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Census question questions

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Mark Easton | 17:14 UK time, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Nick Hurd has won the distinction of being the first Conservative MP to get a rollicking from the official statistics watchdog, the UK Statistics Authority.

Undated handout photo of a page of the 1881 census recordsYou may have read Mr Hurd's claims at the weekend that the 2011 census provided evidence that Labour wanted to snoop on people's sleeping arrangements. For the first time, people may be asked to provide details of the number of bedrooms they have as well as the names, sex and birth dates of any overnight guests in their homes.

His statement to the Press Association read thus:

"An increasingly invasive and intrusive Census will erode public support, cost more and result in a less accurate survey. Just because the Government has the legal powers to ask these questions does not give the state the licence to ask anything they want. These bedroom snoopers are yet another sign of how the Labour Government has no respect [for] the privacy of law-abiding citizens."

Now the head of the UKSA, Sir Michael Scholar, has written to Mr Hurd [36Kb PDF]:

I was concerned to read the comments attributed to you in the press about the Census proposals, particularly the ill-founded suggestion that they are a licence to snoop into people's private lives

The letter goes on to explain that the census questions "have been designed and tested by the Office for National Statistics after extensive consultation, and approved for submission to Parliament by the Board of the UK Statistics Authority."

"It is quite wrong to give the impression that they are initiatives of government Ministers," Sir Michael points out.

I have just spoken to Mr Hurd, who had not seen the letter which was only recently delivered by e-mail. I read its contents to him whereupon the Conservative Shadow Minister for Charities, Social Enterprises and Volunteering told me: "I stand by my remarks and I am not really interested in saying anything more."

I pressed him as to why he had used the phrase "bedroom snoopers" and attributed the questions to the "Labour Government" when the census information is, as Sir Michael Scholar reminds him, "wholly confidential" and not a party political matter. "I have said what I want to say," Mr Hurd replied, ending the conversation.

It is possible that the inclusion of bedrooms and sleeping arrangements in the proposed Census Questions suggested an opportunity to cast the other side as central control freaks.

But "[t]he question about the number of bedrooms is to help local councils establish whether and where accommodation in their areas is overcrowded," in the words of Sir Michael.

"The question about overnight visitors is needed to achieve more accurate estimates of the whole population, by ensuring that people away from home are included in the Census."

I would have thought this is just the kind of key information that Mr Hurd would welcome, given his interest in sustainable communities. His website explains how it was he who initiated the Sustainable Communities Act to "give local people much greater power over the way in which taxpayers' money is spent in their community".

The distribution of funds is, of course, linked to census population data.

Mr Hurd told me he didn't know who Sir Michael Scholar was. In fact, Sir Michael was former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Private Secretary at the time when Mr Hurd's father - Douglas (now Lord) Hurd - was Home Secretary.

He is now on the case of any politician - from whatever background - who he believes undermines confidence in official statistics.


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  • 1. At 5:57pm on 27 Oct 2009, simonofoxford wrote:

    The fact that this has been tested and approved by this particular body does not make it an appropriate question to ask.

    There is no need for the state to know this much detail about our lives.

    Whether or not it was at the behest of ministers is neither here nor there - it is about the limits of the state.

    The UKSA should limit itself to things that are really vital - not trying to monitor every little nook and cranny of our one great land.

    At some point, the state must accept it cannot - and should not - know everything.

    As Wolfie Smith once said 'Power to the people' - not the state

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  • 2. At 6:15pm on 27 Oct 2009, CComment wrote:

    So this intrusive nonsense isn't down to government snoopers - it's down to civil service statistician snoopers. That's all right then - we can sleep easy in our bed(s). Caledonian Comment

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  • 3. At 6:31pm on 27 Oct 2009, John1948 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 6:57pm on 27 Oct 2009, Ian Berry wrote:

    I don't think Nick Hurd has exactly covered himself in glory with these interventions.

    Before this story broke, I was well aware who Sir Michael Scholar was, but had never heard of Mr Hurd.

    At least he has rectified that, but not in a good way, as they say!

