London (Brussels Morning) The next UK census will, for the first time, ask questions on sexual orientation to gauge the size of the LGBT population and the issues that affect it.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) — the country’s official data agency — questions will be voluntary for anyone over the age of 16.
Speaking to the Observer, Iain Bell, an ONS statistician, said that without “robust data” on the community, decision-makers are “operating in a vacuum” and do not know the disadvantage LGBT people may experience in terms of health, education, employment or housing.
Estimates exist on sexual orientation, but this will be the first time local authorities collect official and comprehensive data.
Scotland will also include similar questions on gender identity and sexual orientation in its 2022 census.
The census is a count of all people and households and is the only complete picture held officially of the entire population. It takes place every ten years on one night and has been ongoing since 1801, except for 1941 due to the war. The last census was held on 27 March 2011.
Completing census questions is a legal requirement for all households, covering living circumstances, occupation, ethnicity, education and marital status, for example. There is a £1,000 fine for non-compliance.
“In many respects, the pandemic, and the impact it has had on all communities has made this census more important than ever before”, said Bell, as the data is thought to help epidemiologists with information on household size, ethnicity, health status, etc.
The question on gender identity will come after the male/female tick box asking: “Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?” A follow-up question will be presented for those who answer “no”.
Nancy Kelley, chief executive of LGBT advocacy organisation Stonewall, said it was pleased the government will include the census questions on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“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”, she said.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused some uncertainty, recruitment for conducting the census has begun and is anticipated to go ahead on 21 March 2021.