Plan to ignore birth sex in census alarms academics The Times 11.02.21

The original article is here.

Plans to ignore biological sex when collecting census data in favour of self-defined gender threaten to undermine robust statistics in a move that is creating “deep-seated alarm” among leading academics.

In a letter to The Times, the academics say sex remains a key factor in “outcomes across the full spectrum of public policy areas from health and education to criminal justice and employment”.

While information on gender identities was welcome, they said, it could only be understood in combination with data on sex.

The academics note that Roger Halliday, the Scottish government’s chief statistician, proposes to cease the collection of data, except in some “exceptional circumstances”.

“No robust evidence or argument has been provided to support such a fundamental change,” said the academics, who include Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, Nick Allum, professor of research methodology, Essex University, and Tarani Chandola, professor of medical sociology, Manchester University.

The Scottish government dispute their claims insisting they are “not true” because Scotland’s chief statistician has yet to publish his formal guidance.

“We have been open and transparent throughout the development of this guidance and the ambition remains to ensure data about sex and gender that is needed is collected appropriately and used well to support better decisions across Scotland,” a spokesman said.

According to a draft document by Halliday, guidance on data collection encourages public bodies to pose questions “on the basis of gender identity rather than sex”.

He concluded that “questions about a person’s biology should not be asked, except potentially where there is direct relevance to a person’s medical treatment” and insisted that only “in a small number of instances, it may be necessary to record a person’s legal sex . . . on an individual basis for a very specific purpose”.

In the 2022 census, people in Scotland will be able to identify as transgender for the first time.

Changes will mean Scotland will be the first part of the UK to include three questions related to sex, transgender status and sexual orientation. People who do not identify with their birth sex will be asked their “trans status”.

There has been a series of rows over whether statistics authorities have failed to consult feminist campaigners over changes to data collection as a trend grows towards allowing gender self-identification on official records instead of biological sex.

In October, feminist academics claimed than a standard census question about sex and gender had been changed after officials met “almost exclusively with groups claiming to represent the interest of the trans community”. The research focused on the Office for National Statistics and the National Records of Scotland.

Both bodies rejected the suggestion that their policies had been “captured” before the next census, due to be held in England and Wales this year, and in Scotland in 2022. The Equality Network, which campaigns for trans rights, said: “Opponents of trans equality are trying to make the census, for the first time ever, insist that the sex question refers to your biological sex at birth. This would deny trans people’s lived sex,” the charity said, when it urged its supporters to write to MSPs.

“To change the sex question in that way would be the first time that LGBT equality in legislation has gone backwards in the UK since section 28 under Margaret Thatcher in 1988.”

Section 28 refers to a 1988 law stopping councils and schools promoting the teaching of homosexuality.

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