A Census of the Ridiculous

My form for the 2011 Census arrived yesterday. Apparently they were all posted out on Monday, so that’s 5 days in the post. Par for the course for the Royal Mail these days. I’m slightly surprised it arrived at all.

There’s a hefty £1000 fine for not completing the Census, so I suppose I’ll fill it in, despite my feeling that it’s both intrusive and unnecessary. What’s worse is that several of the questions are so badly designed that the information resulting will be useless.

For example, according to the census guide:

Very careful consideration is given to the questions included in the census. Questions must meet the needs of a substantial number of users in order that the census is acceptable to the public and yields good quality data. The questions are selected following several rounds of consultation with:

  • central and local government
  • academia
  • health authorities
  • the business community
  • groups representing ethnic minorities and others with special interests and concerns

Hang on. The “business community”? Why should they be consulted? What do they want with my personal information? I thought the census data was for planning public services!  On the other hand, when everything is privatised maybe all our personal data will be flogged off to the private sector anyway.

The 2011 Census is the first one to include a question on health. According to the saturation advertising about the census, this question will help plan new hospitals and distribute NHS funding. So what is the new question, the answer to which will provide such valuable data? Here it is, together with the possible responses:

13. How is your health in general?

  • Very good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Bad
  • Very Bad

And that’s it for “health”. Does anyone actually believe such a vague question is  going to be of any use at all in planning NHS services? I certainly don’t.

And then there’s the famous question about religion.

20. What is your religion?

For a start I don’t think my religion or lack of it should be any concern to the government. To be fair, however, this question is marked as “voluntary” so respondents are allowed not to answer it without getting locked up in the Tower of London. But in any case it’s a leading question and should never have been included in the census in this form anyway. “Do you have a religion and, if so, what is it?” would have been much better.

I could go on, but I’ve got better things to do today.

I’ll just say this last thing about the Census. Most of it clearly has nothing whatever to do with planning public services. In fact the government already holds most of the information about your private circumstances the form demands. The Census is nothing more an opportunity for the government to cross-check tax, benefit or other records in the hope of finding inaccuracies. In other words, Big Brother is watching you.

And the cost of all this snooping? A whopping £500 million, more than double the cost of the 2001 Census, and all of it  at a time of huge cuts to public services. You have to laugh, don’t you?


6 Responses to “A Census of the Ridiculous”

  1. I agree that the wording of the religion question wouldn’t have so much as passed muster in GCSE Statistics, but given that religious organisations get so much money from the government, it’s worth knowing if that is in any way representative of what people actually believe.

    That said, the number of people who just put “Christianity” because schools were legally required to make them sing hymns will be disheartening anyway.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I agree with the thrust of what Peter says. As for religion, what is a voluntary question one decade is likely to be compulsory the next – a further way in which this question is a leading one. Politicians are quick to say religion is a private matter when churchmen criticise their morality, so why do they want this information? As you (Chris) say above it’s nonsense anyway, since more people write “Christian” than ever pray or go to church according to street polls. (Actually the only thing I enjoyed about school services when I was atheist were the hymns – great tunes and literate verses, unlike most modern worship…)

      I intend to leave it blank. If it becomes compulsory then, since I am not permitted to deny I am a Christian, and since I do not wish to tell the State I am, I’d either leave it blank and take the rap, or put a spoiler answer like “Yeshuite” (Yeshua being Jesus’ name in his own original language).

      The actual answer to “What is your religion” is: “A way of making sense of the world which I happen to believe is true.”


      PS Chris – re religious organisations gettting government money – do you mean for running schools? It’s arguably not their job, although they do it better than the State does…

  2. A once in 10 year snap shot of where everyone is living has been invaluable to me in my family history research right back to 1841 but its clear there has been some “mission creep” every decade. However spare a thought for future generations trying to trace back to their ancestors and wondering what on earth the Jedi religion was.

    • telescoper Says:

      It may have been useful in the past when there weren’t as many other records being kept. Now the government has more information than it knows what to do with already, without spending £500 million acquiring even more.

  3. Mine has already gone to the great Recycler. I shall claim that I have filled it in, sent it off and that ‘they’ have not received it. Staticians love this sort of thing, but most of this information is already available these days. I have just received my digital driving licence, all the necessary data was available via my passport info, including my photograph and signature. Now, that is spooky. I am prepared to be cautioned/fined/jailed on this one.

  4. The census has been useful in collecting information about the number of Welsh speakers, but once again they’ve made a mess of things.

    The question only asks whether you speak English or Welsh as a main language, or something else. So we’ll never know how many are first language Welsh, only that people are able to speak it. It gives us no idea about the health of the language – whether it’s used on a daily basis or not.

    In England, the question is not asked at all. They seem to think political boundaries also act as linguistic boundaries.

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