Sunday, 3 April 2011
Failing to Complete the Census Return
So I approached the current 2011 census return in a positive frame of mind. It didn’t last long. My problems started with the questions on ethnicity and marital status. The ethnic origins page asks you to discriminate between being white British (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and white Irish, and white gypsy (I was very tempted to be creative here!). Then there are multiple categories of other ethnic groups - all of them having some kind of colour - and I found myself feeling quite squeamish about it. There’s no way of reflecting the reality of ethnic diversity here - no questions about parental origins that might have told interesting stories. The tick boxes also seem to conflict with the ‘national identity’ section, where you’re asked to specify what kind of Briton you think you are. Very confusing for someone whose national identity is probably British but whose ethnic origins are Irish/Italian/Scottish.
Then I turned to the page that asks you for your marital status. There are categories for Never Married/ Married/Separated/Divorced/Widowed and the five categories for being/not being/have been/ in same sex partnerships; but absolutely nothing to indicate that you’re living in a heterosexual partnership. As there are huge numbers of people doing just that, the results of the Census are going to give an incomplete picture.
In the end I found the form impossible to fill in. We have lodgers in the granny flat, who look after the Mill for us when we’re away. One of them is currently in India and the other has gone off to stay with his Aunty at an unknown (to me) location, though the census asks you to give the info even if they are not there on the night. There's no way I could possibly know any of it. Even if they had been here, I could not have asked them for the very personal information the census demanded of them because they probably wouldn’t have wanted to tell me any of it.
So my census return is a total lie and I will probably be arrested and fined for not filling it in properly. It doesn’t give the truth about who usually lives here and it doesn’t tell the truth about me - my marital status or my ethnic origins. What is the point?
The whole justification for spending the millions that it costs are that it’s supposed to give a picture of Britain which the government can use to plan for the future. But most of the information asked for is irrelevant for that purpose and the rest of it - my age, income, status, etc can all be found from other sources - electoral rolls, 192.com, Inland Revenue, and other public records. And, as the form is filled in by Oneself (they used to be filled in by a Responsible Person appointed by the government) there’s no way of checking whether any of the info is correct. It seems to me a great waste of money and a terrible lost opportunity for a snapshot of a moment in time in history.