The Office of National Statistics, government, equality bodies and other organisations have all recognised that there is a problem with the Census statistics on religion. There is still confusion over what is being measured. Is it –
- What people believe?
- What people do because of their beliefs? (Practice/manifestation)
- How people loosely identify themselves? (Affiliation)
The leading question ‘What is your religion?’ meant that lots of people ticked the ‘Christian’ box even though they do not attend church and may not believe in any meaningful sense. See Our recommendation.
The Census data is used by government and other public authorities like the police and health services to work out what policy and services people need and how to target them to specific groups of people. What is needed for this is accurate statistics on practice as this is the only thing related to religion that should affect service provision. For example, loosely identifying with a particular belief system, rather than actively practising it, would not affect the way you access or experience a health service. See Examples of Census data use.
Despite this, after the 2001 Census, the figures collected were used to justify the following policies:
- Increase in the number of faith schools
- The continuation of collective worship in schools
- The public funding and support of ‘interfaith’ and faith-based organisations above the support offered to secular organisations
- Suggestions of an increase in the role of faith in Britain under the coalition government
- The appointments of government advisors on faith
- Contracting out public services to religious organisations
- Keeping the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords as of right
- Continued high number of hours dedicated to religious broadcasting
- Specific consultation at government and local level with ‘faith communities’ over and above other groups within society
- Continued privileges for religious groups in equality law and other legislation
Therefore, ticking ‘Christian’ when you are not a practising Christian can cause the misuse of inaccurate data, leading to an inflated focus on religion in public policy. By ticking Christian, you will be supporting an agenda that may affect you negatively in future. For example, you may loosely identify as Christian but not be ‘Christian enough’ to get into your local faith school, or you may find public services in your area taken over by religious organisations that ask you to practise in a way that is not appropriate for you.