Monday, November 02, 2009

Census 2011: Return of the Jedi

It might even be The Jedi Strike Back as the backlash grows to the 2011 ‘snooping’ Census.

The Conservative Party has warned that the Government is failing to consider the potential public backlash to the intrusive questions in the 2011 Census. Shadow Ministers are pledging to vote against the Census Orders before Parliament, and a Conservative Government would reverse the Government’s planned changes.

In a letter to the UK Statistics Authority, Conservatives are warning of a repeat of the 2001 Census where the Jedi faith became the fourth biggest religion in the country – greater than Judaism, Buddhism or Sikhism. The 2001 survey also missed off one million people and failed to record one in five people in Inner London Boroughs, with disastrous consequences for local council funding.

The 2011 Census proposes a series of new questions on people’s sleeping arrangements – including the number of bedrooms in your home, and the date of birth and sex of overnight visitors. This is a sexuality snoop: the data will suggest and statisticians will infer. The 2011 census also has more detailed questions on ethnic identity. The ‘white’ section in 2001 had three choices: British; Irish; "any other white background". The 2011 form in England will have four white options: English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British; Irish; Gypsy or Irish Traveller; any other white background.

Householders will be will be cautioned by Census officials under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) for refusing to answer questions and can be fined up to £1,000. The new questions have also driven the cost of the 2011 exercise to almost half a billion pounds.

Ten years on from the last Census, the combination of widespread internet use and social media like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter make grassroots campaigns against the Government’s Census far more likely, especially given growing public disquiet about the ‘database state’ and surveillance.

Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Nick Hurd MP, said: “There is a growing backlash to the Government’s database state and their intrusive Census questions on people’s sleeping habits. Even if the public are pressured into filling out the forms to avoid £1,000 fines, there will be an increased risk of frivolous replies - wrecking the accuracy of the whole survey.

“Officials haven’t learnt the lessons of the 2001 Census which suggested more people revered Yoda than Buddha. In an internet age combined with an anti-politics mood, Labour Ministers should expect the return of the Jedi if they push ahead with this bedroom snooping census. The anti-Census movement will only grow if the public believe that this Government has turned to the dark side.”

Cranmer reproduces in its entirety Mr Hurd’s letter to the UK Statistics Authority:

Sir Michael Scholar KCB
UK Statistics Authority
Statistics House

Dear Sir Michael,


Thank you for your letter of 27 October and I would like to take the opportunity to reply to some of the points you raised.

Your letter highlighted that the role of the UK Statistics Authority in preparing for the Census. Notwithstanding, I would note that the draft Orders were published with a Written Ministerial Statement, in which Government Ministers gave their support for the exercise (Hansard, 21 October 2009, col. 57WS).

Section 2 of the Census Act 1920, as amended by Schedule 1 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, makes clear that: “the Statistics Board in the exercise of its powers and in the performance of its [Census] duties under this Act or under any Order in Council or regulations made thereunder shall be subject to the control of, and comply with any directions given by, the Minister for the Cabinet Office” (emphasis added). Clearly Ministers must take responsibility for this Census and should be held to account for the content of the draft Orders which specify the questions. It is for Parliament to decide the final wording of the 2011 Census, and thus, it is entirely appropriate for Her Majesty’s Opposition to scrutinise and question the activities of the Government.

I am sure that Government statisticians and social scientists will find of use the new questions about the number of bedrooms and the personal details of overnight guests. But the existence of a power to pry personal information from citizens does not mean it should necessarily be used, especially in the context of growing concerns about the database state. Elected representatives have a duty to protect the privacy and liberty of law-abiding citizens, especially given citizens will be interviewed under Police and Criminal Evidence Act caution and face £1,000 fines for not answering the questions.

I note that a Privacy Impact Assessment has not yet been published on the Census website (if it has, it is not easily accessible), despite the pledge to produce one before the secondary legislation was laid (Cabinet Office, Census 2011 – Helping to shape tomorrow, CM 7513, December 2008, para 6.22). I would be grateful if this could now be published.

Despite the best of intentions behind the exercise, I believe these questions are not proportionate, and the cumulative effect is to make the Census too intrusive and invasive. This will undermine public support, which in turn will harm the response rate and the accuracy of responses when people wade through the 32 page household form.

