serious intent. For example, the question about how well you speak English is, at first sight, the census equivalent of ‘Do you understand this question?’.

But the sentiment behind it is a sensible one – if there is a significant proportion of the population unable to speak English, this situation needs to be remedied through targeted help. Conversely, if there isn’t a need for multilingual services in a particular area, councils shouldn’t be wasting money on them.

A voice for those without a faith

And yet, my biggest reason for supporting the census is that I can register my lack of religious faith. Personally I find it obscene that in 2011 members of religious organisations should still have an unelected vote in the House of Lords.

If we are ever going to separate state and religion, those of us without a faith need to make sure we’re both heard and acknowledged. The census offers us a voice.

All too often we hear about the religious ‘silent majority’. This fundamentally misses the point – as far as the state goes, religious groups of all persuasions should be silent. The secular French have the right idea.

Census should go further

The census isn’t all about big brother spying on every aspect of our lives – it’s also about making sure we get the government services and the representation we need and deserve. It may not be perfect, but the census offers one of the best ways to influence social and economic policy outside of the polling booth.

So I say, go further. Ask me more. Build a bigger picture. Ask me about my sexuality for a start. Things won’t change until our cocooned politicians and civil servants realise the true picture of Britain in 2011. Let’s celebrate our diversity by first gathering evidence of it.

Do you share this appreciation for the census, or are you still unconvinced? Sarah Kidner explains why she doesn’t want to be forced to fill it out here.

Are you for or against the 2011 census?

For (60%, 391 Votes)

Against (40%, 257 Votes)

Total Voters: 648

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Sophie Gilbert says:
24 March 2011

I agree that the census is a useful tool and I’m happy to complete the form. And yes, let’s celebrate human diversity wherever we are. In the grand scheme of things it may reveal itself to be psychologically as important to us and our survival as biodiversity physically is to planet earth. Who knows yet?

Happy with the census in general

I don’t think it should go into sexual preferences or any kind of personal questions because I do believe that there are privacy issues there. Besides, the world already has unofficial statistics about personal preferences and they can be bought freely from all the social networks. (Read the small print)

Personal preferences should not be included in a census and I think its a bit silly to suggest that.

Also to say that all religious groups should stay silent, hmm, you’re thin ice there in terms of democratic rights.

In a democracy, ALL people should have a voice, the fact that the media panders to the minority in order to make a story and sell papers, content, etc, is the real issue.

Actually, I think you are missing the point. The census isn’t really trying to find out about you personally, although it does need to know that the respondent is bona fide. This isn’t about knowing if you are straight or gay, black or asian, RC or CofE, but it is about finding out the distribution and number of people in particular groups: the make up and distribution of the population.

The more comprehensive the statistics, the better forward planning can be made to meet people’s needs. Knowing the ages and numbers of people living in an area has a direct bearing on planning schools, hospitals and everyday services we take for granted. If we don;t know that there will be 50% more 5-year-olds in three years time, how can schools be ready to meet this increase?

I wanted to fill mine out, but My Mum & Her Boyfriend fillied it out :/

Personally it should be for everyone, Not just the house hold & Yes we should be made to fill it out every 10 years or so,

Otherwise its hard to see what’s truely changing or stayed the same or got worse :/ 🙁

Scott, you have to fill it out as well. Each individual person has to fill it in. Your mum can complete the first part, and then each person has their own section… make sure to check.

I know,

I said this to My Mum, But She said no its for the house hold & You can fill out The 2011 Census at Your boyfriends flat,

I said I’m legally the rented tenant to where The 2011 Census was sent out & I may spend most of My time at My boyfriends flat, Yet I should fill out The Census were I live & pay rent & council tax 🙂

My Mum won’t listen, She’s probably already sent it off & Filled all of it out :/

As My Mum ignored Me when I said I’ll fill out My own section & Once its all filled out I’m sending it back Special Delivery 🙂

As far as I’m aware, it’s where-ever you are on the night of Sunday 27th. So, if you’re at your mum’s, or your boyfriend’s on Sunday, that’s where you’ll fill it out for. I’d suggest you’d put yourself as a ‘visitor’ for the latter, and fill out your own person section if it’s the former.

