Count me in

The government is considering abandoning the national census from 2021 in favour of using information from other sources to count the people. The plan is to use personal information from a range of sources including tax records, medical files and credit rating agencies to provide a demographic record of the population in place of the traditional method of each household completing the details of everyone in residence on census night. This is a bad plan.

If someone wants to know about me in a hundred years time or so, I’d like the opportunity of providing the information myself rather than have it cobbled together from my GP, accountant, and Visa. Goodness knows what that profile might look like.

Among the many users of census data are millions of house and family historians who delight in discovering the riches to be found in the Victorian and Edwardian censuses now available to view. There are no other records that come close to providing that fascinating glimpse into the homes of our ancestors from more than a century ago – to find their personal details, discover their occupations, families and neighbours. Is this pleasure to be denied to future students of 21st century life in the UK?

It’s probably true that some people lie on their census form, and that it’s difficult to count a transient population, but it ever was so. My own great-grandfather evaded the census enumerator, as well as his own family, on more than one occasion and veered from bootmaker to gentleman to electrician via a spell as a licensed victualler, when they did catch up with him. Whether these occupations were his flights of fancy or a record of a varied career, they were his own words and that counts for a lot.

No, if we’re to be counted, let’s stand up and speak for ourselves.

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