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  • 5. At 7:28pm on 27 Oct 2009, John Ellis wrote:

    But "[t]he question about the number of bedrooms is to help local councils establish whether and where accommodation in their areas is overcrowded," in the words of Sir Michael.

    No its to find out if rented property is under populated IE a couple living in a 4 bed house has 3 bedrooms to many so will be moved to suitable location via LHA payments. This in turn frees up property for larger families.

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  • 6. At 7:50pm on 27 Oct 2009, studentforever wrote:

    If anyone has been involved in family history research many of the victorian censuses included number of rooms (not bedrooms) in house, and all, after 1851, included visitors. It was those sleeping in the house on the appropriate date. The absence of a family name on the census return did not therefore imply the death of the child - it was quite often found at the house of a relation or neighbour!

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  • 7. At 8:51pm on 27 Oct 2009, rochcarlie wrote:

    Was asked this question when on the phone arranging house insurance. The insurers wanted to know the number of bedrooms. I have eight rooms in the house, but as I live on my own, I just keep a bed in the one. The insurance company was only interested in bedrooms, not the number of rooms or how I designated the others. I enquired if by bedroom did they mean a room with a bed in it, or a room which a bed could occupy. They would not or could not answer the question.
    What is meant by a bedroom?

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  • 8. At 8:53pm on 27 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:


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  • 9. At 8:56pm on 27 Oct 2009, Rustigjongens wrote:

    Poster 3, rather then spout your normal anti-Conservative rubbish, why dont you actally debate the actual issues raised by Mr Hurd?.

    It may be beyond you but even the Guardian believes that the questions in this proposed census have gone too far.

    Explain why you think that some of these questions are relevant?, and then explain why you are in the minority who support this scope creep.

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  • 10. At 9:05pm on 27 Oct 2009, flawedlogic wrote:

    . At 6:31pm on 27 Oct 2009, Boilerbill wrote:
    There are two very concerning aspects of this.

    The first is the low level of thought (I could have said intelligence) of some MPs. To accuse the head of the UKSA of being a minister's pawn when he rose to fame by attacking ministers' use of statistics seems likely to be on shaky ground. It is on par with that Nadine Somebody or the other who blamed New Labour for failed policies driving people towards the BNP, neglecting to offer any policies of her own party which might have interested them.


    Looks like yet another nu-Labour apologist attempts to deflect public anger over this idiotic survey by blaming everyone else, and even manages to attempt to blame a party that has been out of power for a decade for nu-Labours disastrous immigration policies which have made some people vote for the BNP.

    Looks to me like Boilerbill reqires a service, especially with the amount of methane he is producing!.

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  • 11. At 9:05pm on 27 Oct 2009, tarquin wrote:

    I'm glad you picked this up, Mark - I also found his comments particularly foolish and it's good to know the UKSA followed them up too

    The fact is, the only new question will relate to the number of bedrooms (in addition to the old 'number of rooms'), 'overnight visitors' is not a new question at all and only relates to census night so that no-one is missed, from the way Hurd and several media outlets were talking the census was asking who was staying every night

    It was also implied that the questioning was a government directive, continuing the theme that labour are intrusive, however it was, as you say, independent - and the sole, new 'intrusive' question asks how many bedrooms you have - was this one question, that would be published by any estate agent, really worth these remarks which undermine the census, simply to get a cheap party political shot in at labour?

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  • 12. At 11:06pm on 27 Oct 2009, Baldeeheed wrote:

    Wholly irrelevant as far as I, and others that I've spoken to, are concerned.

    We are so utterly disillusioned with the way this country is being governed that we have absolutely no intention of completing the Census in 2011.

    Indeed, I'm not cooperating with any Government diktats, regardless of which corrupt, self-serving mob are in power.

    Go ahead and prosecute. Make my day.

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  • 13. At 11:26pm on 27 Oct 2009, Pogo wrote:

    Other than the name, age and sex of whoever is in the house at the relevent time, it's none of their damned business.