27th Of March 2011?.


27th later to come?.

I’ll probably be filling it out at My Boyfriends flat then, As an Visitor/Night stay over 🙂

As I spend most night’s at My boyfriends, Well for 2 years I have anyways 🙂

My Mum & Her Boyfriends homeless & Have been now for over 2 years, Even though in the eyes of the law & My Mum, they don’t see themselves homeless :/

Although My Mum has been staying at My rented flat for over 2 years now, Bet The Census 2011 doesn’t ask how people differ the term homeless from the law :/

I can see the point of the census for the reasons given – but what about the working questions? whether you’re self-employed with or without employees? How does that affect the planning? interesting for future generations, perhaps, but I think they’ll find plenty of ways to find out about us later, there’s *slightly* more channels of information now!

Because self employed people in The Uk may help The Governement decide wheather we should find ways to set up private/publis pensions for self employed people who loose there own jobs/company for them or there own staff,


If in 2021 we have more self employed people with or without staff, & What possible made this happen over the 10 years.

It could be Governments set up easier or hard ways to set up self employed companies & people, between now & 2021 & If more people are self employed in that time, We need to know what helped, Was it Governments, Banks, & More.

Was The Uk & Uk people better off with more self employed people & companies or less self employed people or companies.

laurernce miller says:
24 March 2011

I agree that a census is a valuable tool in planning, but one wionders what percentage of answers are correct or even truthful.

Well sadly some people may lie or incorrectly answer due to mental health or not understanding & Others We should hope can answer truthully 🙂

I’m sure there’s an some small system in place for lies,errors,mistakes, & truth.

They’ll never be an perfect system, As we don’t like being told what to do :/ 🙁

W.S.Becket says:
24 March 2011

The idea that the Government and local authorities would draw sensible conclusions from the census is laughable. If the census told them that 100% of the mobile population of Brighton had two legs, they would almost certainly spend £1m on a consultant to confirm the fact.

Ocky says:
25 March 2011

As previous comments made have highlighted, just about all the information can be gleaned from other places both on-line and the way we interact with the rest of society.

However some of this information can be transient and this census return, like the census returns from 1841, will provide a wealth of information for family historians albeit in 100 years on what was happening on a specific night.

N H-S says:
30 March 2011

If we want local and central government to plan their use of our resources, better that it is done with some foundation in evidence – what they actually do is, of course, driven by other more volatile and unpredicatable considerations. The census is also a fascinating social document for future generations.
There is a curious tension between any ‘suspicion’ bred out of the sense of Census coercion (necessary to ensure a uniform understanding of our society) and the rapid adoption of social networking and associated activities through which we freely share personal data (but in a wildly sporadic way that is of little use to anyone with an interest in social engineering/policy development on a local and central political level). Personally, I am OK with the former but deeply suspicious of the latter.

madame ping says:
30 March 2011

I am afraid although we all think the census will offer us a snapshot of our population and country it is practically an outdated and useless political agenda. If you consider that it did not ask if you were very very poor, or if you had no opportunities to leave the house or were invalid or scared or if your quality of life was deplorable. It did ask about race and ethnic group and statistically this is to answer all the politicians who use race as a defining agenda ” this race gets that our race doesn’t” etc, – whereas our major problems to be tackled are the lack of social mobility and massive divide between those who become the benefit underclass (elderly, carers, invalids, chronically ill, mentally unwell, learning difficulties etc) and those who with work are not that suffering – the group that can afford a £1000 TV do not aid those who need £250 for the extraordinarily high gas and electric bills. Furthermore the vast numbers of illlegal and migrant workers who should not be in the country and place intense levels of pain and anguish on the services for those already in the poorest and most deprived areas are not going to be on the census – nor are their friends and family and offspring.

Mr P has filled out the census – as he and his wife always do the correct thing but it is not going to mention the six people who came on the lorry from Dover staying in his two bed flat, but the six people will use six bus seats, six false NI cards and six places in the doctor’s surgery…they will also eventually become six more people who will never ever put their names on the census.

