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Next UK census will collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time



The Government is planning to include questions about gender and sexual identity in next year’s census, it has emerged.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) confirmed it is hoping to uncover more information about disadvantages faced by the LGBT community in England and Wales.

The questions, which will be voluntary and for people aged 16 and over, will help policymakers and service providers understand the needs of these groups. 

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It means reliable data will be collected on the percentage of people identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender for the first time. 

‘Hidden population’

The census is a survey that provides a snapshot of the demographics of the country on a given day once every 10 years, and has been carried out in Britain since 1801. It is illegal to not complete the compulsory parts of the census, and households can be fined. Charities, local authorities, and businesses use the data to help make decisions, according to the ONS.

The census is a once a decade snapshot of the country (Photo: Flickr)

Iain Bell, the deputy national statistician for the ONS told The Observer: “Without robust data on the size of the LGBT population at a national and local level, decision-makers are operating in a vacuum, unaware of the extent and nature of disadvantage which LGBT people may be experiencing in terms of health, educational outcomes, employment and housing.” 

There are estimates of sexual orientation at national and regional levels, but the census survey would give more granular information at local authority level, Mr Bell said. 

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He added: “There is no robust data on gender identity at all, these data are needed by local authorities and service providers.” 

Nancy Kelley, the chief executive of the LGBT rights charity Stonewall, said: “Historically, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people have been a hidden population in the UK, and this lack of visibility has damaged our ability to secure the rights and the support our communities need.

“Gathering data on LGBT communities in the UK is a vital step towards building a society where LGBT people are truly accepted, everywhere and by everyone.”

Reliable data will be recorded on the LGBT community under the new census plans (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

The post-pandemic census

The Scottish government is planning to conduct a census for Scotland in spring 2021 and it will also include voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Ireland has postponed its census 2022 because of Covid-19, to ensure it can be done safely.

The ONS has said it is “confident but not complacent” that the survey can go ahead on 21 March in England and Wales, and staff are already being recruited to help carry it out.

Northern Ireland also still plans to continue with its census in 2021.

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“In many respects, the pandemic, and the impact it has had on all communities has made this census more important than ever before,” Mr Bell explained.

“Much like the 1921 census after the first world war and Spanish flu, the 2021 census will be crucial. It will show the ethnic make-up of the country, it will provide information on living arrangements, health, education and jobs and the data from it will help inform government policy at a local and national level for years to come,” he said.

The 2021 census will cost an estimated £906m, almost double the amount spent on the 2011 census. The ONS is considering more effective ways of gathering data on the population.