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  • 14. At 11:37pm on 27 Oct 2009, stnylan wrote:

    If I do have a visitor on that particular day, I will not enter in the information. It's no business of local government, central government, whitehall bureaucrats, statisticians, or people in 100 years time when the damned things will be released who is staying in my house. Likewise, as I did last census I will resolutely enter my ethnic identity as Other - Human.

    The fact that Sir Michael clearly tries to dismiss legitimite concerns over the reach of government into our private lives is not surprising from a man whose business it is to be a nosy parker.

    Besides, the idea that any data will enable local councils to plan intelligently is laughable.

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  • 15. At 11:43pm on 27 Oct 2009, purple wrote:

    There is now a manifest requirement for personal DATA in the UK. That being so the requirements should be met by those in authority and power as a first and the information should be openly available to common public scrutiny and regularly updated and checked. That is reasonable and fair.

    Councils get ‘Al Capone’ power to seize assets over minor offences starting from next week and all those running such authorities and exercising such powers must be accountable to open public scrutiny. In respect of Cencus applied to public officials the information gathered must be far more scrupulous than exists currently and available openly to one and all.

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  • 16. At 11:50pm on 27 Oct 2009, Jon Cooper wrote:

    I don't know anyone who is planning to fill it all in - can't lock everyone up.

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  • 17. At 00:00am on 28 Oct 2009, injected wrote:

    I think Nick Hurd is exactly right, and these extra questions definitely make me less inclined to complete the document. Who on earth has been consulted on this? Fwiw, I also find Mark Easton's sneering, intellectually-elitist tone offensive and wholly inappropriate for a BBC employee.

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  • 18. At 00:29am on 28 Oct 2009, busby2 wrote:

    Will white English people be able to describe themselves on the census as White/English? My understanding is that the English are not going to be recognised as an ethnic group in our own land, something which Nick Hurd, a white Englishman should be concerned about.

    As for the point about bedrooms, Nick Hurd is right to complain. Bedroom is a term open to interpretation: if someone had turned a bedroom into, for example, an office, a storeroom or a playroom, how should this be described on the census? They should stick to counting the number of rooms, not bedrooms, because the answers they will get on the numbers of bedrooms will not be statistically accurate! I am surprised that Sir Michael Scholar has not worked this out and he is the so called expert!!

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  • 19. At 00:36am on 28 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    I think the census is irrelevant because the government really has absolutely no clue who is in the country or not. How many foreign spies, terrorists, criminals? Are they currently looking for students who've overstayed their visas? Are they checking for the numerous fake passports and visas that enter the country on a regular basis? Are they checking the identity of "English citizens" who are who they say they are? The English shouldn't worry that their government isn't really protecting them. Relax!!! It's all part of the same horse and pony show.
    We do it in America too. That fact alone should give you some comfort.

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  • 20. At 01:31am on 28 Oct 2009, tarquin wrote:

    18. Busby2

    There will be an option in the 2011 census to tick 'english', as the Mail report (and as is available at the ons website)

    In 2001 the options were white - British or Irish, with a box to put whatever you wanted

    They are also still counting the total number of rooms, number of bedrooms will be a sub-question - this is being done to address the very problem that you set out, so that if you have say, 8 rooms, it can be determined if there are several 'living' rooms and only 2 bedrooms, or if there are as many as 4

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  • 21. At 07:37am on 28 Oct 2009, John1948 wrote:

    I think that anecdotal evidence is much more reliable than carefully collected data. My mates down the pub have a much better knowledge of the living conditions of everyone in the country and can consequently plan things much more carefully. They know that everyone who lives in Notting Hill is rich and lives in posh houses and that everyone who lives in Mosside is poorly educated and lives in squalid conditions (apologies to both places).

    Without data it is possible to make outrageous claims based on prejudice. More importantly without data decisions are made on the basis of who can present their point of view most loudly and most persuasively (may be honest, maybe dishonest). Perhaps that is what is meant by the Free Market. Of course every organisation tries to keep information up to date, but there is drift and so we need the National Stock Take. Those who do not take part will be in no position to complain when their needs are not met.