This is particularly important given the Government’s admission that “non-response or under-enumeration is the most significant error” (ibid., p.9) and the fact that the last Census missed off one million people – up to one in five residents in Inner London boroughs, with significant consequences for local government funding (Public Accounts committee, The Office for National Statistics: Outsourcing the 2001 Census, HC 543, 17 March 2003).

Even if the public are pressured into filling out an intrusive Census to avoid £1,000 fines, there will be an increased risk of frivolous replies. The 2001 Census revealed that the Jedi faith is the fourth largest religion in the country – a movement that will only grow if the public believe that Government Ministers have turned to the dark side. Unlike in 2001, we live in an internet age where new media is increasingly used to mobilise campaigns. I am concerned that there has not been proper consideration of how public disquiet at this Census could result in an organised and effective grassroots e-campaign to spoil or frustrate particular Census questions.

I note that the 2011 Census is to cost £482 million of taxpayers’ money (Hansard, 15 May 2009, col. 1047W), despite criticism of the cost of the 2001 Census by the Treasury Select Committee (The 2001 Census in England and Wales, HC 310, March 2002). As you know, the country faces an unprecedented debt crisis which means that every part of the state needs to be looking at doing more for less. We know the Government is already planning overall cuts of at least 10 per cent in departmental budgets in the coming spending round, and in some departments is looking for much more than this.

Given the ruinous state of the public finances, we do not believe that the 2011 Census can have the size and scope that has been proposed, particularly since we believe that many of the proposed questions are unsuitable. So we will not be able to support the proposed Census in its current form, and would urge you to make plans to scale back its cost and scope in order to save money and reduce its intrusive impact on citizens.

I am placing this letter in the public domain.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Hurd MP


Anonymous Brian E. said...

I seem to remember reading about a year ago that the French Government had decided not to hold any mores censuses (censii?) as the information required was already held by different government departments, and thus they could save the cost. Such information was also considered far more accurate. For once I agree with the French!

2 November 2009 at 09:18  
Blogger Gnostic said...

What would the government do if, in an event of mass civil disobedience, we all claim that the dog ate our census form?

2 November 2009 at 09:19  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Ms Gnostic,

His Grace does not have a dog, so he would have some difficulty avoiding the £1000 fine.

2 November 2009 at 09:22  
Anonymous Proust said...

Vivre la France!

2 November 2009 at 09:38  
Blogger OurSally said...

Census is a fourth declension noun and the plural is census, pronounced with a long u, sensoos. The same applies to status, actually.

So in English censuses would be better than censi. Shame, really.

2 November 2009 at 09:53  
Anonymous judith said...

'For mine cat is an hairy cat, and verily doth acquire much dirt on its large feet, and yeah, it walketh upon mine form and hath defiled it greatly'.

2 November 2009 at 11:00  
Anonymous mithraist said...

If they persist with this, Census Night 2011 is likely to see an unprecedented number of people taking holidays abroad. And at least a tenth of the population won't be able to read the form anyway, let alone fill it in.

Can't this bunch of complete carrots do anything properly?

2 November 2009 at 11:02  
Blogger Wyrdtimes said...

Well at least we'll be able to see how well the Brishit government is getting on with it's long term aim of eradicating the English from England.

2 November 2009 at 11:22  
Anonymous Debauched of Cheshire said...

Gnostic, your efforts are far too tame. I shall be holding a house party on the evening of the census, after which people will be unable to make their way home, and so will have a houseful of overnight guests of both genders.

Doubtless this will consitute an orgy in the eyes of the census takers.

More realistically, Labour seem unlikely to win the next election and therefore the Conservatives can call some sort of halt to the proceedings after coming to power. How might that work ?

2 November 2009 at 11:22  
Anonymous mithraist said...

Trouble is, Wyrd, only the English will fill the damn (sorry, Your Grace) thing in.

The Tories had better be getting some techie to get a template of a sensible Census form ready for when they creep back into government, otherwise the Department of Forms will claim there won't be enough time to draw up a new one.

2 November 2009 at 11:39  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

The Human Rights Act 1998, SCHEDULE 1, The Articles,
Part I, The Convention Rights and Freedoms, Article 8 states:

Article 8 Right to respect for private and family life

1 Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2 There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

I cannot see how the demands of the 2011 Census for a householder to demand the date of birth and sex of overnight visitors can be met, if a householder elects to stand upon the ground of Article 8. Article 8, I suggest, not only applies to the relationship between the householder and the State but also between the overnight visitor and the State.

