United Kingdom

Census gender question will now be asked to declare their sex rather than what they identify as

This year’s census will ask everyone to declare their sex, rather than the gender they think they are.

In contrast, the last survey in 2011 allowed respondents to say which gender they felt they were.

Although the 2021 census has a new voluntary question asking adults what they consider their gender identity to be, the changes are a setback for transgender rights campaigners.

However, they will allow the Office for National Statistics to put a figure on Britain’s transgender population for the first time.

Although the 2021 census has a new voluntary question asking adults what they consider their gender identity to be, the changes are a setback for transgender rights campaigners

As a result of the new census decision, in a compulsory question respondents will be expected to write either the sex on their birth certificate, or that on the gender recognition certificate of those who have taken formal measures to legally alter their designation.

The fresh decision has been made public by the head of the government statistics body Sir Ian Diamond, who said on Radio 4: 'The question on sex is very simply your legal sex.'

In 2011, census guidance had directed transgender respondents to say they were male or female dependent on 'whichever you believe is correct, irrespective of the details recorded on your birth certificate'.

Answers will help statisticians calculate what proportion of the population is transgender - a hotly debated issue, with a traditionalists arguing the figure is tiny, transgender lobbyists that it is larger and growing.

Three years ago the Government Equalities Office guesstimated widely that there were between 200,000 and 500,000 transgender Britons, possibly approaching one per cent of the adult population.

Yet fewer than 5,000 gender recognition certification certificates had been issued since their introduction in 2004 - meaning fewer than one in 10,000 people had gone through the relevant legal process.

Draft plans for the 2021 sex question had suggested respondents would be able to give answers different from that on their birth certificate, even if they had not gone through any legal gender change.

Some academics had been concerned that not recording legal sex would make the figures less useful.

University College London sociology professor Alice Sullivan said: 'Sex is an important predictor of outcomes across all areas of life, including education, wages, crime, and physical and mental health.

'If we do not monitor sex differences, we cannot tackle sex discrimination.

'Gender identity is not the same thing as sex.

'Understanding people's identities is important, especially at a time when increasing numbers of girls are identifying as trans or non-binary.

'But we cannot simply assume that the lives of these girls are not also affected by the fact that they are female.'

Some academics had been concerned that not recording legal sex would make the figures less useful

Interestingly, the voluntary 'gender' question will not be on the census at all in more traditional and religious northern Ireland.

The Office for National Statistic says: 'In Northern Ireland, Census 2021 will only include a question on sex, it will not include a question on gender identity.'

The census has been a vital tool for policy making since it was introduced in 1801. It has been conducted at ten year intervals ever since and provides detailed statistical information about the population.

It is carried out on a single day across the country - this year on March 21 - with heads of households responsible for completing the forms honestly.

The Office for National Status has said that not only should the mass survey not be postponed by the virus, it is vital for it to go ahead to help understand the impact of the pandemic on different sectors of the population.

We will be encouraged to complete forms digitally, on computer or phones, but it will still be possible to use the traditional paper version.

'Field officers' will still go out knocking on doors to chase up those who have not filled in their forms, but wearing PPE, maintaining social distancing and not entering homes.

Gay and trans rights pressure group Stonewall's chief executive Nancy Kelley said of this year's questions: 'It's great that the 2021 census will include voluntary questions on sexual orientation and trans status for the first time.

'Collecting accurate population data on sexual orientation and trans status is vital to ensuring that organisations can develop services targeted to the needs of the LGBT population.'

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