    As for the 'overnight guest' question, I would like to know if they have a permenant home or not as I think 'crashing on a mate's floor' hides the homeless problem. The bedroom question is also very important as one of the reasons given for educational under achievement is lack of a place at home where a child can study. The person who enters 'human' when asked about ethnicity might be making a point, but those who enter 'white English' obviously are getting ethnicity and nationality confused.

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  • 22. At 08:37am on 28 Oct 2009, ikamaskeip wrote:

    Well, asking a few questions about bedrooms and overnight visitors is hardly a shattering intrusion.

    Mind you, I do wonder how the present 650 miscreants currently lining the corridors and seats of the Palace of Westminster would manage to answer them?

    Q1) How many bedrooms do you have when combining your 2, 3, 4 homes?
    Q2) How many overnight visitors are members of your personal staff 'assisting' in your parliamentary activities?
    Q3) What is the sex of those 'assisting' visitors?
    Q4) Which ones are 'family' members?
    and, Q5) Does your Wife/Husband know?

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  • 23. At 09:03am on 28 Oct 2009, stanblogger wrote:

    Mr Hurd's statement is a good example of the general sillyness of politics nowadays.

    I suppose that an extreme right wing libertarian might challenge the need to have a census at all, if he or she believes that establishing exactly where people are on a particular night is an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

    But to object to making the census as accurate as possible by including guests is not sensible and to refer to this as "bedroom snooping" is merely an attempt to attract headlines in the popular press.

    Mr Hurd should be asked to state clearly, for the information of voters in his constituency, whether or not he opposes having a census.

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  • 24. At 09:09am on 28 Oct 2009, PeterH wrote:

    Whether or not the census was designed by politicians is irrelevant. The remarks of Mr Hurd still stand to a point (although he should apologise for getting the source wrong).

    Why does it matter how many bedrooms I have? The only possible use for this will be to increase, if possible, my council tax bills.

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  • 25. At 09:28am on 28 Oct 2009, angelscomeinthrees wrote:

    Nick Hurd doesn't come out of this at all well, but sadly the authorities have been shown that they will use data for purposes other than that for which it was collected. Not sure why the number of bedrooms in my private house is relevant to helping overcrowding, even if we were sleeping four to a room we wouldn't get any help from the local council. I take the point about a mate sleeping on the floor technically being 'homeless', but do we seriously think that every person registered as such will be offered help? Thought not - and maybe they wouldn't want to be. We've been informed that the files held on our kids may be used for 'research' and I suspect this information will be used in teh same way.

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  • 26. At 09:42am on 28 Oct 2009, calmandhope wrote:

    Don't quite see why its any of their business who I have at my house that night or any night to be honest. Agree with laugh_on about the council tax though. I'm quite tempted to have an all night party just to put the numbers up on my "overnight guests".

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  • 27. At 09:51am on 28 Oct 2009, calmandhope wrote:

    Also do hotels have to fill these in?

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  • 28. At 09:53am on 28 Oct 2009, Lazarus wrote:

    #13 pogo50

    Other than the name, age and sex of whoever is in the house at the relevent time, it's none of their damned business.



    I'm also curious as to how Jacqui Smith fills in her census, or whether it'll be her sister filling it in for her...

    Naturally I also assume that all the public's concerns will be ignored, and I suspect that in future we will also wind up being questioned on our political affiliations, sexual preferences, and other personal data which will "assist" our local and national governments to plan for the future. After all, they already ask for our religious views, which is also a matter of personal conscience and nobody else's business.

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  • 29. At 10:01am on 28 Oct 2009, delminister wrote:

    any thing as long as after the census the government does more to remove non indiginous peoples whom are here illegaly.

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  • 30. At 10:03am on 28 Oct 2009, HardWorkingHobbes wrote:

    My big concern is will I still be able to put down Jedi as my religion?

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  • 31. At 10:12am on 28 Oct 2009, Steve wrote:

    I would draw attention to the fact that, in previous comments, the Census Authority has indicated that the acceptability of asking these questions was considered when assessing whether they should be included.

    However, upon reading the consultation documents, I was absolutely shocked to see that there was no mention of this in the assessment, that I could see.

