Might it be the last Census? The Guardian pits the arguments for and against. The religion question controversy is one among many issues including cost, accuracy, and controversies on security, privacy, intrusiveness, and measuring ethnicity.
This month, we will be asked to fill in the form for Britain’s 21st national census. It will also very likely be its last. At £482m, the whole operation – performed every decade since 1801 with one exception, the wartime year of 1941 – is expensive, inaccurate and inefficient.
That, at least, is the government’s view: Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, is looking for “ways of doing this which will provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper”. The census, he complains, is “out of date almost before it’s done”; data held by the likes of the NHS, councils, Royal Mail, the electoral register, tax returns and even credit card firms and phone companies can do the job.
… The religion question has sparked controversy again this year. TheBritish Humanist Association, for one, objects strongly to its wording: although there is a “No religion” option alongside boxes for the major faiths, it argues that the question “What is your religion?” encourages people to answer in terms of whatever loose cultural affiliation they may feel, rather than actual belief. “The effect is to artificially increase the number of religious people in Britain, and decrease the number of non-religious,” says Andrew Copson, the BHA’s chief executive. In 2001, 77% of us said we were religious – and more than 70% of us Christian – whereas it is plain from, for example, the British Social Attitudes survey that more than 50% of us consider ourselves non-religious, and more than 60% of us never attend religious services.
“It’s important because those figures are then used to justify, for example, an increase in the number of faith schools, keeping bishops in the House of Lords and other policies that are damaging, divisive and don’t reflect the real demographics of British society,” says Copson.
The BHA is urging everyone who isn’t religious to tick the “No religion” box.
Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/10/census-2011-do-we-need-it
In Australia, the issue of rascals adding “Jedi” as their answer is apparently worse than in the UK. The ONS in the UK count “Jedi” answers in a non-religious category, and the BHA Census Campaign therefore advises only that other organisations reporting the data might sometimes disaggregate “Jedi” answers, reducing “non-religious” numbers. In Australia the situation is even worse however…
It gets counted as ‘Not Defined’ and is not placed in the ‘No religion’ category. This takes away from the ‘No religion’ numbers and therefore advantages the religion count. It was funny to write Jedi once, now it is a serious mistake to do so.
Meanwhile back in the UK, Spiked magazine doesn’t like the ban either, but as before it struggles to care more about freedom of speech than about telling people how shit they are. Now, you may think that Spiked is about offering “spiky” contrarian responses to randomly chosen issues, but actually it describes its mission as “waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism”. Unfortunately, the magazine manages to exhibit at least a couple of these tendencies itself in the article on the rejected Census Campaign posters. First embracing irrationalism, senior writer Tim Black informs readers that campaigning for more accurate representation for the non-religious is “anti-religious” (in the prejudiced sort of way). Then, dabbling in luddism, the author rejects the Census Campaign position (that comparable data clearly shows how the Census exaggerates religious numbers at the expense of the non-religious to the tune of millions of people) based on the magic of his own intuition, to wit: “the question can’t have skewed results that much”. Finally, the BHA’s stated desire that evidence be used in policy-making is branded “technocratic”. And apparently thereby refuted.