Census form is 'biased and leading' in question about religion, say Milton Keynes Humanists

MK Humanists are urging people to answer religious question honestly on their Census 2020 form.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 4:43 pm
Updated Monday, 8th March 2021, 4:46 pm

They say the "biased and leading nature" of the Census question ‘What is your religion?’ has in the past caused many people who don’t believe in or practise a religion to nonetheless tick a religion box by default.

As a result, the last Census a decade ago showed the number of non-religious people to be half of that identified in more accurate studies.

That 2011 Census showed 60.4 per cent of people in MK were religious. The breakdown was 52.8 per cent Christian, 4.8 per cent Muslim and 2.8 per cent Hindu.

Answer the question on religion honestly, say MK Humanists

Just over 31 per cent of local people ticked the box for No Religion. But the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey shows that, across Britain as a whole, the non-religious today make up 52 per cent of the population, say MK Humanists.

They have now launched a pre-Census 2021 campaign called ‘If you’re not religious, say so!’

A spokesman for the group said: "This matters because Census results are used by the government and local authorities to make important policy decisions. These include how to allocate funding to state services such as education, health, social care and pastoral care.

"The continuing requirement for compulsory Christian worship in state schools is justified based on the Census results, as is the ever-increasing number of state faith schools, and aspects of our constitutional settlement like, for example, the ongoing presence of 26 bishops voting in Parliament."

Milton Keynes Humanists’ chair Mike Flood said: “The Census is a once in a decade opportunity for the non-religious to make sure that they are counted. Our message is simple: if you don’t believe in or practise any religion and don’t want to be counted as if you do, then you should tick the ‘No religion’ box in this year’s Census."

He added: "You may be ticking a religious box out of cultural sympathy or family history, but the effect is that you will count as religious in policymakers’ eyes.

The Office of National Statistics, which runs the Census, itself acknowledges that the question captures what it terms ‘weak affiliation’, which “includes those whose practising habits vary from none to frequent.

"This ranges from those who actively practice a religion to individuals who chose to declare an affiliation with a particular religion based on being christened or baptised, being married or wanting to get married in a church and wanting their children to be raised in a particular faith," it states.

ONS research also suggests that some people tick Christian simply because that was the religion they were brought up in – regardless of present beliefs or practices.

Humanists UK’s case is that this measure is not the most appropriate for decision-makers, where measures of religiosity based on belief or practice would be better as these correlate much more strongly with people’s service needs.