Census and Social Science

The Salvation Army’s Research and Development Unit and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in association with the Board of Deputies of British Jews were among the 42 respondents to the call for written evidence by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s enquiry into the census and social science, which was launched on 9 November 2011. This written evidence was published on 19 January 2012 at:


The Committee’s investigation follows the government’s announcement that it is reviewing alternatives to the decennial population census, which has taken place since 1801 (apart from 1941). A question on religious affiliation was included in 2001 and 2011. The Committee, which is currently taking oral evidence, is seeking to understand how the ending of the census would impact on social science research.

The Salvation Army’s response focused on its need for general socio-demographic information from the census, but JPR and the Board of Deputies strongly and specifically emphasized the criticality of collecting data on religion. It is worth quoting a few extracts from their joint submission:

‘We maintain that, as data on religion are not routinely captured, all religious groups will be disadvantaged as a result of potential discontinuation of the census and the religion question contained within it. This is particularly important to religious minority groups which plan and provide group-specific services.’

‘We would further maintain that the gathering of data on religious groups should be in the government’s interest. Given Britain’s multicultural nature and some of the challenges that exist within and between religious minorities, it is surely essential to have access to data that provide a detailed view of the internal dynamics of each sub-population.’

‘The potential discontinuation of the national census is a cause of major concern to JPR and the Board of Deputies. A viable alternative to the census (such as a population register of the kind maintained in several Scandinavian countries) must include the collection of data on religion if the community is not to be put at a significant disadvantage in its data gathering capacity.’

Some of the other submissions to the Committee, from individuals and ‘secular’ organizations, also stressed the value of religion data in the census. It is a pity, however, that there was no response to the call for written evidence from other faith communities, although it has to be conceded that a fairly short deadline was set by the Committee.

Meanwhile, The Jewish Chronicle for 20 January 2012 included a report that JPR is to conduct later this year the first national survey of British Jewry since 1995, to be used in conjunction with outputs from the 2011 census. The project is being funded by JPR, the Pears Foundation and leading Jewish charities, including Nightingale, Norwood, UJIA and Jewish Care.  


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