Census 2021 allows voluntary gender identification

Census will help government better safeguard “brown” and “queer” South Asians suffering from racism and double isolation within their communities

- Priyanka Mehta Tuesday 09th February 2021 13:52 EST

In a first, the 2021 census being conducted across the UK barring Scotland will allow people to identify themselves with their gender. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a voluntary question which asks if an individual's gender identity is the same as their legal sex, and if not, then asks them to enter what it is. It must be noted that these questions are voluntary and for people aged 16 and over only.

Discussions around gender identification and sexual orientation within Asian households are frowned upon even whilst staying in a progressive country such as the UK. Stigma, taboo and racism have most often resulted in double isolation for the “brown” and “queer” in the pre-dominantly white British society. Organisations such as Naz and Matt Foundation, Hidayah and Birmingham South Asians LGBT have urged South Asians to have active discussions around these subjects with their family members. Yet, many members of the LGBTQ+ community choose to live “closeted” or “double lives” out of the fear of ostracisation and abandonment. Stonewall ranked role models such as Hafsa Qureshi besides others like Mohsin Zaidi, barrister and author of ‘A Dutiful Boy’, have regularly supported young South Asians wary of “coming out” to the community. But many are believed to be living “hidden” lives without any help from such support networks. In 2016, the UK's forced marriage unit heard from at least 30 LGBTQ+ people who were being ordered to have a heterosexual wedding by their families. Yet there is no concrete data to quantify those rendered helpless. Through their participation in the 2021 Census, there is optimism that government can design policies around mental, emotional and physical well-being that can safeguard the South Asian LGBTQ+ community.

Government operating in vacuum

A spokesperson for ONS said, “Three years of evidence gathering by the ONS to inform the 2021 Census showed that there is a clear need for this information at both a national and local level. While there are estimates of sexual orientation at a national and regional level, it is not possible to produce robust estimates for all local authorities. There is no robust data available on gender identity. These data are needed by local authorities and service providers to inform the provision of services and to monitor their effectiveness. 

“Without robust data on the size of the LGBT population at a national and local level, decision-makers are operating in a vacuum, unaware of the extent and nature of disadvantage which LGBT people may be experiencing in terms of health, educational outcomes, employment and housing, and unable to design and monitor the effectiveness of policies to address this.

Low recruitment levels in the Armed Forces

Run by the ONS, the census is a once-in-a-decade survey that provides an accurate estimate of all the people and households in England and Wales. It has been carried out every decade since 1801, with the exception of 1941. This year Census day is March 21, with results available in 2022, although personal records will be locked away for 100 years, kept safe for future generations. This year, in another first the Census will field a question asking people if they have served in the Armed forces. It appears at a time when there has been some concern about low recruitment levels within the British Armed Forces. The Daily Mail recently reported that Ministry of Defence’s’ “Infantry Battalion Soldier Strength Summary – January 2021” showed the prestigious Scots Guards, which has a working requirement of 603 troops, had just 339 soldiers available for operations. This is in alignment with The Guardian report of 2019 which disclosed that the British army faced a recruitment crisis, with frontline combat units operating as much as 40% below strength after a steady decline in the number of soldiers in infantry regiments.

Commenting on the subject, the ONS spokesperson said, “There is a new need to understand numbers, locations and age ranges of our armed forces community for central and local government, and charities that work with veterans and their families, to target resources and expertise where they are most needed to meet their commitments under the Armed Forces Covenant.”

The census, taking place on 21 March 2021, will shed light on the needs of different groups and communities, and the inequalities people are experiencing, ensuring the big decisions facing the country following the pandemic and EU exit are based on the best information possible.

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