As in the last election people who had become British but then returned to their original country of origin were being offered cash to make sure the voted…as is their right…and this vote offered a Govt that is continuing to express its concerns in the versions of categories that simply disguise the problems a census would normally have illustrated…

As one UK – Somali journalist said the official figure for that community is 3000 and he estimated it was 30,000. And when a person who has no legal right to be here stays on or has to get money then they become the gas bill or electric bill unpaid and the flat left with heaving bags of rotting garbage…and they are not on the census so their bill – paid for by taxing gthe pensioners too much – is met by council tax and of course we go around again….the census is a nice piece of bureucracy, but not reality at all. And the uncountable population – particularly those involved in the *** industry and fake marriages – dont pay council tax either.

It would be far better if the Govt had spent real money on doing a real census – Roman Empire style – and not relied on the forms being completed by household names on addresses, as now for the next decade the councils will be planning for a population one third smaller than it is and likewise diverting funds in places to address issues of hardship that can be generated by massive overpopulation burdens on one region rather than by pushing cash into the region.

I hope this is not offensive as I have nothing against any race or creed or religion but I think these defining categoreis in all public instirutions and governemnt should be scrapped as far too much of our GNP is spent on collecting the data now on whether I was born in Latvia or my dad was from Pakistan. Will that change the fact that my mother had cancer and my family was induced into poverty to care for her? No it doesnt AND it is proven after decades of collecting stats on whehter I am a Roman Catholic or Muslim, that it doesnt.

If we compare our economy with two health countries Sweden and Australia one can see that they both practise an incredibly strong migrant worker control and so in both large and tiny populated states the citizens benefit from this by having services and funds (Sweden gives tons more in charitable donations) to specifric and clearly defined “good” works and their elderly, disabled, invalid, carers, and others in real need are not subsumed in the torrent of other “new needy” groups migrating to either country and Oz afterall is a huge non indigenous population in itself…and I should imagien their census will be more accurate than our own. I am not saying htat any country is not without problems but in reality the services cannot be paid for by the incessant categorisation the previous decades of govt undertook as these were all politically motivated to raise the profile of (predominantly) Labour Party voting ‘blocs’, like the divisions in the USA, endlessly lobbying for subdivisions of society and never working collectively for the “commonwealth”. And this also always diverts attention to the failings of our society to care for the old and unwell – the UK is now shamelessly demanding the old somehow conjure up money to pay for being naturally old..or infirm or sick.

What is clear is that if you have the economic power to take legal action against a silly B&B then you are better off than the elderly and sick, and those who cannot afford a lawyer because they are forced to live on less than £54 per week as a carer. We pay £1000s for legal advice to be given to prisoners and negate the citizens who did nothing wrong except get old….any race, any religion and any ***uality and any gender…their “crime” was being old and not rich and old.

Brian Andrews says:
30 March 2011

The Census is a long outdated governmental whimsy of no proven value, producing little (if any) statistical information that isn’t either already in the public domain (most of it) and/or easily and more cheaply available by other means. The accuracy of the data produced is also highly questionable, due to increasing numbers of disenfranchised citizens deliberately entering false data (how many practising Jedi knights are there really in the UK?).

The standard justification of it ‘aiding planning’ remains empirically unsound and historically inaccurate. ‘Planning’ by any central authority is a classic misnomer, with understandably short-term (re-election) thinking generally being the sole driver for governments of all flavours. In any event how does knowing (say) the number of people occupying three-bedroom houses, aid planning? Market forces alone remain the single most reliable ‘planning’ tool – and they come free!

Spending a small fortune on an exercise that serves only to annoy a significant proportion of the populace, for no discerible benefit, at a time when we are sensibly attempting as a nation to reduce our deficit, seems to me to be a sadly misconceived and detrimental concept. I suspect that its main purpose is really to help justify some of the huge government departments that are so busy counting Jedi knights in 3-bedroom semis, that they can’t afford to be downsized!.

