Judith Donovan CBE, Chair of Keep Me Posted campaign comments on Beyond 2011’s consideration of an Online Only Census:
“It is always good to hear that public bodies are looking to innovate and take advantage of the latest technology but we are concerned that the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) Beyond 2011’s suggestion of an online only census is a bridge too far. Currently in the UK there are approximately 16 million people without basic internet skills and 7 million without access to the internet; often these groups are comprised of the most vulnerable people in society such as the elderly, disabled or those from lower income households. If the census is to remain representative, the process must be as accessible and inclusive as possible; particularly as the whole point of this exercise is to allocate public spending correctly.
“Under the 1920 Census Act, citizens can be cautioned and fined £1,000 for failing to answer questions from the census, if these revisions to the process were to go ahead with the current rules still in place then the government would effectively be criminalising people who are not online. This fact is especially galling when you consider that government backed initiatives to increase broadband access across the UK are currently failing to meet their targets. Do we really want to penalise a third of elderly people in the UK, who the ONS’ own figures confirm have never been online? The government has previously backed down on plans to implement a “digital by default” strategy due to the undeniable evidence that the UK population is either not ready or unable to engage with government departments exclusively online, we feel that to implement an online-only census would be a similar folly and a waste of taxpayer’s time, money and a potential security risk for all participants. The Keep Me Posted campaign is not against digital communication but we feel that it should be fair and reflective of how people in the UK actually live their lives. We would encourage everyone who is concerned about this issue to participate in the public consultation and make your voice heard.”