As you fill in your census form differing groups are urging people to consider how they record their religious beliefs on the official form.The question “What is your religion?” was initiated into the population census in 2001. However, it seemed that most people classified themselves as religious because of their backgrounds. These responses have troubled some groups in Hackney. Members of the secular and Jewish communities in particular have raised concerns.
The census is a count of an area’s population, coordinated by Office of National Statistics (ONS). This is used by the government to calculate how much funding boroughs should receive for public services such as education, healthcare and transport and other services such adult social care, activities for young people and refuse collecting, provided by the Council. In addition, although the census is compulsory, the identification of one’s religion is not.
In the last census Hackney had a population of about 202,000. This showed a diversity of religions in the borough including the largest Charedi Orthodox Jewish community in Europe, estimated between 15,000 and 20,000. Statistics from Hackney council shows that Yiddish, a language spoken only by Jewish people from eastern Europe, was the second most spoken language in Hackney, with 5.2% in 2004. However in the last census the number of Jewish people counted was far smaller than the estimate.
Melaine Danan, Policy Director of the Interlink Jewish Voluntary Action said: “People refuse to identify their Jewish religion because of the historical backgrounds. During the Holocaust the Jews were rounded up by the Nazis through censuses and since some of these residents are Holocaust survivors or children of Holocaust survivors so there is a kind of reluctance.”
Interlink is promoting and encouraging Jewish residents to indicate their religion, in order to assist the government in building infrastructures such as faith schools. “We are encouraging people by writing letters and articles,” Danan said, adding that “their needs will be understood better and it will make it easier to see the extent and levels of needs that have to be met.”
According to Hackney Council, over 25 per cent of households in the 2001 census did not return a questionnaire that answered the question about religion. This meant that the area potentially missed out hundreds of millions of pounds of funding.
Jules Pipe, Mayor of the borough said: “It’s essential that every household in Hackney takes the time to fill in the census. The more households that fill in the census forms; the more money we will get for local services. This year’s census will be one of the most important ever for people in Hackney.” He urged participation in the census, in light of the drastic cuts of about £80 million the borough will face over the next four years.
However, it seems other groups are also interested in this identification of one’s religion, for different reasons.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is running a campaign encouraging atheists to tick the “no religion” box when filling the questionnaire. Their message is: “If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so.”
Naomi Philips, Head of Public Affairs of BHA said: “We are trying to encourage people who are not religious to indicate so because it is important. In 2001 people ticked the Christianity box because of their cultural background -they weren’t necessarily Christians. We want a more accurate picture of religiosity in the UK.”
Philips added that advertisements, letters and leaflets have been published in order to “get people thinking”. The BHA is hoping their national campaign will help people discover the importance of indicating who they are.
The ONS have argued that the data collected on religion can also help authorities evaluate discrimination risks and provide a better understanding of the local demographics.