2 November 2009 at 12:16  
Blogger Anoneumouse said...

More European Union Anyone

On 20 February 2008 the European Parliament approved a Council (Framework) Census Regulation covering the harmonization of outputs from member states’ censuses of population and housing. This took affect when it was published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 9 July 2008. The regulation provides for the specification of outputs, the means of submission of these to Eurostat, and the requirement to provide metadata and quality reports, to be prescribed by subordinate Commission (Implementing) Regulations. These are currently being drafted with input from the EU Legislation Task Force of which the UK is a member.

2 November 2009 at 12:16  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Your Grace, there is still time to get a dog and train it to eat or tear up anything disagreeable the postie shoves through the letterbox. Mine is trained to understand that postie pinkies are off limits.

Or you could just blame the abscence of a census form on the post office.

Or you could get creative and say that your conversion to the (most likely soon to be mushrooming) Jedi religion precludes giving out private information to snoops in government.

2 November 2009 at 12:29  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Debauched - If I bring a bottle can I join your little soiree?

2 November 2009 at 12:30  
Blogger Tarquin said...

I would like to point out that the Tories are peddling myth

the overnight visitor question is not new, it was there in 2001, 1991 and long before

the only new 'intrusive' question is asking how many of the rooms (again, an old question) are bedrooms - wow, I feel so invaded, if they are going to judge your sleeping habits why not just have a party on the night and make it look like you're swingers?

the Tories are just using the census as a political weapon to feed off the labour 'big brother' image

2 November 2009 at 12:31  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

When is a bedroom a bedroom? Is it the estate agents definition of a bedroom? Or is it only a bedroom if it is actually being used as a bedroom and not for dad's model trains? What if due to family overcrowding someone is sleeping in the lounge at night; is it still a lounge? or does it metamorphose into a bedroom? or is it a lounge/bedroom? It will surely take a massive EU policy directive to cover all the possibilities here and harmonize data.
Why are they asking for this information? Are they really prying into lifestyle choice or could it have something to do with catching out benefit cheats etc? Whatever their motive it will fail because anyone who needs to cover their tracks is likely to be more than capable of skilfully distorting their replies.
This exercise is bureaucratic insanity and a colossal waste of money. Its more sinister aspect is classification by ethnicity and religion.

2 November 2009 at 13:17  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

Anoneumouse brings a new dimension to this subject. What he says is true. The EU has captured it as their competence.

This means that should a householder elect to stand upon Article 8 (right to privacy), and Article 8 is part of the European Convention on Human Rights (imported into domestic legislation under the Human Rights Act 1998) he would be standing upon a non-EU rights instrument.

Should the householder stand on that right and if the State wishes to enforce the penalty for non-compliance with the demands of the Census – it would bring into collision a non-EU rights instrument (Human Rights Act 1998) with an EU Directive.

The conclusion of such a case may decide which is superior: non-EU human rights law or EU law.

2 November 2009 at 13:18  
OpenID yokel said...

Hang on a fingerlickin' minute! PACE Caution??

The PACE caution is to be given to someone who has just been arrested, when it is intended to continue questioning before the person's brief arrives. The first seven words tell us all we need to know under those circumstances "You do not have to say anything ... ".

The threat in the next few words talks about "harming your defence". Defence against what? A dictatorial tyranny keeping its subjects in a state of total servitude?

2 November 2009 at 13:19  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

Does anyone know if this one will actually have a proper representative spread of religious/non-religious options?

2 November 2009 at 13:46  
OpenID yokel said...

Short answer is "No".

For the longer answer, see Spyblog. Look for rule number 17.

2 November 2009 at 14:04  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

What an age we live in. T

The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton was right:

“When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."

2 November 2009 at 15:02  
Blogger TreeSleeper said...

My dog is available for eating census forms. We can travel to accommodate.

2 November 2009 at 15:10  
Blogger haddock said...

since the census started in 1841, visitors have been included.

In the quaint language of the time....
the column heading asked for

'Names of each person who abode therein the preceding Night'.

If the name of the person was not known, it was recorded as N.K."

so nothing new,

later census forms asked for the number of rooms....nothing new there either.