    It is positively outrageous that these questions will be asked, and the abuse of this data that will inevitably follow could be highly detrimental to the lives of many people across the country. The Government has no right at all to know who is staying at my house; and the private companies they will sell the data to most certainly do not.

    (In case there are any Conservatives watching this - tell me you'll remove these questions before the Census happens, and I'll vote for you.)

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  • 32. At 10:14am on 28 Oct 2009, Mark_WE wrote:

    "djlazarus wrote:

    I'm also curious as to how Jacqui Smith fills in her census, or whether it'll be her sister filling it in for her..."

    I don't think Jacqui would have much need to stay with her sister in 2011 as she is unlikely to actually get re-elected :)

    My problem with the census is that listing over night guests could potentially lead to some people being listed twice which would defeat the entire point of a census

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  • 33. At 11:01am on 28 Oct 2009, StrongholdBarricades wrote:

    Gobbledygook at its best

    Why do you need to know more than numbers?

    Will having my name, dob and occupation not much more easily facilitate identity fraud?

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  • 34. At 11:11am on 28 Oct 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    As you suggest the main point of the census is to get to the bottom of the question of how many people we have - nationally and locally.

    One issue here is obviously the uncontrolled and unmonitored influx of population. Some these new people are living in very 'concentrated' circumstances. They are not living in permanent addresses with a nuclear family.

    One example I encountered recently had a 2 bedroom house with 3 new arrivals in one bedroom, two in another bedroom and two more in what used to be the lounge of a single house. None of them owned or lived permanently at the house. Trying to get to the bottom of how many people lived on that street would need questions like the ones you mentioned.

    To be realistic, the census will still not answer the question 'how many people live in the UK?' Most or all of the people I mentioned above will NOT declare themselves on any forms to the authorities. Some are not here lawfully, none are working lawfully, none are paying tax.

    In the US the presence of huge numbers of undocumented people has resulted in them dropping any attempts at 100% sampling. They take a careful sample and actively target those addresses to get an accurate picture of a sample of homes. Then they multiply up.

    Our old fashioned 100% census just wont give an accurate figure. But then again is that what this government actually wants?

    Would this government actually want any of us to know the accurate population figure?

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  • 35. At 11:16am on 28 Oct 2009, expatinnetherlands wrote:

    Mr. Hurd's comments have served a very useful purpose.

    This issue is now being aired and (hopefully) constructively discussed.

    My opinion is that the NuLab gravitates too easily to the centralised "big brother" model. As if they have to be nannying control-freaks to justify their existance.

    The UK has less community feeling and more problems as a result.

    Thank you Mr. Hurd, you are standing up for the correct values.

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  • 36. At 11:52am on 28 Oct 2009, Lazarus wrote:

    #34 jon

    To be realistic, the census will still not answer the question 'how many people live in the UK?' Most or all of the people I mentioned above will NOT declare themselves on any forms to the authorities. Some are not here lawfully, none are working lawfully, none are paying tax.

    In the US the presence of huge numbers of undocumented people has resulted in them dropping any attempts at 100% sampling. They take a careful sample and actively target those addresses to get an accurate picture of a sample of homes. Then they multiply up.

    Our old fashioned 100% census just wont give an accurate figure. But then again is that what this government actually wants?


    I can just picture the press conference now - Ministers declare victory on the immigration and overpopulation issues! New census figures released confirm the UK population has actually fallen to a very reasonable 15million, none of which are here illegally!

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  • 37. At 12:09pm on 28 Oct 2009, Phil Rogers wrote:

    Could this be a back-door method of doing Council Tax band re-assessment?

    Ok, the UKSA don't have anything to do with that, but once the data has been captured, who knows where it will end up?

    There's also the question of what is a bedroom? Only two of the three "bedrooms" in my Victorian house are habitable because the house is undergoing extensive restoration.

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  • 38. At 12:37pm on 28 Oct 2009, stanilic wrote:

    The census is all nonsense anyway.

    Last time in 2001 I had to jump through hoops just to get a Census Form to fill in. We live out in the sticks and never saw any official or experienced any delivery of a Census Form to complete. This was totally at variance with our earlier expereinces when we lived in a town.

