Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Letter to Wandsworth Guardian on the Census Question

Posted in Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on March 5, 2011

Dear Census Compiler in Wandsworth,

As a Humanist I am angry that the leading question ‘What is your religion’ is still included on the census form. This religious question has been introduced for these last two census forms and is a pandering to religious organisations to the detriment of non-believers in the supernatural. I have included below the section from the British Humanist Association which explains our legitimate concern about the use of the misrepresentative data.

I know you are planning local meetings and I would like to know if there is any way that this can be raised either by having some of our census posters/leaflets there or by any other means. I am a local Humanist Celebrant, hospital chaplain and member of Wandsworth SACRE.

Yours sincerely,

Jeanne Rathbone

  • The Census Campaign - If you're not religious for God's sake say so

What’s the issue?

‘What is your religion?’, the question in the 2001 census used in England and Wales gave a far higher figure for ‘Christian’ than all other surveys. The ‘Christian’ box was selected by 71.74% of respondents in England and 71.90% in Wales. The Scottish figure, where respondents were asked about the religion they were brought up in, as well as their current religion, showed significantly fewer respondents ticking ‘Christian’: 65.08%, in spite of far higher figures for Church attendance in Scotland. The corresponding figures for ‘None’ were: England 14.6%, Wales 18.63% and Scotland 27.55%. A closed question which assumed that respondents would have a religion undoubtedly inflated the number of respondents ticking a religious box and reduced the number of those ticking ‘none’. The figures were probably also distorted by the fact that the question appeared immediately after a series of questions on ethnicity, which may well have encouraged people to respond more on the basis of culture than actual beliefs or religious affiliation.

Other surveys tend to give around 30 – 40% non-religious, rising to 60 – 65% for young people. See our selection of statistics on religion and belief in the UK.

Apart from the inaccuracy of the data collected on religious affiliation, there are real, practical problems with the use of such data. The Census data on religion says nothing about the actual religious practice, involvement, belief or belonging of the population. However, both central and local government use such data in resource allocation and for targeting equality initiatives. And the figure stating that 72% of the population are ‘Christian’ has been used in a variety of ways, such as to justify the continuing presence of Bishops in the House of Lords, to justify the state-funding of faith schools (and their expansion), to justify and increase religious broadcasting and to exclude the voices of humanists in Parliament and elsewhere. The question is not fit for the purposes for which it was included, for the first time, in 2001.

What do we want and what are we doing?

We made a detailed submission and a supplementary submission to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) on the problems with the Census question on religion proposed for the 2011 Census.

We also pressed for a replacement question in a series of meetings with the Office for National Statistics  which would have genuinely measured religious affiliation in the UK, either by being a more open question or by being two-part (ie a. Do you see yourself as belonging to any particular religion Yes/No b. If so, which?).

Unfortunately, parliament has now approved the order confirming the questions for the 2011 census, including the same flawed phrasing as used in 2001

We now need to encourage people who do not have religious beliefs to answer the question more carefully: too many people who have not been near a Church for many years and have no religious beliefs still have a ‘Church of England reflex’ when faced with an official form and their responses undoubtedly inflated the ‘religious’ figure arising from the 2001 census. The BHA will launch a significant new campaign closer to the time the census is taken.

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