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Afrika Green, from BSE4BL, explains why it's important to take part in the Census

At a glance, it can be hard to see how completing the UK’s national census once a decade can be of benefit to our lives and our local community. With our next census coming up on Sunday, March 21, we look at how census data is used and how this can positively affect the lives of ethnic minorities.

The census is a mass count of households in the UK that aims to give a detailed snapshot of the whole population with questions designed to produce data about the population’s education, ethnicity, health and wellbeing, the languages spoken, religion, etc.

The findings, once analysed, allow local and central government to use resources and funding effectively for necessities such as housing, education, health and transport.

Afrika Green
Afrika Green

It’s vital that services represent the community they serve. On a nuanced level for the BAME community, this could mean supermarkets stock more black hair products and makeup for darker skin tones, food staples important to various ethnic communities, and the planning of school places. We hope that this would result in a more diverse school curriculum.

Tim Buttle, the Suffolk census coordinator, said: “Billions of pounds are allocated to local services using census-based information each year. It’s important the census has an accurate representation of society so these funds can be allocated most appropriately.”

The census is secure, and gathered data doesn’t leave the Office of National Statistics. It is not shared with any other government department, which means the Home Office cannot use it as part of the asylum or immigration process.

In light of the Windrush scandal that saw the Hostile Environmental Policy’s enforcement in 2012 and the fears for mistreatment of ethnic minorities, this cannot be emphasised enough. Data collected from the census cannot be used to enforce ID checks by the NHS, landlords and banks and won’t result in the refusal of services or deportation.

This year will be the first-ever digital census, and it sets out to bring further changes to the ethnicity classification – specifically, the addition of a tick box for the Roma population and a ‘search as you type’ facility to make it easier for people to classify their ethnicity. The ONS realises that ethnicity is highly subjective and may encompass cultural, geographical, and physical characteristics.

Local authorities like councils use census data to ensure that its board members represent the county’s demographic makeup. The analysis of data surrounding ethnicity helps to monitor equality and diversity in employment.

The NHS published its Workforce Race Equality Standard 2020 Report using data attained from the census to determine white applicants are 1.61 times more likely to be appointed from shortlisting than BAME applicants. With this key information, the NHS is now acting by improving the understanding of unconscious bias and white privilege and offering internal training on equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Suffolk Observatory projects the county’s population will grow to 804,000 by the 2031 census, no doubt so will the ethnic groups within. Census data gives ethnic minorities visibility and an increase in provisions that could positively impact their lives and generations to come.

-- Afrika Green is a member of Bury St Edmunds for Black Lives (BSE4BL)

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