Humanist view: A confusing question in census

PUBLISHED: 08:30 22 August 2020

Paul Kaufman wants the questions for next year's census brought up-to-date.

Paul Kaufman wants the questions for next year's census brought up-to-date.


The accuracy of the census to be held next March is at risk of being wrecked by a confusing question.

It was announced in July that we will be asked “What is your religion?”

This is clearly open to misinterpretation.

The census is an expensive, time-consuming and important process. It helps set the country’s course for the next 10 years.

Inaccurate answers will have profound consequences.

The same leading question was used in the last two censuses.

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It is based on the false presumption that we all have a religion. And it leads many people to say they have a religion when in fact they have no religious belief.

They simply name the religion that is part of their cultural background even though they don’t actually practise it.

Evidence of the confusion was revealed by a Humanist sponsored poll held at the time of the last census in 2011. Just 29 per cent answered positively to the question “Are you religious?” That is less than half the 61pc who ticked the religion box for the census question.

The authoritative British Social Attitudes Survey, which does not ask leading questions, shows a significant majority have no religious belief.

Underestimating the numbers results in unfair provision for the reasonable needs of the non-religious in institutions like schools and in social care.

Examples include arrangements for teaching about non-religious beliefs and provision of non-religious pastoral support.

Humanists UK will continue to lobby for census wording fit for the 21st century.

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