Once every decade, since 1801, citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been compelled to complete a census for the benefit of their lords and masters.
If you want to know more about the 2011 census, you can visit the Office for National Statistics web site, and download a PDF that gives you the main elements. There are separate versions for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The link gives you access to the English and Welsh variants. I’m afraid Scottish and Norn Irish readers will have to seek out their own local versions.
The completed returns have been a boon to genealogists and social historians, although the actual records are kept secret for 100 years. The most recent census records you can actually get your research mitts on are for 1911. Generally speaking, I’ve always been supportive of the census as a whole.
Until this year.
The UK 2011 census appears to be even more intrusive than ever before. It seems they don’t simply want to know name, rank and serial number any more. They want to know a lot of quite personal information, which as far as I am concerned is none of their business. Add into that heady mix the fact the contract was won by an American company*, and failure to complete the census could end in a hefty fine, and you can begin to understand why I’m not quite so happy to play along this time.
So, as a conscientious objector this time round, what recourse do I have? The only questions I am allowed to not fill in at all is the one about religion. I suppose I could just not fill the form in, but the census agency will send someone round to badger me for it. I could, I suppose, claim I had posted it already and it’s not my fault Royal Mail isn’t reliable. Again, a busybody will probably be despatched to make me fill it in all over again.
In my researches, I found people who claimed to have not filled in a census return since 1971 with no legal measures taken against them. According to the ONS, fewer than 40 people had the full weight of the law dropped upon them for failing to fill in the census return. That’s a surprisingly low number out of some 60 million souls in this country, so perhaps just not filling the thing in is a risk worth taking. Then again, I don’t have £1000 just lying about on the off-chance some litigious desk jockey decides I’m one of the 40 this time round.
Another alternative is to just fill the thing in with stuff made up. If you are so minded, you could really have a lot of fun with most of the questions. Let’s see…
Counting everyone you included in H1, how many people usually live here?
About 43, except on Thursdays when it’s 71.
In total, how many cars or vans are owned, or available for use, by members of this household?
It depends on how many young Brooklyn can break into on a given day.
5 Do you stay at another address for more than 30 days a year?
I have a tree house I ship out to when life indoors gets on top of me. I find the birdsong soothing when I’m having a crisis.
12 Including the time you have already spent here, how long do you intend to stay in the United Kingdom?
Until I’m fed into the local crematorium, probably.
13 How is your health in general?
Mustn’t grumble. Just the odd twinge on the left knee, and a bit of lumbago after standing at the bus stop for the number twelve.
15 How would you describe your national identity?
16 What is your ethnic group?
B. Mixed / multiple ethnic groups • White and Black Caribbean • White and Black African • White and Asian
• Any other Mixed / multiple ethnic background, write in
Mainly Anglo-Saxon with some Celt, Roman, and hints of Jute and Dane. Possibly a bit of Pomeranian, too.
17 This question is intentionally left blank go to 18.
Like my mind, after a Friday night out.
18 What is your main language?
Unwinese. Mostly. Deep folly.
19 How well can you speak English?
Can you repeel the questibole, please, oh yes?
21 One year ago, what was your usual address?
You may call me madam.
22 What passports do you hold?
Many, but none of them mine.
I could go on, but I won’t.
We should not forget that most of the data being mined by this questionnaire is already available to the government by other means. It might take a while longer for them to sift it, but they already have National Insurance records, tax records, health service records, vehicle registration records…
Oh, and the whole thing has so far cost £500 million. It’s also likely to be the last actual census held in this fashion, for the very reasons I outlined in the last paragraph—the information they seek is already available in some form or another.
I’m interested to hear what you think about this. Use the comment form. Your data will be held securely in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet, in a disused basement room, behind a door marked “beware of the leopard”.
Even if we ignore the fact that Lockheed Martin sits at No 1 on the Pogo Federal Contractor Misconduct database, with more than 50 alleged cases of corruption, fraud, bribery, environmental damage and discrimination, there’s worse to come. As a US-owned company, under the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act, Lockheed Martin can be forced to hand over any private data in its possession to the US government and/or the CIA. It doesn’t make the government’s promises to keep our data safe sound quite so reassuring.