We realise that many thousands (if not millions) of people up and down the country are desperately looking to us for a lead, and had thought to write our own page about the forthcoming Census. However, we find that Janet Street Porter has already done it just as eloquently as we could, so why bother?
Here's the redoubtable and toothsome lady's take on it ...
Ever feel you’re being bullied? That Big Brother is watching, even though the front door is firmly shut? The moment a fat envelope plopped through my letterbox, I felt aggrieved.
The 2011 Census had arrived, with page after page of mind-numbing questions and boxes to tick. I was about to lob it straight in the bin before I suffered a Grumpy Old Woman tantrum (excuse me, Ms Porter, I think you may have infringed our copyright there. Oh, all right then, we'll overlook it this time - GOS), until I read this ominous message on page one: ‘Taking part is compulsory. You may face a fine if you don’t participate or if you supply false information.’
It was from Jil (why not two Ls?) Matheson, National Statistician, who adds: ‘Help tomorrow take shape.’
I don’t mind filling in a simple form confirming who I am and who lives in my house.
But this census goes way beyond that. Apart from needing to know my qualifications, where I was last week, what kind of central heating I have and what religion I am, it also needs to know the exact status of my sexual partnership and who has been visiting lately and whether they stayed the night. I’m surprised we’re not asked about our bowel movements, flossing régime and whether we prefer Waitrose to Tesco.
How can the simple job of gathering information about the population once every ten years, which started out in 1801 as a single sheet of paper, have morphed into this costly (£480?million and rising) exercise during a period of national financial hardship? If we can’t afford help for carers, child day-care centres, meals on wheels and libraries, how can we bloody well afford this grandiose census? We are told it’s justified because the information allows the Government to plan grants to local authorities and to decide how much money to allocate for future health care.
The stuff about our homes helps to formulate future strategy for housing. If we tell them how we get to work, apparently it will help with the planning of transport systems and new roads. And pigs can fly. Every time a new road, bus or rail route is planned, what happens? There’s a fresh consultation exercise. Ditto when it comes to new housing and hospitals — there’s always a need for up-to-date information and research. More questionnaires, more information, more money spent.
I shall put my name on the census form and sign it — that information is already on the Electoral Roll. But no more. Jil Matheson can plan our future together without knowing what kind of heating I have.
I might not be quite so angry if I hadn’t discovered the government chose to award the £150million contract to manage the census to the UK subsidiary of U.S. arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin. This giant aerospace company makes cluster bombs, Trident nuclear missiles, F-35 fighter aircraft as well as the Next Generation ID system used by the FBI, which allows fingerprints and biometric data to be rapidly distributed to 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. This company makes huge profits out of different ways of killing people.
And it gets worse. Lockheed Martin has subcontracted the handling of the information we provide to a company called UK Data Capture. Its two main shareholders are Edexcel and Vangent. Edexcel has a poor record of handling data to do with exam results and was criticised by Tony Blair. Vangent is the U.S. company whose employees illegally accessed President Obama’s student loan details.
Add to this the long list of data disasters which have plagued government departments, including HM Revenue, Pensions and the NHS, and you can see why handing over personal details could make us feel anxious. Hardly a month passes without information being lost by civil servants — so even though census information is kept confidential for 100 years, you can expect to discover some has turned up on a memory stick on a train in the Home Counties.
I cheered when ID cards got the chop. I refused to hand over my personal details to the NHS for its dubious Summary Care Records, and now I plan to tell Jil Matheson where she can stick her Census.
The GOS says: Well, I don't know what all the fuss is about. If you've done nothing wrong, you've nothing to fear ... erm ... surely that must be right?
The real trouble with the Census is that only nice law-abiding, middle-class people will do it. You don't seriously think they're going to get a whole host of meaningful responses from housing estates in Dagenham and traveller sites in Basildon, do you? And so far as the Census goes we fully expect 90% of Bradford to suddenly disappear off the face of the earth, because there's no way many Muslim households will want anyone to know just how many illegals they're cramming into each bedroom, and besides, it's white man's magic, isn't it?
We'd just like to add one or two other thoughts ...
As head of the household I can, if I wish, complete the Census form on behalf of other members of my household. I think I'm going to make my wife a Hindu, my son a Rastafarian, my daughter a Muslim and my lodger a Jedi Knight. Myself I intend to describe as a follower of Fairy Lore. Let's face it, all religion is just fairy stories. Why the hell does any of it find a place in an official government census? They might as well ask us whether we prefer Batman or Spiderman.
We note (well, actually it was pointed out by Suzanne Moore; we've decided not to think for ourselves this week) that there is no category for Humanism or Atheism. OK, an atheist really has no religion at all, and there's a box to tick for that. But Humanism involves a set of beliefs, doesn't it, so doesn't that make it a religion?
Another problem is the muddling between ethnicity and religion: thus to be Jewish or a Sikh is a religious category, whereas some Sikhs and most Jews would define themselves as ethnically Sikh or Jewish.
The section on Ethnicity is absolute nonsense. We have no idea what our ethnicity is - the English are a mongrel race at best, and how can we tell whether there's a touch of the tarbrush or a little yellow streak a few generations back? Any answers we give about ethnicity will be guesswork. And the jibe about white man's magic turns out to be rather close to the mark. Different wording on the census forms for Wales and Scotland allows different identities, so one may be “Black Scottish” but not “Black English”. This is what happens when you try to neatly parcel up the unparcelable and officiously categorise the uncategorisable. It's important, too: it means that many thousands of English people who happen to have black skin are denied the opportunity of being English, as though they must forever be branded as interlopers. I thought this was exactly what we didn't want to happen?
The BNP must be delighted to have it confirmed officially that you can only be English if you're white. Don't forget, you read it here first.
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