Black Power member Trent Taitapanui filled in his Census forms for the first time this year, at a community information day held in Whakatāne.
The 28-year-old Te Wai Aio practitioner for Māori social and health hauora Waiariki Whānau Mentoring, knows the barriers that prevent people from wanting to hand over their personal details, because he has first-hand experience.
“There’s not enough information out there about it, which is why I advocated to have a bit of an education day down at Hotene [Street], just so that people can come with those questions and get those answers that we’re looking for to make an informed decision.”
He said people found some of the Census questions intrusive.
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“Something we hold dear to us is our personal information, especially our children’s information. I feel that will be one of the reasons [for not participating in Census], and also growing suspicions over the Government with all of this Covid jab stuff. It still hasn’t cooled down enough for people to just hand their information over freely.”
Taitapanui, who works with whānau to help them navigate the housing sector, had also taken a Census collector to fill out forms with some homeless whānau.
Homelessness creates another barrier to people wanting to fill in their forms.
“Whānau have homes that are supposed to be just for them and their children, but they have other people with nowhere to go and they’re staying there too. They feel like that information is going to be used against them, whether it’s the possibility of losing their house or getting their partner in trouble.”
He was full of praise for the Census collectors, educating, advocating and helping people to fill in their Census forms.
“I’m learning greater respect for the people walking around doing this mahi. It’s quite hard, just going into a situation where they don’t really know what they’re walking into … They can go into dangerous situations.”
Whakatāne south Census team leader Jo Fell said some people were operating under the belief that the information being gathered was for the benefit of the Government, when the opposite was true.
“We really want people to be counted so that the country can provide for their needs. It’s crazy for people to refuse to fill this information out because it’s for their benefit. It’s about getting help for the schools, help with school lunches, help with buses or playgrounds, libraries. All those things that are funded.”
She gave the housing deficit and the Government subsidies for home heating and insulation as examples.
“The Government doesn’t know that there’s 10 people living in your three-bedroom house. They don’t know if your house has got mould in it or if it’s cold or it’s damp. These companies that are offering insulation or heat pumps for 80% off or free – how do you think they get this information that these houses in these areas are damp, so they can get funding? This is where they get it from, the Census.”
Fell also pointed to massive underfunding of hospitals, which is thought to be driven by undercounting over successive Censuses.
“Up in Auckland, one of those hospitals was underfunded by millions of dollars because people didn’t fill out their Census, so they didn’t account for that many people being there.”
Even in Whakatāne, a lack of staffing was apparent.
“People can sit at the hospital emergency department here for five, six, seven hours, waiting to be seen. If people filled out their Census papers and they knew what was going on in the area, they’d be able to staff it accordingly, because they’d get the funding.”
Fell said the only reason people needed to put their names on the forms was so those names could be scratched from collectors’ lists.
“Once the form has been sent in, all of the information from the questions is fed into a computer, without anybody’s name attached to it,” she said. “Once it’s gone in to be processed, they all become numbers and figures and then [agencies] can get a spreadsheet showing what’s happening in their area.”
Another objective of the day was to get the information out that people had until May 4 to get their forms returned.
“They’ve pushed it out so we can get all of the people who are reluctant to do it.”
Stats NZ senior communications adviser Linda Sanders said Stats NZ was determined that no one would be left behind this year.
Although most people were doing their Census online, Stats NZ was helping everyone complete the Census in a way that worked for them, through providing more paper forms, more Census collectors, more work with communities, and more accessible formats and language support.
“Census staff will be following up with people who have yet to complete their forms. When a Census collector visits, they can provide help with filling in Census forms or provide new and additional Census forms if needed.”
There is also a helpline, 0800 CENSUS (0800 236 787) or help to get census forms completed is available at census.govt.nz/census-support/.