Make the Census make sense

To those in Scotland – please email your MSPs as a matter of urgency.

MurrayBlackburnMackenzie have summarised the current state of issues around the upcoming census in March 2021 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and March 2022 for Scotland.

To quote from their blog post:

All three census authorities have committed to the longstanding, compulsory sex question, which will continue to enable respondents to answer either ‘female’ or ‘male’. In addition, the census in England, Wales and Scotland will carry a new, voluntary question on gender identity.

The three census authorities also intend to include accompanying guidance which advises respondents to answer the sex question based on their self-declared gender identity, not their sex.

The sex question guidance in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has not yet been finalised, and is currently subject to further testing by ONS. But, whilst the census has been delayed in Scotland, the National Records of Scotland (NRS) appear to be treating the guidance as a done deal. Whether the recent assessment by the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) will prompt NRS to reopen discussion on the guidance remains to be seen. There is still also the possibility of ONS either altering or dropping its guidance as a result of further testing, which NRS will need to factor into its decision-making.

WE NEED TO EMAIL OUR MSPS

Lisa Mackenzie (from MBM) emphasised we have a very tiny window available in Scotland as the guidance was meant to be completed by the “end of the summer”, but she hasn’t seen anything yet. So, it is worth us emailing our MSPs now as a highest priority. It is possible we may just have weeks to comment on the guidance and get it changed (apparently it is not covered by legislation so should be “easier” to influence if our interpretation is correct).

Woman’s Place UK have a template to help guide people to write to their MPs, the ONS and the UK Minister for Women and Equalities about the proposed guidance to accompany the sex question in the census. You can use it as a starting point to email your MSPs.

Some further points that you could include and expand in your own words:

It is vital that all census data should be accurate and consistent across the UK. We should know that sex in England and Wales and Northern Ireland means the same thing in Scotland, otherwise provision of services, funding, health initiatives, etc in one nation cannot be compared to the others in the union. The data gathered will be meaningless if we all mean different things, and trying to combine data from all nations into UK wide statistics will be a pointless exercise.

A census is an exercise in accurate data collections and knowing what you are measuring is vital. Any confusion or ambiguity helps no-one – robust data will help trans people too as it will give policy makers and researchers a better understanding of the demographics involved and where there might be gaps in the provision of services.

It is said that some trans people, or at least those that claim to be speaking for them, do not want to admit they are trans, so filling in their sex accurately is associated with the unpleasant emotions it provokes. The ONS and NRS have responded by changing the guidance so you can basically declare whatever sex you want.
However, if a census is a data collection exercise and a group of people don’t want to be measured then we shouldn’t be measuring them if the consequence is ruining the accuracy of the data.

The state should not be actively guiding people to answer sex as gender identity – we need robust, high quality data for men and women to address any discrimination and disadvantage experienced on the basis of sex. As seen with COVID-19, men may be dying at higher rates as a result of the virus, while women may suffer as result of policy consequences due to the pandemic. Sex is a significant measurement of disadvantages and discrimination. It is unethical to collect inaccurate data – we need to be able to understand differences of outcomes in people’s lives, we need to be able to monitor trends between sexes, to design evidence-based policies and determine if such implemented polices are successful.

You can use the WriteToThem website to email your MSPs.


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