The impending 2011 Census is projected to cost the United Kingdom Government £480 million; a large percentage of this cost is being taken up by the multiple translations of both the Census and its relevant advertisements.
The Census, which will be conducted on March 27th, is a legal requirement for all citizens over the age of 18 and is conducted once every ten years. The last Census was completed in 2001 and cost around £200 million. The significant increase in cost is said to arise from inflation coupled with the biggest ten-year growth in the population the UK has ever seen, which means significantly more Censuses are required than in 2001.
More people also means more censuses in more languages, because two-thirds of the population growth came from migrants who have settled in the UK in the last ten years. Furthermore because immigrant communities are amongst the lowest ‘turn-out’ groups for on-time completion of the Census, the Office for National Statistics (ONS- which organizes the survey) is placing extra money and manpower into ensuring this group completes on time. The Census will be translated into 56 languages, whilst 30,000 people have been employed to help immigrant communities and other low ‘turn-out’ groups to complete their surveys on time.
This expense has subsequently caused many to question the financial viability of the Census just two years from the 2008/9 economic crisis; some have even questioned the validity of continuing the Census at all.
On one hand the Census is important in that it provides a huge amount of practical information for the public services. It helps local councils assess how many primary school places are needed each year and in the future could be vital in planning elderly care for the increasingly aging population. Given the number of immigrants who have set up home since 2001 it is necessary to find out how these ‘extra’ people’s needs has and will affect our public services. Without compulsory surveying we might not be able to systematically gain this information from these communities.
However, despite the Census being labeled ‘compulsory’ almost three million people failed to complete the 2001 edition. Therefore can we really trust the validity of its results when groups such as the immigrant community are under-represented through non-completion? These skewed results might actually worsen our public services if the government subsequently under-estimates the level of care these communities need.
Aside from the practical implications, the Census is a core tool for academics and historians. Researchers can track trends in culture and society since its first implementation in 1801, meaning the Census effectively helps ‘write’ the history of the UK. Without this resource we could not look to the findings of the past in order to predict the possible challenges of the future.
Yet although the majority of people accept these benefits there is still widespread discomfort as to the cost of the Census when the UK has just come out of recession. Some people think that migrants living in the UK should be able to complete the Census in English (or alternatively Welsh) and dislike paying for so translations to be produced. Although it is impossible to know if this is just a Census concern or part of their wider doubts about high immigration levels and its affect on the economy and public services.
With more information available to the us and the government everyday through internet browser cookies and other virtual data storage, perhaps people just feel that it is time that the ONS relied on this existing information instead of spending so much on promoting a survey that many people fail to complete.