Questions on biological sex ‘are wiped from official data’ The Times 13.01.21
Questions about a person’s biology “should not be asked” according to draft guidelines from Scotland’s chief statistician, in a paper that has fuelled concern that sex is being increasingly erased from official figures.
New guidance on data collection encourages public bodies to pose questions “on the basis of gender identity rather than sex” which will render statistics gathered on sex almost meaningless, according to feminist campaigners.
In a draft document by Roger Halliday, the chief statistician — who is responsible for maintaining trustworthiness in the use of data — he concludes 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 insists 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”.
It would appear to mean that in many instances organisations are being advised not to collect data on sex at all.
An accompanying Scottish government summary said that “in most cases data should be collected on the basis of gender identity rather than sex”.
Kath Murray, of the feminist policy collective Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, said Scotland was already at “serious risk” of losing the capacity to gather meaningful data and the draft proposals would “likely cement this loss”.
“Biological sex is well-understood to exert a strong influence over experiences and outcomes from birth onwards. It is one of the most important variables for policymaking, planning and research,” she said.
“The draft guidance does not discuss why it is now seen as more useful to collect data on gender identity, rather than collect both.
“The assumption that this approach will have no effect on information collected looks unreliable, especially when it is broken down by age.
“There is evidence that transgender identities are much more common in younger age groups . . . and within those, very unevenly distributed by sex.”
In the 2021 census, people in Scotland will be able to identify as transgender for the first time. Changes to the survey 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”.
Fiona Hyslop, the culture secretary, said there had traditionally been data gaps on sexual orientation and trans status and the changes would provide “valuable data”.
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 it was claimed by feminist academics 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 next year, and in Scotland in 2022.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The cabinet secretary for social security and older people asked Scotland’s chief statistician to develop guidance to support public bodies collect, present and use data on sex and gender. This is to better understand the lives of women and men in Scotland and design services to improve their lives. The draft version of the guidance was created for the purpose of seeking stakeholder feedback. Once the chief statistician considers that feedback, he will report back to ministers.”