    I was all for ignoring it but She Who Must Be Obeyed was very agitated that we were not fulfilling our legal obligations. So once I had got a Census Form sent to us and completed it, I then found I had to jump through even more hoops to get the official envelope in which to return it. It was an utterly absurd and negative experience.

    If there is no attempt this time to try to include everyone in the country then what is the point of it? I would suggest they concentrate on getting the quality of the information correct rather than getting excited over any vicarious quantity.

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  • 39. At 12:58pm on 28 Oct 2009, aop2727 wrote:

    These questions have been pretty much the same since 1841 so whoever thinks there's been scope creep needs to take the matter up with Viscount Melbourne who was the Prime Minister of the day.

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  • 40. At 1:05pm on 28 Oct 2009, DisgustedOfMitcham2 wrote:

    Well, whether it's ministers or civil servants designing the questions (and, BTW, are we really supposed that this control freak government has no influence whatsoever on how the ONS design the questionnaire?) I still think that asking about overnight guests is intrusive.

    But more importantly, why on earth is their no tick box on the form under the question on religion for Britain's 4th largest religion, namely Jedi?

    Clearly not enough people put down Jedi last time. If we can double the number of Jedi this time, then surely they'll have to provide a tick box for it in 2021.

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  • 41. At 1:26pm on 28 Oct 2009, kaybraes wrote:

    These questions are no business of either the civil service or those people (national or local government ). These are personal private matters that individuals should not be required to answer. The whole point of the census is nonsense; counting population ? because it will not be counting those who should not be in Britain anyway and they are certainly not going to advertise their presence.The idea or suggestion that this helps councils to know how many people are around and how many bedrooms someone has is to say the least, nonsense, the council snoopers are already aware of these facts, which they use to apply their obscene levels of council tax.

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  • 42. At 1:32pm on 28 Oct 2009, Breakfast-Maker wrote:

    Poster 13 has it absolutely spot on, I repeat:

    "Other than the name, age and sex of whoever is in the house at the relevent time, it's none of their damned business."

    Exactly what purpose do they need more information on us for? Social engineering springs to mind.

    I intend to give the bare minimum of info and just lie about the rest.

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  • 43. At 1:52pm on 28 Oct 2009, Peter Galbavy wrote:

    When the 2001 census came around I filled in those parts of the form I believed to be non-intrusive and I also proceeded to ask awkward questions about Data Protection and how the data would be handled and what use it would be put to and why was the scope of the personal data so wide. I never got answers so the form was never returned. It sat on the side for about 2 years in case someone wanted to give me some answers, but nothing ever happened.

    While there are pompous posturings by senior (un)civil servants and politicians about how necessary it all is, the truth seems to be that we get no guarentees in law and that no individuals at any level are responsible for the handling of this wide ranging and very personal data - so I feel quite guilt-free in refusing to supply it.

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  • 44. At 2:40pm on 28 Oct 2009, busby2 wrote:

    Tarquin #20

    "There will be an option in the 2011 census to tick 'english', as the Mail report (and as is available at the ons website)

    In 2001 the options were white - British or Irish, with a box to put whatever you wanted

    They are also still counting the total number of rooms, number of bedrooms will be a sub-question - this is being done to address the very problem that you set out, so that if you have say, 8 rooms, it can be determined if there are several 'living' rooms and only 2 bedrooms, or if there are as many as 4".

    Many thanks for your very helpful reply!

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  • 45. At 3:15pm on 28 Oct 2009, badgercourage wrote:


    As you know I'm normally a supporter of your anaylsis but I can't on this occasion.

    OK, Mr Hurd should have checked a bit more deeply before commenting but the substance of his point deserves a less patronising commentary than this. I know you have backed Sir Michael Scholar and his staff in their battles with ministers, but pause and think for a minute, please.

    Personally I have no difficulty with the questions (as a historian I can see their value) but the question of whether we really need to ask them is a valid one.

    And the question of whether local authorities really need to know this information, will be able to rely on it, or will actually use it is very debatable to put it mildly. Details on individual returns will presumably remain confidential and only aggregated information passed to local authorities.

