Sexual orientation may be included in Scotland’s 2021 census for the first time, in order to combat discrimination and promote equality.
The plans which are now being considered by the Scottish Government were previously absent due to concerns about personal privacy and “public acceptability” surrounding the topic, reported The Independent.
The change was suggested by the body responsible for the census, The National Record of Scotland (NRS), who believe it is pivotal to obtain data on sexual orientation so the government would be able to monitor and create a benchmark which would be used to measure against levels of discrimination. The NRS also claims that feedback has highlighted a need for improved data to include sexual orientation.
In a report NRS said that “discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation is unlawful as prescribed by the Equality Act 2010″, and it is therefore the duty of the “government and public authorities to tackle discrimination and promote equal opportunities.”
“Consultation with users for the 2011 Census indicated strong user need for information on sexual orientation, in order to provide a benchmark against which equality monitoring policies could be better assessed.”
It also added that previously, the “question was not included in the 2011 Census because of concerns around individual privacy and the public acceptability of including a question in a compulsory household survey and the quality of the resulting data. In a small-scale postal survey carried in 2005, which included a question on sexual orientation, one in seven of the 31 per cent of households that responded did not provide useful data – either because they chose the ‘prefer not to answer’ option or because they did not complete the question at all. This far outweighed the percentage of respondents who declared a non-heterosexual orientation”.
Reacting to the news, Tim Hopkins said: “The Equality Network believes that there should be a question on sexual orientation in the Scottish census – we argued unsuccessfully for this to be included in the 2011 Census. There are already questions in the Census on other equality protected characteristics like race, religion, disability and age.
“We need data on the overall statistics for the equality protected characteristics in the regions of Scotland, so that public bodies and others who monitor their employment statistics and the experiences of their service users can more easily see if there are discriminatory outcomes for different groups including LGB people. The individual census responses are not made public until 100 years later, so it is only overall percentages that are released, and not any private personal data. There are still of course issues about potential under-reporting of lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual orientations, but these are issues that can be taken into account when the figures are analysed.”
The 2021 questionnaire may also include previously absent questions such as income, how many bedrooms in a home and whether citizens have a second address. The NRS said: “There are concerns regarding privacy, acceptability, accuracy and the effect on overall response rate that need to be considered.” The accuracy concern can’t be underplayed as 11,746 Scots claimed their religion to be of the Jedi Knights variety on the 2011 Scottish census. No one from Jedi Order was available for comment. The second address question which has been included previously in England and Wales would be designed to improve accuracy on population figures and inform of “the increasingly complex living patterns” of the Scottish people.
The 2011 census included marital or same-sex civil partnership status the 2021 survey will include all marital status since the Equality Marriage Bill passed by an overwhelming majority in 2014.
Although the Scottish government said it is considering the alterations and whether the census is the most appropriate method for obtaining such data, the NRS has stated that they “welcome all views, on all topics, during this consultation period.”
Contributions to the NRS topic consultation page can be made here.
In addition Consultation Events have been organised which the public can register to attend and raise concerns and contribute ideas. The meetings will kick off in Glasgow on November 17th followed by Aberdeen on 19 November and concluding in Edinburgh on November 24th. These free events can be booked here.