Hey ONS: This Is Not A Mistake

Hi, ONS! I know we haven’t really spoken since you ghosted me in 2011, but I just wanted to clear something up for you –

This is not a mistake (except for the missing last names):

(Specimen) 2021 census form on which Ruth declares that she cohabits with both a husband AND a partner.
It’s perfectly possible for somebody to live with multiple partners, even if they’re forbidden from marrying more than one.

Back in 2011 you thought it was a mistake, and this prevented my partner, her husband and I from filling out the digital version of the census. I’m sure it’s not common for somebody to have multiple cohabiting romantic relationships (though it’s possibly more common than some other things you track…), but surely an “Are you sure?” would be better than a “No you don’t!”

Clippy says "It looks like you've got a husband AND a partner. Is that right?" with possible answers "Yes, and it's awesome." or "No, but I can dream!"
For all I know, you already fixed it. If not: I mocked-up a UI for you.

We worked around it in 2011 by using the paper forms. Apparently this way you still end up “correcting” our relationship status for us (gee, thanks!) but at least – I gather – the originals are retained. So maybe in a more-enlightened time, future statisticians might be able ask about the demographics of domestic nonmonogamy and have at least some data to work with from the early 21st century.

I know you’re keen for as many people as possible to do the census digitally this year. But unless you’ve fixed your forms then my family and I – and thousands of others like us – will either have to use the paper copies you’re trying to phase out… or else knowingly lie on the digital versions. Which would you prefer?

4 replies to Hey ONS: This Is Not A Mistake

  1. Who knows, maybe some decade they’ll work it out.

    We’re ahead of where we used to be – at least now people can have same sex couples (even if not poly) on the form.

    • Indeed! During the last census, if you put your same-sex partner down as your husband/wife they’d “correct” that for you (immediately if you filed digitally, in aggregate if you filed on paper) to “civil partner”, a FoI request by a friend of a friend revealed. Which was, I suppose, correct in line with what the laws of the land recognised at the time (same sex marriage wasn’t legalised until between 2014 and 2020 depending on where in the UK you are) but the census doesn’t record just citizens but everybody in the country on a particular date. If a married gay couple from, say, the Netherlands was in the UK on the date of the last census their status would be “corrected” for them.

      In the case of polyamory, though, there isn’t even a legal justification for such “correction”. Because unlike the laws that formerly decreed that marriage could only be between a man and a woman, I’m not aware of any law in modern times that would prohibit a person from having two romantic partners!

      Recording this kind of thing matters. Folks in polyamorous relationships don’t get some of the benefits and privileges of those in other kinds of relationships, and while that’s small potatoes on the scale of injustices it’s not going to get fixed if we can’t measure it. I was really glad to see that this year’s census will include (optional) questions on gender identity and sexual orientation, because again: this is important to record. We’re getting there.

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  • Claire Bennett

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