2 November 2009 at 16:10  
Anonymous not a machine said...

There may be many who sense master yoda , would see trouble , he would have made an excellent chancellor , but with count duckoo as PM bound to be trouble "strong is the darkside in him"

constucted a fully operational debt star , he has !

2 November 2009 at 16:18  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

“When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."

That old chestnut.

Nonsense statement. I don't have any belief in god, I don't believe in miracles.

I do put some belief into natural laws in so far as I have not seen alternative things to disprove them.

Therefore I don't believe in anything.


2 November 2009 at 16:34  
Anonymous Dick the Prick said...

Couldn't you just make it up and act like a gibbering fruitcake. 'I had that Osama bin Laden over for tea the other night'.

WV: pedling - something, certainly!

2 November 2009 at 16:56  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

I wouldn't write that, you would probably be held without access to a lawyer for weeks in an underground bunker on terrorism fears.

You would be just as well announcing you had a bomb at the top of your voice in an American airport whilst standing there in nothing but a pair of speedo's.

2 November 2009 at 17:13  
Anonymous Ron Todd said...

The differance between 2011 and 1841 is that we now have more reason than ever to distrust what the government will do with the information.

2 November 2009 at 17:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just glad that we are cracking down on parents trying to get a decent education for their kids.....bloody scum. It was starting to resemble the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

2 November 2009 at 18:15  
Blogger TreeSleeper said...

You know this census form, well I have dead people in my room every night but I don't know what to do with regards to declaring this. Any ideas? They are mostly White British, so would this come under other British? It's too confusing.

2 November 2009 at 18:22  
Anonymous Bethel said...

Er, so when is census night actually? -haven't booked my holiday yet.
Reminds me of when I went to work for a Citizens Advice Bureau and was told to eff orff 3 times in my first week.....pity the poor census clerks...could I entreat everyone to be kindly when telling them to bugger off? Or could I perhaps come round to one of your parties too?

2 November 2009 at 18:54  
Blogger Tarquin said...

Ron Todd said...

"The differance between 2011 and 1841 is that we now have more reason than ever to distrust what the government will do with the information."

Twas truly a great time to be alive, when none of us could vote

we could really trust the government to act in our best interests back then, ...never suspended a few rights or anything

2 November 2009 at 22:59  
Blogger D. Singh said...

That's right Mr Glovner. You are logically consistent.

You can believe or disbelieve in anything - even the tooth fairy. You can even believe that the sun won't rise tomorrow. Or you can believe that it will.

Why should anyone rely on anything you say?

3 November 2009 at 08:05  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

You make no sense, why should having no belief in god allow me to believe the sun won't rise tomorrow.

I will admit that logically there is always a possibility that the sun won't rise, however since my whole life I have seen the sun rise morning after morning it wouldn't be something I would easily believe. As I have experience that makes me think otherwise.

That has absolutely nothing to do with belief in god though. Of which there is no provable experience.

3 November 2009 at 08:52  
Blogger D. Singh said...

It is not so much ‘no belief in God’. It is that belief in Glovner is doubted by Glovner.

3 November 2009 at 08:55  
Blogger ZZMike said...

On your Census Form (as on ours), there should be only two questions:

What's your street address?
How many people live there?

In my country, we allow people to vote without identification. Perhaps you could do something similar: online enumeration. Call it the "i-Census".

And of course, our census forms are distributed in 13 languages (one of which, I'm told, is English).

D. Singh: "... except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

Which means they can ask any darn thing they want and make you answer.

Glovner: "Therefore I don't believe in anything.

Do you belong to (or subscribe to) any political party?


4 November 2009 at 04:01  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

Do you belong to (or subscribe to) any political party?


Short answer would be no. Every one of them is full of shisters that are in it for themselves and have forgotten they are there for the people.

I may vote for the lesser of two evils but still have no belief that they will do the right things when needed.

4 November 2009 at 08:45  
Blogger ZZMike said...

Knighthawk: "When is a bedroom a bedroom? Is it the estate agents definition of a bedroom?"

I remember a not-too-old term, "bed-sitting room". Would that count? Or not?

[PS: There was a great quirky little movie made in 1969:

The Bed Sitting Room

... with the cream of England's talent: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, Spike Milligan, Rita Tushingham, Harry Secombs, ...

5 November 2009 at 20:00  
Anonymous caro said...

If I make it all up, will men with guns come?

24 February 2011 at 11:26  

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