“Statistics form the backbone of democratic debate…Every day in the UK, decisions are made and money invested based on official statistics.”
Jil Matheson, National Statistician, October 2010
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
The Census gives the official figures about various aspects of the population. Data is used by government both locally and centrally as evidence to back up their policy decisions. If the number of people who appear to be religious is inflated, policies regarding service delivery, equality work and many other areas will be affected. See Examples of Census data use (or see the more concise summary).
For example, the previous government used Census figures in the preamble of their document Face to Face and Side by Side, which set out a number of policies which disadvantaged non-religious people and secular groups in the voluntary sector.
Local authorities use census data when making decisions about resource allocation and the types of organisation which they want to deliver services.
The 2001 figure stating that 72% of the population are ‘Christian’ has been used in a variety of negative ways, such as to justify the continuing presence of Bishops in the House of Lords, to justify the state-funding of faith schools (and their expansion), to justify and increase religious broadcasting and to exclude the voices of non-religious people in Parliament and elsewhere.
If the 2011 census creates a similarly inaccurate figure, it may lead to further discrimination against non-religious people and greater privileging for religious groups and individuals.