Gender neutral census?

Should changes be made to sex question on 2021 census?

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Gender neutral census?

By Sarah Holt

Declaring your sex could be optional on the next census, the Office for National Statistics has suggested.

According to reports, the ONS is considering making the sex question voluntary in the 2021 census 'for the benefit of intersex and non-binary people'.

The Telegraph reports that research carried out by the ONS found the "sex" question included on the previous census, in 2011, was considered to be "irrelevant, unacceptable and intrusive, particularly to trans participants, due to asking about sex rather than gender".

They add that the report explored other options, including a "hybrid" question with the addition of an "other" category.

However, the report said that this option was "thought to homogenise trans people and differentiate them from the rest of society". A third "two-step" option, with separate sex and gender identity questions, was also ruled out.

The ONS carries out a census every ten years. Its reasons for completing the census are described on its website as follows: "Every ten years the census gives us a complete picture of the nation. It allows us to compare different groups of people across the United Kingdom because the same questions are asked, and the information is recorded, in the same way throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"The census provides information that government needs to develop policies, plan and run public services, and allocate funding.

"Census statistics help paint a picture of the nation and how we live. They provide a detailed snapshot of the population and its characteristics, and underpin funding allocation to provide public services."

Outside of the current census, the ONS completes other forms of research into gender identity, which it defines as "a personal internal perception of oneself, and as such, the gender category with which a person identifies may not match the sex they were assigned at birth. In contrast, sex is biologically determined".

The organisation has recently published a Gender Identity Research and Testing Plan, in which it sets out the work it intends to do in the future to help provide its users with the information they might need on gender identity in the UK.

As part of its plans, the ONS intends to learn about gender identity data collection from other national statistics agencies and to engage with relevant stakeholders, including members of the trans community, to clarify data requirements.

The proposed changes to the 2021 census will be officially set out in a government white paper in spring 2018. Will they be accepted? Or will the status quo continue?

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