    And as #14 said "Besides, the idea that any data will enable local councils to plan intelligently is laughable".


    More worringly, the comments on this thread confirm that many people no longer trust any official statistics and are likely to actively refuse to co-operate in their collection, thus undermining their reliability. Perhaps this is something to which you could devote a blog?

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  • 46. At 3:41pm on 28 Oct 2009, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    A constant theme is the misleading statements by politicians. How unusual! The idea that an MP would make a statement for political gain. How long has the BBC been in business? Better not to give a public forum to these types of statements and that may reduce them being made. The media likes to stir the pot and keep things going and avoids questions like: When were you informed of the coming financial crisis and what actions did you take? Let's just entertain the public.

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  • 47. At 3:42pm on 28 Oct 2009, SSnotbanned wrote:

    I think I can foresee a lot of people sleeping on the floor in future.

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  • 48. At 4:31pm on 28 Oct 2009, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    I honestly believe that the government wants to know who you're sleeping with. This information keeps bored workers entertained and allows them to fantasize about people's sexual preferences. If you've ever worked for the government you'd be amazed by the questions that are asked. I think one FBI question is, Have you ever peed in the shower?
    I suppose if you answered, yes! you'd be considered employable. They ask these questions to know if you're part of the same club. If you pee in the shower then you probably won't rat out their big drug deals or scrutinize them too closely.

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  • 49. At 7:27pm on 28 Oct 2009, balancedthought wrote:

    Obviously one of the key points of a census is to have an understanding of the demography and the levels of disadvantage and deprivation in an area so that to then make decisions on levels of funding needed in an area. Overcrowding is obviously important in evaluating this.

    In the last census 2001 one of the areas with the worst returns of such information was Westminster - because of this it has been disadvantaged financially ever since. Why would Nick Hurd be so off message when Tory authorities have lost out because of an inadequate census?

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  • 50. At 8:37pm on 28 Oct 2009, Eric wrote:

    As far as census confidentiality is concerned, I was interested in this information from page 48 of 'The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5' by Christopher Andrew, Alan Lane, 2009.


    "By December 1913 the Counter-Espionage Bureau's secret Register of Aliens was almost complete except for London (where about half the aliens lived), and Kell wrote to the Home Office 'to express our gratitude to the Chief Constables and their Superintendents for the excellent work they have done for us during the last three years' and to request that their local registers 'be kept under constant current revision'. Kell's original plan to use police forces around the country to compile a secret register of all aliens from probable enemy powers (chiefly Germany) had proved difficult to complete because of the scale of the exercise and the limited resources of both Bureau and police. The Home Office had also insisted that no alien was to be asked any question 'of an inquisitorial nature'. The results of the National Census of 1911, however, made it possible to complete a more limited and focused Register of Aliens. During 1913 the Census returns were used to record the particulars of all male aliens aged eighteen and above of eight nationalities (in particular Germans and Austrians) living in areas which would be closed to aliens in wartime. Information on aliens taken from the Census was then circulated for checking to chief constables, who were also asked to take note of those on the Register in their areas.
    Kell's Registry entered the aliens information received from the 1911 Census and chief constables on what were known as 'Special Cards': the beginning of Ml5's card index. The Registry was among the most up to date of its era."

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  • 51. At 06:59am on 29 Oct 2009, Jon Cooper wrote:

    When I grew up I lived in my parents 3 bedroomed house, my parents had a room, I shared with my brother and my sister had her own room.

    Now we have all grown up and left home, my sisters room is a dining room and my room is an office / computer room, only my parents room still has a bed in it.

    So, is that a 3 bedroom house with only 1 bed? or a 1 bedroom house with 2 extra living areas?

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  • 52. At 09:03am on 29 Oct 2009, Bunnyrunner wrote:

    Another "Non Story" promoted by the chattering classes.
    The real question is; how long will it take for the information obtained to go "missing in the post" as it is sent from one arm of government to another?

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  • 53. At 09:56am on 29 Oct 2009, ecolizzy wrote:

    Perhaps someones already said this, I don't have time at the moment to read all comments.

