The United Kingdom undertakes a census every decade to record social and demographic change within the country, and every citizen is required to take part by law. For the first time the 2011 census will allow participants to record their identity as ‘Arab’. This follows lobbying from groups such as the National Association of British Arabs and the British Arab Forum on behalf of the approximate 550,000 Arabs living in the UK. However, the precise number of Arabs living in the UK is unknown because of the lack of such census data. Previously, British Arabs had to write in their preferred identity by hand under ‘other’ or simply choose another ethnicity from the list.
The section of the census asking the ethnic identity of the citizen has often courted controversy. Some people have criticized that the ‘Black British’ option is too broad and needs further subcategories to account for the broad diversity of Black Britons. Also added to this year’s census is ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ as a possible ethnic identity.
The changes in the census may appear to be mere bureaucratic shuffling, but are in fact monumental for the Arab population as the data from the census will be used by the government and local authorities to plan the expansion of public services in the future. This will include provisions for translators and interpreters to assists citizens with limited English in health care provisions and educational needs. The changes will also bolster the Arab identity which barely maintains a presence in British society and which is comparatively underrepresented in political and public fields. The data produced by the census will hopefully encourage greater monitoring of these trends and open the door to greater recognition of the Arab identity in the Britain.