I believe in a census but this last one was an awful lot of paper for very little information and was badly drawn up. For example there was a header box of categories for work, followed by questions about your occupation and one of these was ‘are you retired’. This question should have been in the header box any way but the real question should be ‘ are you in receipt of a pension’ so that the no of pensioners still working could be determined. By ‘retired’ do they mean in receipt of the state pension or ‘living off own means’. The data they get from the current form is meaningless.

Eddie Reynolds says:
11 April 2011

It is obviously important in future planning for schools, housing needs etc to respond to this census, but what is more important is the deliberate avoidance of a long overdue referendum on the EU by the present government, who have deliberately gone deaf on the subject.. Politicians seem to see the EU as an escape route for failed politicians, who all come back after their stint in EU with pockets bulging.
Cameron had better listen to voters, because the outrage felt by the bailing out of the ever growing failed Euro countries can only get worse. We need our say and it would not have been difficult to have added a simple ‘Yes or No’ question on the EU membership in the census document, if for nothing else but just to gauge public attitudes.

W.S.Becket says:
9 August 2011

The danger of referenda that they can be swayed by active minorities.
Motion. To get rid of the Police Force.

In favour 20%
Again: 15%
Not in favour of change but could not be bothered to vote : 65%

This is what happened to the recent referendum in Wales.

W.S.Becket says:
13 May 2012

A page of barnyard twoddle. It wouldn’t make any difference how clearly the logistics of society were laid out before government or local authorities – they would still make a mess of things. And as for the proportion of homosexuals to normal people, it has been established as being no more than 1.5% – a figure that will remain constant irrespective.

Why is the census not subjected to GDPR?

It is. The Office of National Statistics has stated how information will be collected, protected, used, stored and eventually released. All data will be in anonymous statistical form for 100 years.

The General Data Protection Regulation does not prohibit the gathering of personal information so long as it is used and stored [i.e. protected from misuse] in compliance with the Regulations.

It is interesting that this parallel Conversation on the census from March 2011 attracted far fewer comments, both initially during that period and subsequently in advance of the 2021 census, than has the other one https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/no-to-the-census/#cpage-3 whose author was opposed to the census.

It is a pity that, after a period, parallel Conversations on the same subject but from different viewpoints cannot be composited to present a coherent impression of public opinion.

I think this just supports my view that most people will be vocal when they want to knock something, but reticent when it comes to giving support. Commenting on the Government seems a clear example.

I am guilty as charged as I criticise Which? occasionally but rarely praise it. But then I expect Which? to behave well normally, so I should not have to continually praise it for doing the job I help pay it to do.

Interesting that Which? only resurrected the one (negative) conversation this time around…..

Malcolm – To be fair to Which?, I think it was a contributor who dragged the negative Conversation to the forefront this year and perhaps they didn’t see the other one. Both had a mixture of favourable and hostile comments and there was no intervention from Which? while they were both running in 2011.

Fair enough John, thanks 🙂

That is right, John. I explained this after Malcolm had wrongly claimed that Which? had revived the negative Conversation and I provided a link to this positive one: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/no-to-the-census/#comment-1621304

I am sorry to have been wrong. 🙁

Steve says:
29 March 2021

Well Martyn Saville you certainly got what you wanted. Stonewall has successfully lobbied the ONS to ask about sexuality until they have effectively outed everyone over 16 in the country to both the State and to the household.

The ONS has asked trick “voluntary” questions where the choice to decline indicates you won’t belong to the heteronormative, and they have as the only safeguard made it possible for someone to request their own login, which simply alerts the householder to what the secretive issue may be versus what they already substantively know.

The fear of rejection is what keeps people in the closet, and nobody is more vulnerable to this than the young. 40% of homeless youth in this country are gay, indicating the scale of the problem, and now, during a pandemic, the ONS has irresponsibly dictated when they will come out of their closet.

The correct way to have handled this, if indeed personal questions should ever be asked by the State, was for everyone over 18, as registered on the electoral register, to be given their own login, and for personal questions to be separate to a form which has your name, address and d.o.b. on it.

That is if this truly is simply about statistics and service provision and not the sexual profiling of the unknown singles who have not already declared their sexual orientation by way of a legal union, something unnecessarily asked in the Census when the ONS already has all those records and publishes the data.