Every ten years, there is a legal requirement for everyone in the UK to fill in a census form giving a substantial amount of personal data about who we are, where we reside and some of the things that we do. In this day and age of publicity about civil liberties and the invasion of personal privacy, the subject has become an emotive one, prompting countless discussions both in favour of and against the need for a survey like this. These comments on the subject are my own and each of us is entitled to have their own opinions.
To be truthful, my first response to many of the questions on the document is that the information requested is already accessible to the authorities from other official institutions. The tax office can tell what my employment status is and who I get paid by. The electoral roll certainly has a list of all the adults living at my address. My passport and driving licence indicate when and in what city I was born. My medical records describe my usual state of health, what treatment I have experienced and whether I have needed a pacemaker, have had Laser eye surgery performed or broken my leg. So possibly the perceived invasion of privacy isn’t really such a big issue.
Obviously, a hundred years ago, almost all of this information would not have been readily available so it was sensible for the document to collate all of the information in one place, but in this century, a central computer could effortlessly pull together most of the information required, although the financial implications of building that computer would surely be prohibitive!
The stated reason for the census is that it will allow the government to commit funding to the most relevant areas for the next ten years. Just how this levels with the existing budget decrease in practically every area is a mystery which will only be figured out in time.
However, it makes sense to know precisely how many people are troubled by poor health, or how many infants under five years of age reside in a particular area, or what the ethnicity of a area is. At least we are not expected to tell them our usual brand of shower gel or floor cleaner, what newspaper we buy, whether we still use glasses or are wealthy enough to have paid for Laser eye surgery or whether we put petrol or diesel in our vehicles!
The one item on the census which is optional also rates as one of the most discussed. You don’t have to state what religion you adhere to (or don’t), but even though you don’t have to respond to the question, the powers that be will still use the responses of those who do bother when looking to assess funding in the years to come. So, for example, if everyone who is an atheist or humanist chose to ignore the question, and all of those who follow an organised religion answered it, the results would incorrectly state that the country was one hundred per cent religious. And despite the fact that we would all be aware that this was totally wrong, funds for faith schools, charities and other organisations would be increased. Likewise, opting to tick ‘Other’ and putting something witty like Jedi (as happened in 2001) or a made-up religion like ‘The Laser eye Sees All Community’, will also be considered to mean that you are ‘religious’ and will be incorporated in the resulting statistics as someone who follows a specific faith system, therefore distorting the truth.
Interestingly, completed documents are being processed by a US company better known for supplying aircraft, missiles and countless other hardware and software products, which has led several activists to suggest ways of manipulating replies so that the forms are not able to be read by computer scanners as planned, but have to be processed by employees. Whilst I can’t pass judgement on the legality of what is being suggested, such activities do mean that the company’s profits from handling the census contract would potentially be reduced, providing them with less money to spend on manufacturing weapons, radar solutions, bombs controlled by Laser eye technology and a whole lot more.