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Thursday, 8 May 2008


The question – ‘What is your religion?’ – in the 2001 Census led to deeply flawed results. The British Humanist Association (BHA) is now working to make sure that the question or questions about religion in the 2011 Census give an accurate picture of religious affiliation in the UK.
At least 15.5% of the population is non-religious according to the 2001 Census, making this the second largest ‘belief’ group in the UK, being two-and-a-half times as numerous as all the non-Christian religions put together. By any sensible reckoning this figure is far too low. The Office of National Statistics admits that the leading nature of the ‘religion’ question meant that many people, especially those with a loose (for example, merely cultural) affiliation to a religion, would have identified themselves as religious when they are not. This is particularly true of those who identified themselves as ‘Christian’. A large proportion of those people who identified themselves as affiliated in some sense to a religion in fact have no active involvement.
Apart from the inaccuracy of the data collected on religious affiliation, there are real, practical problems with the use of this data. The Census data on religion says nothing about the actual religious practice and involvement of the population. However, both central and local government use this data in resource allocation and for targeting equality initiatives.
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 Office of National Statistics has written to the BHA claiming they have done some testing of the question and that their results show that the 2001 Census question on religion should be used again. In light of how the data has been misused, this is a highly irresponsible decision. In order to strengthen their case, the BHA needs evidence that demonstrates the difficulties created by the 2001 Census question.
Please would you look out for information in your locality, which justifies ‘faith-based’ practices by public bodies based on Census results. Examples of this may include making funding decisions using this data or changes in service delivery or justifying the allocation of resources on the basis of Census data on religion.
If you have any pertinent examples, please let the BHA know so that they can build up evidence showing the misuse of the questionable 2001 data. All information should be sent to Naomi Phillips, BHA Public Affairs Officer, Contact Naomi for more information, by email or on 020 7079 3585.
I very much support the BHA on the matter. They need evidence, so please contact them if you have anything they may find useful.

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