The next census
The increasing interest in Humanism we’ve experienced locally and nationally seems to be largely due to concern over religious organisations’ influence in public life. Maybe we can do something about that. The next census could provide us with more leverage when it comes to reducing that influence by showing that such organisations don’t represent as many people as they’d like us to think.
Andrew Trimby has written in the British Humanist Association website forum (members only),
Census results have been used to influence government legislation. The 7 out of 10 who claimed to be Christian is now in serious doubt, also confirmed by subsequent polls including the Mori poll from November last year. I wonder if divisive faith schools would have been given so much governmental support, if Christian bishops would still be sitting in the House of Lords, or if there would still be the requirement by law for ‘broadly Christian’ school assemblies in all non faith schools, if the percentage that ticked ‘no religion’ were much higher? Close on 23% either ticked ‘no religion’ or didn’t tick a box at all in the last census. The real percentage of people with no religion is likely to double this figure, potentially reducing the Christian percentage to less than 50%! The next census is still over three years away but I think the need to raise the profile of Humanism and to try to get people to tick the no religion or maybe tick a Humanist box if available, has never been so important.
The BHA is already campaigning to change the questions in the next census to reflect UK citizens’ beliefs more accurately. This is from the BHA website.
Consultation on the questions for the 2011 census
The Government somehow omitted to include the BHA in its preliminary consultation covering the ‘religion’ question for the 2011 census, but once we heard about the consultation, we very rapidly put together a response and managed to submit it just before the closing date.
Our objective is to ensure that the question or questions about religion in the 2011 census give an accurate picture of religious affiliation in the UK. The single question in the 2001 census used in England and Wales gave a far higher figure for ‘Christian’ than all other surveys: 71.74% in England and 71.90% in Wales, while the Scottish figures, where respondents were asked about the religion they were brought up in, as well as their current religion, showed significantly lower religious affiliation: 65.08%, in spite of far higher figures for Church attendance for example in Scotland. The corresponding figures for ‘no religion’ were: England 14.60%, Wales 18.63% and Scotland 27.55%. 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.
The census figures are, of course, used throughout Government as the basis for planning, resource allocation, etc, so it really is very important to make sure that the figures they produce next time are a true reflection of the situation in the UK.
The BHA is demanding two questions on religion or non-religious beliefs in the 2011 census, similar to those used in Scotland in 2001, and will be lobbying hard to achieve this.
We also need to think about how 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.
Who’s where – according to the 2001 Census, by Keith Porteous Wood
Following the letter in last week’s Newsline about local Census figures, readers may be interested in the areas where the highest incidence was recorded respectively of Christians, the non-religious, and Muslims – the three highest categories.
The highest incidence of declared Christians was St. Helens (comprising 87% of population). Next in the ranking were Wigan, Copeland, Eilean Siar (Western Isles/Outer Hebrides), Knowsley, Ribble Valley, Easington, Allerdale, South Ribble and Wear Valley (with 85%). Despite these declarations, only about a tenth of those ticking the Christian box in the Census are in church on an average Sunday.
Non-believers comprised around a quarter of the population. The highest area for non-believers was Norwich (comprising 37% of the population). Next in the ranking were Aberdeen, Cambridge, Brighton and Hove, Blaenau Gwent, Nottingham, Rhondda/Taf, Islington, Bristol, Caerphilly/Caerffili, Fife, City of London, Oxford and Lambeth (33%). These figures are based on the sum of two categories: respondents answering “none” and those declining to answer the question at all. It is generally accepted that the vast majority of the latter category also have no religion.
The national average figures for Muslims are less than three per cent. Much higher proportions however live in certain conurbations, while in other, especially rural, areas there are practically no Muslims at all. The area with the highest proportion of Muslims was Tower Hamlets (comprising 36% of the population). Next in the ranking were Newham, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Waltham Forest, Luton, Birmingham, Hackney, Pendle and Slough (with 13%).
The NSS objected to the way the Census collected the Christian figures, leading as it did to a grossly exaggerated number, which has been ruthlessly exploited by the churches to justify more privilege for themselves. We also made constructive suggestions as to an alternative (PDF), which we are confident the Government will ignore, anxious as it always is to play up religion to the maximum.
Whether or not the Government ignores the BHA and NSS suggestios, we might try, individually or as a group, to persuade people to think about how they answer the questions in the census. As Andrew says, it could make a big difference to government policy.