As at the time of blogging this, there are only 32 days to Census Day on 27 March 2011. On that day every household will be required to complete and return a census survey (on pain of a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal record) with information on every member living at that address including any overnight visitors!
The first census conducted in March 1801 revealed a total population for England and Wales of just under 9 million. By 2001, the population in England and Wales had grown to over 52 million (58 million in the UK). Every ten years the census provides a benchmark. It not only counts the population but tells us about the percentage of young and old, what jobs people do, the type of housing we live in, our ethnicity and religion.
So why is it important that we should have an accurate head count of people living in Britain? These statistics will be relied upon by a myriad of organisations and government departments in resourcing and planning for future services. The building of schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure as well as support services. The current public sector cuts may not be as painful had local authorities been properly funded based on more accurate figures of their local population.
Some of the questions in the Census have inevitably changed over the decades. We no longer record people as ‘insane’ or ‘idiots’ (curiously). And for the first time, there will be a new category under ethnicity of “Arabs and others”. The previous innovation in 2001 was the “Chinese and others” category. Despite protestations from different quarters, Chinese will now be subsumed under the general category of “Asians”.
Also for the first time, 44 community advisors have been employed to assist with outreach to the different minority communities in Great Britain. Speaking to one of the Community advisors at the launch of the big purple bus in Tower Hamlets yesterday, I was pleased to hear of his strategy to engage businesses and students to help with the survey.
However I believe they will still need to get the following messages out loud and clear to the public to ensure maximum returns of surveys:
- The Census survey is compulsory for all residents including those who are students or visitors, as long as they have been living here for the last 3 months or intend to stay in the UK for at least 3 months.
- The Census results will be confidential and the Office of National Statistics will not divulge individuals’ details to the public nor pass them on to Border Immigration.
- And, perhaps more controversially, that community centres, places of worship and charitable organisations should be allowed to assist their users and beneficiaries in completing the Census and offer their addresses as safe havens.
It is estimated that as many as many as 3 million were not counted at the last Census. There has also been speculation that the Census in 2011, at an estimated cost of £482 million, may be the last of its kind. In future, data could be gathered from records held by the Post Office, local government and credit checking agencies which are thought to be more effective and economic.
Finally there’s a helpline (with 56 different languages) available from 4 March (0300 0201 101 ) or online help at http://www.census.gov.uk.
Merlene Emerson is a candidate for London Assembly 2012.