Census Results –Social history in the making

13 Feb 2003

For the first time in 150 years, official statistics are available on the size of Britain’s faith communities. `This is a landmark event and social history in the making’, noted Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of The Muslim Council of Britain. Statistics announced this morning by National Statistics, the government agency responsible for the 2001 Census in England and Wales, and by the Scottish General Record Office, indicate that the British Muslim population is 1.6 million. Islam is the most common religion after Christianity, with Muslims making up 3.1% of the population of England.

Up to now, Muslims have been statistically invisible, and thus easily marginalised. The census output is a strong signal to central and local government, social services and employers in particular that the needs of all sections of Britain’s multicultural society must be fairly and equitably addressed. It is now for example possible to institute measures to ensure the effectiveness of equal opportunity and social inclusiveness polices that extend to the faith communities. The timely report released last week by Warwick University’s Professor Muhammad Anwar, ‘British Muslims and State Policies’, provides further examples of how service providers can now make use of the census data on religion.

The inclusion of the religion question in the 2001 Census was not easy, particularly in the face of the well-established lobby that likes to see things only in terms of black and white. The MCB’s campaign for the religion question reflected dissatisfaction with the focus on race and ethnicity alone as a statistical marker for planning and resource allocation. The inclusion of the religion question was made possible through the close cooperation of the faith communities.

The high response rate (92.7%) to what was the only voluntary question in the census form indicates its wide acceptability and the importance of religion as a basis of identity.

At today’s launch of the new statistics, Len Cook, the Official Statistician has aptly described census data as `the source of our knowledge for the future’. The MCB looks forward to the publication of further 2001 census statistics, for example the cross-tabulations of religion with age, gender, health, education and other socio-economic indicators, down to local authority ward level where this is possible without compromising confidentiality. The MCB also looks forward to working proactively with government departments to ensure appropriate levels of representation of Muslims and other faith communities in all tiers of civic society and in so doing helping to create a fairer Britain for all.


Briefing notes

1. For an account of the Muslim community’s campaign for a religion question in the Census see http://www.mcb.org.uk/census2001.pdf

2. Anwar, M., Baksh, Q. ‘British Muslims and State Policies’ , Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, 2003 ISBN 0 9 48303 99 9

For further information please contact the MCB’s Census spokesperson: Dr Aziz Sheikh
Telephone 0208 907 4367 (13 February); 0208 907 6989 (14 February) E-mail asheikh@sghms.ac.uk
Email: media@mcb.org.uk Website: http://www.mcb.org.uk