Written By Mark Corbyn
The UK 2011 national census is fast-approaching, with Census Day being 27th March. So expect a questionnaire to pop through the post sometime soon – but don’t be scared! Yes, there are a lot of questions, and yes, there is a fine if you don’t complete it, but this year’s census could not be more convenient – and more vital – to complete.
What is the Census?
The census happens every ten years, and in the UK has been running since 1801, making it one of the longest-running regular censuses in the world.
It is the government’s way of knowing about its citizens – how many they are, who they are, and what they are. Census information is used to shape economic and social policy at national and local government levels, ensuring that it is targeted at the right people in the right places.
Why do they want to know my ethnicity?
Understanding ethnic populations allows for local and national government to know where those communities are situated, and to wise up to the specific crime, employment, health, education and other issues that each population faces in those locations. An immediate example of this is to see into which languages local councils choose to translate their documents. Lambeth offers Portuguese translation services because of its large Portuguese community; does your council do the same for its local Filipino community? If they don’t, is it because they don’t know that your community exists?
Why has this been a problem for Filipinos before?
The main problem is that the UK government has been a little old-fashioned in how it categorises ethnicities for census purposes – specifically, “Asian or Asian British” was a different category from “Chinese & Other”, as Asian has traditionally been understood as meaning being from the Indian subcontinent. If the Chinese don’t count as Asian, where do Filipinos stand?
Unsurprisingly, two-thirds of UK Filipinos in 2001 identified themselves as “Asian Other”, with the rest choosing “Any Other Ethnicity”. This inconsistency makes it difficult to create appropriate policies that affect the Filipino community, and only serves to make the position of the community vaguer in British society.
Thankfully, the government has come to its senses, and for the 2011 census, Chinese and other Asians are now counted as “Asian/Asian British”. Hopefully this will reduce any confusion when filling in the census!
Why is it important for Filipinos to complete the Census?
If you do not want to be fined up to £1000, be prosecuted and possibly end up in jail, then it’s best if you complete the census!
Of main importance for Filipinos in the UK is the ethnicity question. It is here that we can make the government understand the true strength, spread and presence of the Filipino community – and in turn raise the profile of the community so that it receives the right political, social and economic attention that it deserves.
One could argue the case that the Filipino population is perhaps more transient than other ethnicities and may return to the Philippines one day, but all the same there are significant numbers of us who are just as keen to establish the UK as our home, and to make our own impact on society here. In that sense, we want our position in society officially recognised by the government.
In 2010, the USA added ‘Filipino’ as a separate ethnic category to its census questions – just imagine if one day we could get the same recognition here in the UK! The Chinese, and for this census even the Arabs, have their own ethnic categories – so why not Filipinos too? The last official estimate (2009) from the Office for National Statistics was that there were 112,000 people in the UK who were born in the Philippines – the 15th highest foreign country of birth – higher even than China.
So what should be done for the 2011 Census?
Below is a preview of what the ethnicity question will look like. Where do you think Filipino fits in best? We feel that “Any other Asian background, write in”, under “C Asian/Asian British” is best. Be sure to write in Filipino, so that you are not just like any other Asian! The same applies for those of us who have mixed ethnic backgrounds – specifying that you are English-Filipino, for example, can only be good for clarifying our position.
Source: Final recommended questions for the 2011 Census in England and Wales, Office for National Statistics, Oct. 2009
How do you complete the 2011 Census?
The usual way is to complete the questionnaires that are posted to every single household. However, 2011 is the first year that you can complete the census online. How convenient can that get?
Just remember, 27th March is Census Day. You must submit your census questionnaire, by post or online, either before, on, or just after that date – otherwise the government will send representatives to ask you these questions on your doorsteps. And whilst those representatives may be nice people, I for one am not so keen to speak to a random stranger, face-to-face, about my personal information!
British Filipinos in the UK
The 2011 Census is but one way that we can raise our profile, and ensure that our community is recognised and treated accordingly. It is therefore important that Filipinos complete the 2011 Census. When combined with other civic and community-building initiatives, who knows where this step may take us in the future?