Census 2011: 'Heavy metal's not music. It's a religion'

As next year's census nears, head-bangers are among the groups demanding special recognition

The preparation for next year's census is in full swing, but the jostling and politicking about who and what will be counted in the population survey is already causing serious headaches.

This time next year, every adult in England and Wales will receive a questionnaire for what is expected to be the longest and most detailed census ever conducted.

Costing £500m, it will paint a precise portrait of who and what makes up our nation – which is why a litany of special interest groups, from the serious to the absurd, are agitating for their vision of what the form should look like and which questions should be asked.

Sikh groups, for instance, want to be recognised as an individual race and not just a religion. And at the sillier end of the spectrum, heavy metal enthusiasts have begun an online campaign to get their head-banging music genre recognised as a religion. For analysts at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), meeting everyone's aspirations will be all but impossible.

A population census has been carried out in Great Britain every 10 years since 1801, except for 1941, during the Second World War. As the cultural and ethnic make-up of the country changed, so did the questions. Following devolution, separate surveys were carried out in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In 1991, citizens in England and Wales were asked for the first time to describe their ethnic origin, with 16 options including a catch-all "other" box for those whose races were not included. Ten years later, respondents were asked their religious affiliation. But not everyone is happy with the way race has been categorised. People of Middle Eastern, Latin American or South-east Asian origin, for instance, have to tick the "other" box.

This week, the Sikh Federation will urge the ONS to include Sikhs as an individual race, after their community won a High Court battle in the 1980s to be officially recognised as a race under British law.

Jagtar Singh, a federation member, said the request was more than just a point of principle. "Information taken from the census is used by 40,000 government bodies to work out where resources should go and how they can be allocated," he said. "If Sikhs are missed off in 2011 we will have to wait yet another decade, perhaps longer, before we are properly recognised."

The ONS has said that because of financial constraints it will only be adding two ethnicity boxes to the census. It has yet to state what these will be but a test questionnaire three years ago included the terms "Arab" and "Irish traveller/ gypsy", suggesting that Sikhs may miss out this time around.

Mr Singh said: "We want Sikhs to be included for positive reasons but the Government looks set to collect data or Arabs and travellers to keep a closer eye on them."

Opposition MPs believe the census will be too expensive and intrusive. The shadow Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, said last week: "How can a cost of £500m, which is double the cost of the last census, be justified at this time of fiscal crisis?"

The Government hit back, saying a detailed census enabled future administrations to allocate money more efficiently, adding £700m to the economy. Others will no doubt use the census to cause mischief. In 2001, an online campaign launched by Star Wars fans encouraged people to list their religion as "Jedi" so that it had to be officially recognised. Parliament quickly changed the law – but not before 390,000 "Jedi" adherents signed up.

This year, social networking sites could throw another spanner in the works at the ONS. A Facebook group asking for heavy metal to be made a religion has attracted 14,000 members in two weeks. "It's not meant to offend anyone. It's just a bit of fun," said Alexander Milas, editor of Metal Hammer magazine. "But then again, maybe we are trying to make a point."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago