Count me out

c: | f: /

The 2011 census form is available online. That means I can pay it the usual amount of attention that crap software requires: next next next next next next Finish.

On the 27th of this month the UK Census machine kicks into action once more. I’ll be following the advice of so-called Underground Grime artist ‘Ghetts’ who told young people to wise up and fill it in; after all it’s such a great way to gain respeck among the people you represent by selling out and promoting government business in your music. Clearly not around during the Punk era.

A further related assumption based on the people he’s targeting: the ability to write and use grammar is not a pre-requisite for completing the form.

The mass debate

Proponents of census data collection cite the fact it shapes communities, and to not fill it out — or use bogus data — prevents vital funding for local amenities. Presumably they’re referring to things like schools which have done such an excellent job in educating the downtrodden masses for 100s of years. School statistics routinely claim improved pass rates year-on-year despite a trip down the high street convincing otherwise. So, yeah, let’s have more of those.

But if it doesn’t help schools, what about other services: housing; hospitals; transport links; libraries? All these things are claimed to be planned from the results of a census. So the info is up to ten years out of date by the time it’s used then? Perhaps that explains why the M25 was built too small, based on plans drawn up in the 1930s.

My guess is that the data is also transcribed (wrongly) into a database by minimum wage trainees or poorly-written software. Either way I trust it as far as I trust my clapped-out car not to disintegrate into a pile of pencil sharpenings when I start it tomorrow.

You gotta have faith-ah-faith-ah-faith-ahhh

The (optional) badly-worded “What is you religion” question always sparks debate. Remember the Jedi debacle in 2001? If I don’t fill it in, am I implying I’m an atheist? A non-practising Jew? A creationist? A humanist? Or lazy?

I wonder how any answer will impact the number of faith schools that pop up in my area? What if there was a Facebook campaign that implored everyone to say they were Buddhist? Would we get some monasteries built? That’d be way cool: they looked awesome when I was in Thailand and would certainly improve the drab skyline of the city.

Thy lips are sealed

Another curiosity I find in the census is that of privacy. Disregarding the fact that the data itself is in the hands of US defence giant Lockheed-Martin and questionable safeguards are in place to prevent data being stored or sent overseas, very few people have asked why it’s still necessary to collect the wealth of information. Surely future genealogists can’t represent such a vast cross-section of society? And government does a remarkable job of undermining civil liberties and screwing up communities without relying on data of questionable veracity to help them.

Census data is supposed to be locked away for an arbitrary 100 years. Nobody except ONS staff are granted access to it. But, it transpires, businesses can request data under the guise of ‘approved researchers’. And anyone in any local council can apply to access the data and can presumably do what they like with it to put out a bid for tender to build a new supermarket or community centre if it befits the purported census demographic; which is to be believed above all common sense because, after all, computers are never wrong.

Further, is nobody in that group of staff, councillors, subbies and researchers open to bribery?

I’m also puzzled why the government need to know what type of house I own, how many bedrooms it has, what type of central heating I use, whether I’m gay, whether I consider myself in good health, how well I can speak English, whether I work, if so what my job is, what grades I got at school, what religion I support and who’s visiting my house on the 27th.

Clearly all this information will allow them to build a new local library and stock it with English lesbian Christian software housing manuals for me to enjoy. Or maybe this is a poorly-conceived psychometric test designed to catch out benefit cheats?

Most of the information is available to other government departments anyway so why they can’t collate it from there — more cheaply than the current system — is beyond me; it’s not like my grades have changed in the last ten years.

Forward march

For those incensed, or even mildly dubious, about the quantity of information being gathered fear not: there are some opportunities for ways out of it:

  1. don’t fill it in, shred it and claim you posted it. If someone calls by to ask why it’s not been received, say you posted it in good faith but Royal Mail must have lost it. All other government departments tell us that proof of postage is not proof of receipt: this is no different. EDIT: Heck, the Inland Revenue told me that the post office lost my tax forms 4 years in a row when all other forms in the same envelopes were received.
  2. go camping on the 27th. Could make for some fabulous answers, or simply don’t bother filling it in at all. If the census gestapo call, tell them you were out and must therefore appear on someone else’s form, even if you were at the pub.
  3. make stuff up. Say you’re androgynous. Say you go to work on a skateboard. Say your have 8 cars (which should trigger a better road or at least resurfacing of your existing one). Say you own 11 passports, including Libyan. Say you have never worked — that the boss pays you but you haven’t done anything useful yet and can’t fire you because you’re mildly disabled. Say your house has 40 rooms and if someone challenges it, show them the wormholes in the space-time continuum in your living room that lead to rooms in parallel dimensions: the fact they can’t see them or they can’t perceive you travelling from room to room across the fabric of space is proof of their narrow-mindedness.
  4. claim dyscalculia for putting the wrong numbers in, or dyslexia for writing bad information, or claim you were blind drunk that night and just couldn’t quite get it right. Nowhere does it say you cannot have a drink on the 27th and nor does it ask for your favourite tipple (yet). The person at the door cannot reveal or alter your erroneous information because they’re bound by the (albeit laughable) Data Protection Act and they’re not ONS employees — just temps.

Plenty to be getting on with. Got any more to add to this list? Go on; be creative.

3 vagabonds left a mark

    Anonymous

    The legislation seems to anticipate some of your plans. In particular, being elsewhere, like at a mate’s house, on the night of the 27th doesn’t negate your ‘duty’ to return a properly completed form — it just means your mate will ‘have’ to rat on in their form’s section for visitors (and you’d have to do the same to them if they were at your place.) Being out camping wouldn’t do it either as the duty falls on you as soon as practicable after the 27th — but at least your mates wouldn’t have to divulge your info.

    For non-Brits wanting to see just what the government is asking folks here in the UK, what the fuss is all about, take a look.

    Looks like your only hope lies in one of the following…

    * Being homeless & thus never receiving a form,
    * Expatriating on a ‘temporary’ basis (long enough to avoid the follow up calls/repeated delivery of forms to your address)
    * Renting your house out (immediately) for a month so the temporary occupant will have to fill out the form and you take a trip to somewhere cheap for a short while,
    * Winning the lottery and thus having a spare £1000 to put aside to pay the fine and help you over being branded with a criminal record,
    * Being dead.

    Stef, what are your plans?

    Stef Dawson

    Shame that. Perhaps if I rented my house out because I was a homeless, dead, ex-pat, that would cover it. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Jack Bauer faked his own death: how hard can it be?

    Alternatively I could just be economical with the truth on the form. One-word answers only.

    Q: "What does your firm do?"
    A: Distribution

    Q: "What is you job title?"
    A: Developer

    etc.

    Anonymous

    If you are seriously thinking of doing that kind of thing then there seem to be two relatively simple paths…

    1) change your name to ‘No-one’

    — or —

    2) have that address as a holiday home.

    In which case; check the last box H1 then check the last box H4 (don’t let friends stay.) Rubric for H6 says fill in H7-H11 and then sign and date.

    Ok, so only option 2 is a real contender.

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