Opinion: Why I will be making trouble for the census

After voting in elections, I doubt there is any civic duty more important than responding to the decennial census. The information it provides to governments for policy making is vital, and often very revealing. It simply is not mentioned enough, but the last time a census was taken, back in 2001, it was found that the population was over a million people smaller than predicted in 2000, and that estimates of the population growth rate, which fueled national hysteria about immigration in the late 1990s were twice what they should have been.

It therefore makes me very sad that the latest census, the first in which I will be able to take part as an adult, is being run by the intelligence gathering arm of the world’s second largest arms dealer, Lockheed Martin. There are two problems with this.

Firstly, as the data is being collected by an American company, and one already working in the fields of intelligence and anti-terrorism, the security of some very personal information could well be compromised. Grave doubts have been raised about the possibility for the data to be seized under the Patriot Act, with Lockheed Martin in no position, either politically or economically, to resist and with a past history of passing on secret information to government clients.

Personally however, this is not the biggest problem for me. Rather it is that Lockheed Martin will use its profits from conducting the UK national census for subsidizing other projects, including the manufacture of Trident nuclear weapons and feeding the arms race across the Middle East. As a Quaker and a pacifist, I cannot allow this to happen without a fight. Although I cannot prevent tax revenues from being used to pay arms dealers, this does not mean that I have to cooperate when they come to call. Therefore, although it is against the law to do so, I find I must chose to withhold my census return this time around.

Of course, the tragedy of this situation is not so much that a few Peaceniks like me might not hand over our census forms when asked to do so. Rather it is that one of our most important civic duties is being sullied and tarnished by association with multinational arms manufacturers. For whatever reason, ethical or practical, people are going to feel unable to cooperate with this census and could have their trust in the state eroded by having to do so. Governments should be making it easy for us to do our civic duty, and to help them make the right choices, and we should not stand by whilst they make it difficult through unnecessary procurement decisions. I hope that by standing up and not being counted in 2011, people like me can help remind future governments of this fact, so that we are not in the same situation in 2021.

Simon Beard is a Quaker, a Philosophy student and a Lib Dem from Sevenoaks, he blogs regularly for ResPublica.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Interesting fact – LM signed up under a Labour Government.

  • Brenda Lana Smith R. 25th Feb '11 - 11:38am

    While I lack Simon Beard’s audacity not to complete the 2011 census… Labour govenrnent contracted or not… my now required doing so does not enhance my future support of our Clegeron government…



  • Frankly no major player in statistics has proven themselves good at handling large amounts of data without losing it while working for HM.gov.

    But given the alternative – starving local authorities & welfare programmes of cash – I must hold my nose and give it up anyway, preferably with some snarky comments on the form for the 2111 geneaologists to poke at.

  • I agree with Simon. As an ethical shopper and investor I make careful decisions about where my money goes. And now I have no choice but to use the services of an arms manufacturer and surveillance service. I do not want this happening again and I will be making things difficult. Having checked the census website it seems there is lots of help available for those having ‘trouble’ filling in the census. I urge everyone who like me is having trouble seeing my census past the landmines and missiles starts by requesting a large print version. Then perhaps a Braille version. And then maybe someone to come round to help you fill in the form. If we make it difficult and (expensive) it may send a message about who we do business with when asking people to fill in a compulsory document.

  • Double standards mate. If you’re sincere about being a quaker and pacifist then you should be withholding your tax as well. Or would that bring just too much trouble to your door?

  • I agree with Simon on this issue, but may I state that it is not a question of political or religious beliefs. I read all the arguments for and against both above and elsewhere. It is not a question of logic.
    Like Stephane Hessel (Indigiguez vous – pamphlet published recently in France and UK) we should be INDIGNANT about the actions of our Government (eg us – we put them there) for both sub-contracting work for the census to LM and for the lack of care that they exercise in protecting our private information. Full stop.
    If that means not filling it in – so be it.

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