The proposed question will take the form
|What is your religion? Tick one box only: none, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, other (please write in)|
It will be in addition to the Ethnicity question (Ethnic origin codes: Black Caribbean, Black African, Black Other, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, other Asian, White)
1. Why is a religion question needed?
Because the Ethnicity question is inadequate because of two factors (A). the sociological factor, and (B) the policy factor
· (A) Sociological factor - What is the basis of identity in modern Britain? What are our preferred bases for self-description? Surely we assign ourselves to a group less in terms of a racial category and more on the basis of a shared world view i.e. what is in our heads than the colour of our skin. Thirty years ago, class was important. In the 1960s & 1970s, it was ethnicity, hence the Race Relations Act. Today it is faith that is important in how we characterise ourselves.
(B) Policy factors - the ethnic origin codes are too blunt an instrument for:
(B1) the equitable allocation of public resources & execution of policy, and
(B2) monitoring compliance to legislation.
Muslims know that as a faith community they are disadvantaged and
experience social exclusion: in some areas such as the West Midlands the
unemployment rates amongst Pakistanis and Bangladeshis reaches 50% -
four times the rest of the population.
(A) The Sociological factor - The inclusion of a religious affiliation question will send a signal to the British Muslim community that their presence and contribution is recognised. Muslims resent being treated as the 'invisible' element of British society, whose needs and strengths stand unrecognised by public and civic services.
The inclusion of a religion question is entirely consistent with the Prime
Minister's approach to government 'which draws its strength from the
people' and fosters 'partnership' and 'social inclusion'.
It would be an important social statement that would encourage public
institutions, employers and society as a whole to recognise that Muslims
exist as a distinct section within the community.
(B1) The equitable allocation of public resources & execution of policy factor -
The Muslim community has hard facts to show that its needs are not
being adequately met by the public services and there is a social time
bomb ticking away unless something is done now for the more equitable
allocation of public services and better planning on matters such as
community relations, health care, education, employment and housing.
Practical examples of how the Census data on religion will be useful for
better allocation of resources:
· Education: what is the demographic distribution of Muslims and where should provision be made for new voluntary and single sex schools? Where should proper recognition be given for the needs of faith groups in state maintained schools? Muslim needs in this field are the same regardless of their ethnic origin.
Housing: the housing needs of Muslims are distinct, based on extended
families and care for the elderly within the family unit. Again this is a
feature of Muslim life, regardless of ethnic origin.
· Employment: In which parts of the country should government agencies direct their recruitment effort? There is need for Muslims to be better represented in in the public services - to reflect their population base in local communities. Appointment of an Indian who is a Hindu means that Indian Muslims are under-represented.
· Business & Commerce: the Census would provide demographic data essential for planning the location of shops and niche services. For example all Muslims consume halaal products, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
· Health: a wealth of research literature clearly demonstrating the importance of religious differences in predicting demands on medical resources and health care. The predictive power of religion in terms of susceptibility to and recovery from a wide range of physical and mental illnesses is well documented and has important implications for service provision.
· Statement from the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions: "Information on religious affiliation is potentially useful in regeneration, housing and planning, particularly where services are delivered in partnership or consultation with the local community".
(B2) Compliance to legislation
Education: Under sub-sections of section 11 of the Education Reform Act 1988 (amended 1993) or Part III of the Children Act 1989. Local authorities are responsible for identifying 'such Christian denominations and other religions and denominations of such religions as, in the opinion of the authority, will appropriately reflect the principal religious tradition of the area'.
This requirement refers specifically to area level and cannot be met without census data.
Although the DfEE requests that schools monitor the religious identities of pupils, such data would be more meaningful if supplemented by information on the wider context. Particularly with the recent integration of the Muslim community into the state maintained provision of schools, developments in education will need to become increasingly sensitive to the distribution of faith groups
Health: References to religion is made in the NHS and Community Care Act 1990
Race Relations Act: Local Authorities require data on religious affiliation to assess whether they are fulfilling their duties under the Race Relations Act 1976.
Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty
In view of inclusion of an anti-discrimination clause in the Amsterdam Treaty which is likely to lead to EC proposals for a Directive (the Treaty relates to legislation against racism, xenophobia and religious discrimination).
It is wholly inconsistent with our traditions of freedom and personal privacy to ask a question about a person's religious beliefs….religious faith is a private matter, not to be pried into by compulsory public inquiries.
The objection here is that the religion question contravenes our right to privacy. It should be made clear that the proposed question would ask respondents to state their religious affiliation, if they have one, not to disclose information about their private beliefs and practices. The census, by its very nature, elicits a great deal of private information, but with the guarantee of confidentiality.
The question will be confusing and objectionable
Three trials have been conducted by the Office for National Statistics. All have found that the question is welcomed.
For example in the 1997 Census Test (15th June 1997) questionnaires were distributed to over 90,000 households in selected areas in Birmingham, Brent, Glasgow, Alton, Thame, Bridlington, Craven and South West Argyll. The test was voluntary and over 55% of households returned their form. This level of response is in line with the voluntary tests held before previous recent censusus. The response rate and the quality of responses to the religion question were good (statement of John Dixie, ONS). The completion rate of the religion question was 91.6%, which shows that the question is not objectionable to most people.
It is not in the national interest for the census to encourage people to segregate themselves from the rest of the population and to emphasise their differences from each other
The need for such a question reflects the wishes of the main faith communities in the United Kingdom, including the Christian Churches. An interfaith group, chaired by Revd. Professor Leslie J. Francis, has prepared a 'business case' in support of the proposal, using guidelines provided by the Office for National Statistics. Several government departments, such as the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions, have indicated that statistics on religious affiliation would be very useful in their work, as it would lead to better resource allocation.
So rather than creating a climate of "statistical apartheid", better data on religious affiliation will help addressing issues of disadvantage and exclusion in society. Australia, Canada and New Zealand are some countries that have included such a question in their Census. Is there evidence that this has encouraged people to segregate themselves? The answer is 'No'.
Without a religious affiliation question, the 2001 census will lose a valuable data collection opportunity.
Prepared by MCBs Research & Documentation Committee