Monday, 28 March 2011

If You Haven't Yet Filled Out The Census ...

That census form still sitting there, is it? Wondering how best to fill it out? Well, as luck would have it, a member of the legal profession has kindly e-mailed your humble host with a few hints and tips.

I thought it rude not to share.

Many people I know have asked me for a view of the census, given its entirely intrusive nature, and whether they should answer the questions in it.

The Census is authorised by the Census Act 1920.

The legal requirement is that orders and regulations be made in respect of each census that is required.

These are the Census (England and Wales) Order 2009 and the Census (England) Regulations 2010. (As you will appreciate I live in England).

As far as I am able to ascertain the types and classes of information that may be requested have not been altered from the original Census Act 1920, save for the Census (Amendment) Act 2000 which added Religion, but which also provided that no penalty can arise for a refusal to answer questions about a person’s religion.

Under the Census Act 1920 the Matters In Respect of Which Particulars May Be Required, and in respect of which answers must be given on pain of a fine, are as follows:

1. Names, sex, age.
2. Occupation, profession, trade or employment.
3. Nationality, birthplace, race, language.
4. Place of abode and character of dwelling.
5. Condition as to marriage or civil partnership , relation to head of family, issue born in marriage.
6. Any other matters with respect to which it is desirable to obtain statistical information with a view to ascertaining the social or civil condition of the population.

One could legitimately argue, in my view, that the particulars therefore required are as follows, as an example:

Q: What is your name? Particulars: Your Name
Q: What is your occupation, profession, trade or employment? Particulars: Job Title.

That is a legitimate response and in line with the legislation as far as I am concerned but, as so many Acts of Parliament do, there is a catch all – and this is clause 6.

So, 1-5 are clear. 6 is not. There is no definition or interpretation in the Act, or in any later legislation (primary or secondary) or case law that I can find (and I have looked), of what “social or civil condition” means. “Desirable” of course they think means desirable to the powers that be and essentially clause 6 might be seen as giving the government the right to ask anything it damn well pleases on pain of a fine (but that arguably cannot be the case under the sui generis principle, particularly in an Act that prescribes only limited matters as being permitted subjects of the requirement for particulars). Further, it is at least arguable that what is desirable is tested on an objective basis and not on the basis of the subjective power grabbing masturbatory fantasies of our suited parasitic millionaire politicians. But, best not to forget that the fine on level 3 of the standard scale (£1000) applies to each offence - and each question refused, unanswered, or answered falsely, is a separate offence.

But, stretching the matter from particulars as set out in the Census Act 1920 to any damn question they like about:

- your central heating;
- whether you have a mortgage;
- whether you rent;
- whether you own property outright;
- whether you stay at another address for more than 30 days each year;
- whether you live somewhere else during term time if you are at school;
- if you don’t have a job when you last worked;
- whether you are looking for work;
- whether you would have been able to start a new job within 2 weeks if one had been available in the last week;
- whether you have ever worked;
- whether you are employed;
- your full job title;
- details of what you do in your job;
- whether you supervised other employees;
- your employer’s main business activity;
- your employer’s business address;
- how you travel to work;
- how many hours a week you work;
- which visitors are with you on census night and their own personal address details;
- whether you address is armed forces, student digs, holiday home, parents address, etc;
- whether you are a carer for anyone and how much time you spend doing this; - how good your health is;
- how long you intend to stay in the UK;
- who your landlord is;
- how many cars or vans you own;
- what your address was one year ago;
- what passports you hold;
- whether your day to day activities are limited because of a health problem;
- what qualifications you have;

... is just a monumental piss take.

The full list of matters to which you MUST respond, and aptly evidencing prodnose, intrusive, and highly unnecessary authoritarianism, can be found on the relevant website which is, if you can be bothered, here.

I think, given that the populations’ social or civil condition was previously ascertainable by many fewer and a lot less intrusive questions, and that the Census Act 1920 does indeed prescribe limited matters upon which you can be forced to provide information, that I will write on all of the above – “Not necessary to ascertain the social or civil condition of the population”.

In respect of any question about a third party, (and some might, as I will, include their own children and spouse/partner in this), I will answer that “I am not authorised by any third party to provide any of their personal details, (and such statement is not to be taken that there are any third parties present on census night)”.

Bear in mind that the government states that the reason for the census is this:

"The information collected on the questionnaires is used to help government and local authorities plan the services and resources people need, such as transport, housing, healthcare and education. The amount of money your council has to spend on these important services is based on population statistics from the census. That is why it is so important that everyone takes part."

That is not a permissible objective under the Census Act 1920 as far as I can see – the purpose of the Census in the Act is to ascertain the social and civil condition of the population. It is not so that your local authority knows how much to spend on services. One might argue that they amount to the same thing, but in reality they do not. If the objective was to plan local services then the legislation would say so.

We are also not told that the government has already signed an agreement to pass ALL of your answers to the EU, and the US has claimed that ALL census answers must be provided to it under its Patriot Act. Nice to know that our US cousins still view us all as potential terrorists. You also have no idea where this information will end up. It will be sold, provided to private corporations here and abroad, and in essence although the census forms don’t say so, provision of the information requested constitutes your agreement to all of this. Of course it will also be left on a train somewhere by someone who earns more than you and whose pension you will pay for even though you will have to work until you drop dead at your desk.

Then, of course, there is Article 8 relating to your Human Right to Respect for Private and Family Life. It is not disputed that this right applies to personal information.

The Article says:

"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."

Ok so we’re looking at the economic well-being of the country. The suggestion that knowing how many cars I have, and most of the other guff, is vital to the economic well-being of the country is laughable. I also therefore intend to write across all of the above questions that it breaches my Article 8 rights.

They will get my name, address, what type of property I live in, sex, age, job, nationality, marital status, (non-bastard) childrens’ names (maybe), maybe who is the head of the family (my wife, natch), and NOTHING else.
A follow-up e-mail confirmed that his form was indeed returned in the manner described above. And for the religion question? Smoker, naturally.


Anonymous said...

I don't trust the Government with data, so I shifted my D.O.B. by two days to lessen the chance of identity theft. Unless the data is sold to Astrologists, this shouldn't matter. Most research uses months as the smallest interval. Of course, Religion? Yobacco Smoker.

Anonymous said...

My religion was also filled in as "smoker"

How many others did the same.

Anonymous said...

As our most esteemed religious person in this country said it is non o fthe states business what your religion is I am putting that down! Although claiming "smoker" as my religion although I am not one is tempting! I do not hold you being a smoker against you, just like me not being a smoker should mean you do not hold it against me. (I have suffered with bad chests since I was SIX (perfect before that) which is why I do not smoke.

Clueless said...

There was a census?

Neal Asher said...

Well, if you're a smoker you could always spend an evening breathing cigarette smoke into the envelope before posting it - try to take out a few bureaucrats with that lethal third-hand smoke. Non-smokers, alternatively, could fart into it beforehand.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Clueless: Yes, though I'm struggling to find the enthusiasm and time to complete mine. I have other pressing things to do ... this blog doesn't write itself, you know. ;)

Neal: Like your style.

Longrider said...

I've not completed mine either. Can't be bothered to rush. Besides, fiction takes time to properly construct. ;)

Little Black Sambo said...

Don't fill it out, fill it in. That will confuse them.

Joe Public said...

Thanks for sharing the info, Dick.