Sunday, 27 March 2011

It's Census Day in the UK

Here in the United Kingdom, today is "census day". The 32-page booklet has been in the house for a couple of weeks. We have glanced at it, planning how we might answer the questions closer to the time. I noticed that we could answer it online, and that is what I decided to do. What to do with 32 pages of unused but printed paper in these days of recycling was an instruction omitted from the census form.

The standard form allowed for a household of six people--a perfect fit for our neighbours who have four children, but somewhat excessive for us--a married couple with one son, still single, at home. One of the questions was to relate each of the people in the house on census day to each of the others. Oh, how I wish the census designers of 1861 had thought up such a question. It would have solved so many presumptions I have made.

A couple of censuses ago the questions on birthplace and ethnical background were very few. Political Correctness was the way of the moment. Not any more. This year the choices of ethnicity cover a whole page for each member of the household. It was great to be different, to be able to tick "Other" and explain "Canadian" or "Canada" three times on my part of the form. And then put the icing on the cake by stating that I had lived in Britain since August 1965.

As per usual there were questions about the size of our home, whether it was a house or a flat, how many rooms it had, and how it was heated. We were also asked how many cars the household had. It wasn't until the three of us sat down to dinner this evening that we realized we had not been asked about computer usage. How many computers in the house? Do you have broadband? Do you have HD television (an abbreviation I always translate as heavy duty, but turns out to be high density)? Not one of these questions was included.

Ten years ago, at the last census, offering the facility to fill in the census over the internet would have been a fruitless thing to do. Now, it is simple and straightforward for many households all over the country. It will be interesting to see what percentage of the population answered our questionnaires that way.