Very shortly the 2011 Census forms will drop through my letterbox and I’m in a bit of a quandry.
I want to take the opportunity to define myself as English now that the census form finally deigns to ask people if they are English after decades of recording other ethnicities and nationalities. I also fancy putting something daft in religion just to mess up the statistics. But I don’t like the idea of the state compiling huge databases of personal information about people, especially me.
I fully understand the justifications for recording census information and on the whole they are perfectly reasonable and genuine. How can local budgets be set and services prioritised if demographics aren’t known? But it comes down to a question of trust: do you trust this government with the information and do you trust future governments with the information? I don’t trust the current British government with all my personal details and I certainly can’t trust a future government because I don’t know who’s going to be in it or what they’re going to be like.
Some of the questions in the census go far beyond the statistical information required to provide services. Why does the state need to know my religious beliefs? Why does the state need to know what nationality I consider myself to be? Why does the state need to know how many bathrooms I have in my house? The state knows I am married because I was required to obtain the state’s permission to do so and the state knows I am still married because I would have required the state’s permission to dissolve it. The state knows all about my education because the state controls the education system. The state knows my ethnic background because the state required my parents to register my birth just like it did of their parents and their parents before them. The state knows what rooms I have in my house because the state required a plan of my home before it granted permission for it to be built.
The British government already has all this information about me, my wife, my kids and my home. They may not have it all in one place but they have it already. So why should I fill in a census form just to give it all to them again in a handy single source of information?
So I am undecided what to do with this year’s census. Shall I ignore it and risk a fine (a £1,000 fine and criminal conviction is the punishment for not informing the state of your personal information)? Shall I fill in the bits I want to answer and leave out the bits I don’t (again risking a fine and criminal conviction)? Or should I provide false information (risking a fine once again)? I object very strongly to the idea that the state has a right to my personal information and to demand it from me at will with menaces. I object equally as strongly to the idea that the British government intends to hand over the personal information they are demanding from me with menaces to the EU.
Update: I wrote this post this morning but forgot to publish it. In the meantime I was sent a link to this article – White and English but not white-English: how to deal with the discriminatory Census for England and Wales – which you should read. The 2011 census allows people to identify themselves as Black-British or Asian-British but not Black-English or Asian-English. According to the 2011 census you can only be ethnically English if you’re white but you can be Black or Asian and ethnically British. In other words, the questions on ethnicity and identity are loaded to ensure they get the “right” answer.