    Why worry about bedrooms?!!!! There will be at least a couple of million people who won't fill in the form anyway. No illegal immigrant will, and a lot of other dodgy people won't either. Probably the first time this country will have a very inadequate census. Councils are already complaining that it won't be accurate enough for them to apply for extra funding. Just more spying on those of us who are honest enough to fill in a census form.

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  • 54. At 11:33am on 29 Oct 2009, vstrad wrote:

    Dear Mark,
    Not up to your usual high standard, I'm afraid.
    First, how come you had a copy of the letter before Mr Hurd? Wasn't it rather rude of Sir Michael to publish the letter online before Mr Hurd had had an opportunity to read it?
    Second, why do you just roll over and accept Sir Michael's view on why a particular question is needed? - "[t]he question about the number of bedrooms is to help local councils establish whether and where accommodation in their areas is overcrowded". There is a valid debate to be had about whether that is an acceptable purpose for census data. And anyway, can't such information be extracted from Council Tax data?
    Although the questions for 2011 are not so very different from previous censuses, you ignore the big change in public mood regarding privacy, government collection of personal data and their inability to safeguard it, since the last census. The most obvious example is the opposition to ID cards, on which you have yourself often reported.
    If questions to help the authorities to set policy and take action on overcrowding are acceptable, what next? Questions on whether individuals are in work, where they work, how they travel to work, how many cars they own, how often they drive them, where to ... All information that the state could argue was necessary for the administration of government but increasingly intrusive and extraneous to the essential purpose of a census.
    Perhaps you could revisit this topic with a more reasoned and less supercilious contribution?

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  • 55. At 11:42am on 29 Oct 2009, chrisbriddon wrote:

    As someone who works for a local authority - I can tell you that Census information is used alot as despite its misgivings it is still the most reliable & comprehensive set of data available when looking for statistics.

    Why people have such a problem filling a few boxes in once every 10 years I have no idea.

    Also for those of you who seem to think it is some sort of stealth measurement to idenitfy tax or people cheating housing benefit or whatever.

    The census data is produced so you cannot identify individuals from it due to data restraints, so whatever dubious scam you are up to cannot be worked out by looking at census data.

    Oh and for the Jedi - don't bother, there will never be a religion box that says it on the form!

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  • 56. At 12:33pm on 29 Oct 2009, FatPeace - A Promise to Heather wrote:

    In a country where housing market failure has resulted in a return to Dickensian levels of overcrowding in the inner cities (my neighbours, a family of at least seven, crammed into a two-bed terrace are a good example) I can understand the purpose of asking for bedrooms. However as with everything this Government does there's a complete lack of trust that 'function creep' won't see the data being used for other purposes such as hiking council tax or passed to 'child protection' authorities to justify dawn raids on stable families. The number of people planning to risk imprisonment to keep this data out of the wrong hands demonstrates the way in which an excessively controlling administration, which has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate, can actually make the daily business of governing more difficult for itself. I for one am just thankful that there won't be questions on 'excessive' Body Mass Index or smoking / drinking habits - and I suspect that whoever happens to be in in power in 2021 (the BNP?) won't even need to ask as all three will, by then, have been outlawed.

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  • 57. At 2:06pm on 29 Oct 2009, DisgustedOfMitcham2 wrote:


    Interesting point. I think the problem is that the government now has serious form for intrusive snooping on its citizens, so even if the census is in fact a perfectly legitimate and reasonable thing to do, people just don't trust anything the government does in this area.

    PS May the Force be with you!

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  • 58. At 2:53pm on 30 Oct 2009, bobizgrate wrote:

    It's interesting how many of these comments are negative towards Mark simply because he happens to believe that the Statistics Authority might not be politically biased.

    If there is a lack of trust in government statistics, which does seem to be the case, my view is that this is much more the fault of ill-informed scaremongering by the likes of Mr Hurd, about which the Government can do little.

    As Mark says, census figures are used by central and local government to see which areas need more funding, what kind of funding and so on. There are strict laws governing their handling and what they can be used for, and in a hundred years they will form a valuable historical record.

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