DAVID WALSH: Senseless census has had its day

Census: It even has a weird purple info-bus

Census: It even has a weird purple info-bus

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THE figures are enough to make even the biggest Statto glaze over.

The 2011 Census will cost a whopping £486m, reach 26m households and employ 35,000 people.

Citizens will be asked up to 56 questions about their status and whereabouts at an exact moment in time, March 27.

Respondents are even asked to play doctor and judge their own health - from ‘very good’ to ‘very bad’.

As a warm up, the full questionnaire can be read on the 2011.census.gov.uk website from today ahead of forms landing on doormats from Monday.

Census figures make for fascinating reading; the first in 1801 revealed a population of just 9.4m - today it’s nearly 62m.

And in 1881 concerns were raised about the intrusiveness and sensitivity of a question which asked whether any ‘lunatics’, ‘imbeciles’ or ‘idiots’ lived in the household.

In 1901 the term ‘idiot’ was replaced by ‘feeble minded’ and enquiries into infirmities stopped altogether after 1911.

The Government says the, frankly enormous, cost works out at just 90p per person every year for 10 years, while it helps target spending of a trillion pounds over the same period.

But will enough people bother this time around, with society so fragmented and people so cynical about authority and data security?

I remember my dad carefully filling out the forms in 1981, explaining the requirement to include everyone in the house, even if they were just staying over on census night. There was a sense of ceremony, perhaps of nationhood.

But a million people were missed in the last one in 2001 and this time it is bound to be lower. The threat of a £1,000 fine for failing to respond rings hollow in the face of criminality on such a vast scale.

It is claimed the Office of National Statistics, which runs the census, may abolish the count after the latest effort, and tap into data already held on store cards and by phone and energy companies, banks and even the National Lottery. Sheffield Council and Customs and Revenue know plenty about us too.

And surely in the age of Wikileaks and the internet the Government doesn’t need to go through a costly and convoluted head count every 10 years?

Not only is the information already out there, it gets updated virtually in real time, not every decade. As with so many things, the internet may be on the verge of making the census obsolete.

So this relic of an earlier age is costly, intrusive, irrelevant and instantly out of date.

And to cap it all, there’s a question querying your religion, bizarrely introduced for the first time in 2001.

A Government spokesman said it was about understanding communities and providing for them. But after managing for 200 years without such data, we don’t need it now.

The question, although voluntary, is likely to result in a huge increase in a growing underground protest ‘religion’.

A band of brothers and sisters I’m happy to stand alongside, light sabres at the ready.

Last time there were 390,127 Jedi Knights, all using the Force on those heinous pen pushers.

This time, lets go for a million!

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