11:58 | 21st March 2019

Blogroll: Political Watch

Size Matters

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At the risk of being deliberately flirtatious with headlines this isn't about the size of your boyfriend, your pickup truck or your credit card bill.  People of Great Britain and Northern Ireland this about your patriotic (and indeed legal) duty to be counted.  It is census time again, that cheerful period when your strange neighbour tries to invite herself over to help you with your census return. You know her interest is less about the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and more about seeing if two men living together really do iron their scatter cushions.  National census are key measures; they can define what resources the government provides for any identifiable group for the next decade.  There is a battery of legislation now (including the pending Single Equality Act) that recognizes sexual orientation on a par with race, gender, age, disability and religion.  Yet sexual orientation remains unique in that it is not recorded in the Census.

Since 2001 the Census has recorded same-sex couples but not sexual orientation.  So if you are a single lesbian or gay person you don't count.  This has given us a partial insight into how big our "community" is and recorded, in the catchily title Table UV93, 78,522 adults living together as a same-sex couple.  Like single people, the relationships of those living apart was not recorded.  This partial step is one that the USA is about to take in its 2010 survey, something that greatly worries the tens of thousands of gay and lesbian people in the military who face lying on their census form or being recorded as homosexual.  Both are illegal, the latter could lead to dismissal from one's job.

Other data does exist on sexual orientation in the UK, but none of it is as current or as complete as the Census.  The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles was last carried-out in 2000 and recorded 8.4% of men and 9.7% of women as gay.  These figures were carefully weighted but with a sample of less than 19,000 their results can only be viewed as probable.

There were assurances by government ministers that the UK would be the first in the world to record our data, but it has since recanted citing a variety of technical reasons.  The ONS first tell us that other countries don't do it, so it's "good" practice.  They go on to say that a majority of people in the UK would feel uncomfortable answering the question.  Both surely miss the point; this is something that should be monitored despite what other nations do.  I think the uncomfortable excuse is both partly irrelevant as well, but more importantly people may feel annoyed at having to declare they are heterosexual (in the same way some Caucasian people express annoyance at having to tick that they are white British) but people like us, who wish to be recorded, will be happy to be recorded.

The other reasons the ONS give are; that sexuality is hard to define, and; people may not record the data accurately or the person completing the form will not be willing to accurately record family members.  Whilst there is some truth that the conceptual issues around sexual orientation can be confusing for some the majority of adults are able to put a label to themselves in this context.  Yes, this will mean that the Census data is rather "catch-all" in relation to sexuality and there wont be a finer definition to assist the differing service delivery needs of health (ie sexual behaviour) and, for example, discrimination (ie self identity) but it will be a good start.  Currently no data exists and nothing can be assisted by the Census.  Citing that people will not be able or willing to complete the survey completely is simply a damning indictment of the whole process.

So, with the government refusing to add a question to the Census.  How can you get your sexual orientation accurately recorded?  The only way I can suggest is to move in with your partner.  Even if it's only for the day.  Alternatively you could move in with someone else's partner.  So long as you are living together in a same-sex relationship it will count.  Otherwise, my friend, you aren't even just a number.


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