Campaign launched to raise awareness of Census

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The Independent Online

An advertising campaign to raise awareness of the 2011 Census is launched today.

Television adverts will be broadcast from tonight to highlight Census Day on March 27, a giant information gathering exercise in England and Wales.

The census will employ 35,000 field staff as advisers, co-ordinators, enumerators and census collectors gathering information from an estimated 26 million households.

Questionnaires will be posted from early next month asking householders a range of questions covering areas such as national identity, ethnic group, educational qualifications, job titles, travel-to-work method and state of health.

The census will include questions for the first time on civil partnerships, second homes and recent migration.

People born outside the UK will be asked when they most recently arrived in the country, with those who arrived in the past year asked how long they intend to stay.

There will also be a question asking people whether English is their main language and how well they can speak it.

The census will gauge the extent to which carers provide support to family members, friends, neighbours or others suffering from long-term health problems or problems related to old age.

But there will be no questions on income, sexual orientation or nature of disability.

The 2011 Census will make use of technology and will invite respondents to complete their census forms online for the first time.

Organisers said the information from the once-a-decade exercise will be used by health authorities, councils and a range of other bodies to plan services.

But critics have said the £482 million exercise - the biggest in its more than 200-year history - is unable to cope and significantly under-counted populations in some local authority areas when it was last held in 2001.

The census has also been affected by joke responses.

In 2001 - the first time a voluntary question was asked about faith - almost 400,000 people claimed their religion was "Jedi". This was in addition to almost 7,000 who said they were witches.

Filling out the census is compulsory with the threat of a fine of up to £1,000 if a questionnaire is not completed and returned.

But the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said legal action would only be taken where people persistently refuse to complete a questionnaire.

It has said that the census this year will be using a much improved address register.

The ONS has also insisted that the information it gathers will be confidential for 100 years and not shared with other agencies such as the police or tax authorities.

"It is not linked in any way to any other Government department. All your personal information is kept completely confidential for 100 years," a spokesman said.

"There is no chance of this being linked to the tax people, the police or anything else like that or even the immigration authorities.

"We are not targeting illegal immigrants we only want to get a true picture of the population in March 2011."

Commenting on the launch, Daniel Hamilton, Campaign Director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said:

"At 32 pages, the census includes intrusive questions on your proficiency in English, your health, when you last worked, the identities of your overnight guests and the type of central heating you have. The government has no need - and no right - to know this information about you.

"This census is a monumental waste of time and money. A large number of the questions duplicate data already held by the authorities on databases such as the electoral register, school records, tax returns and GP information.

"It also makes the entirely hollow but nevertheless bullying threat of fines of £1,000 for non-compliance.

"Back in 2001, 3 million people refused to comply. Given that there were fewer than 100 prosecutions for not filling the census in, it's clear that non-compliance comes pretty much entirely without repercussions.

"Last time, 390,000 people declared their religion as Jedi. There's no reason to think people will take the census any more seriously this year".

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