People filling in the national census are to be told officially that they can say their sex is different from the one on their birth certificate.
The new guidance runs the risk of affecting vital data regarding the population the Government needs to plan for the future.
The advice for England and Wales is set to come in from the next census, to be held in 2021.
Trans drama: Anna Friel, above, playing a mum who helps her son live as a girl. This comes at a time when a census is to be introduced in March 2021 which will give people the opportunity to give a different sex characteristic than the one on their birth certificate
Transgender people will be told that when asked in the survey if they are ‘male’ or ‘female’ they can choose whichever option they feel best describes their sex.
The advice will apply to both adults and children, with parents being able to choose to record a sex for their child that differs from the one on their birth certificate.
It will also be applicable to individuals who are ‘non-binary’, meaning they do not identify as either men or women, and people who have both male and female sex characteristics – known commonly as ‘intersex’.
The move by the Office for National Statistics is a departure from the last census where no such written guidelines were provided and typically people would opt for the sex they were born.
It reflects a growing trend among public bodies such as the NHS, prisons and schools to allow individuals to erase their biological sex from official records and register as the gender they feel they are – even if they have not undergone any physical changes.
But legal and medical experts warned that failing to accurately record the numbers of females and males could lead the government to misallocate funds for vital services (file image)
The guidance is set to accompany census questions when for the first time they are sent out electronically rather than in the post to 26 million households in March 2021.
An ‘information paper’ published by the ONS this month revealed that the compulsory question which is likely to be posed is ‘What is your sex?’. The response options – as has been the case in previous censuses – will be ‘male’ or ‘female’.
But in its advice on answering this question, an accompanying statement says: ‘If you are one or more of non-binary, transgender, have variations of sex characteristics, sometimes also known as intersex, the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate. If you’re not sure how to answer, use the sex registered on your official documents, such as passport or driving licence, or whichever describes your sex.’
The census says: ‘If you are one or more non-binary, transgender, have variations of sex characteristics, sometimes also known as intersex, the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate. If you’re not sure how to answer, use the sex registered on your official documents, such as passport or driving licence, or whichever describes your sex’
Last night, legal and medical experts warned that failing to accurately record the numbers of females and males in the population could lead the Government to misallocate funds for vital services.
NHS paediatrician Dr Julie Maxwell said: ‘Almost every kind of illness behaves differently in men and women. If the national statistics are skewed in this way so you don’t know how many biological men or women there are, and if you add on to that the fact people are already changing their sex on medical records, you lose any meaningful knowledge of how often health problems are happening in men and women.
‘And my biggest fear for children is they are not going to get appropriate health services allocated for their needs because of messing around with statistics.’
Professor Rosa Freedman, an expert on LGBT human rights law, added: ‘To understand how ludicrous this is – if people could just pick a race or disability, we would all be up in arms.
Willam, A drag queen performs in Trafalgar Square during London Pride, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) parade in London, July 6
‘The purpose of the census is to understand what the population is and plan for those demographics. The census is not there to validate someone’s gender identity. The census is there to allow the Government to plan for the next ten years in terms of its funding for programmes and where it should focus its resources. Conflating gender with sex as the ONS are doing with this guidance does not allow for population planning.’
The next census is also set to ask adults over 16 an additional ‘voluntary’ question on whether their gender is the same as the sex they were registered at birth for the first time. If the answer to this question is ‘no’ they are given the option to enter a term they use to describe their gender. The ONS said it was advised by a number of transgender lobby groups in devising this question on gender such as Mermaids, which supports young people, but also consulted potential objectors such as feminists.
The ONS was advised by transgender lobby groups and potential objectors such as feminists in devising the census questions
It insisted that while there has never been written guidance for transgender people on how to answer the question on sex, there had been no change in their advice. A spokesman said if a trans person called one of their advisers on how to answer this section in the last 2011 census, they would have been verbally told to select the sex they believed was correct for them.
Mermaids also advised ITV in the making of a series on transgender children called Butterfly – a drama last year in which Anna Friel played a mother who supports her 11-year-old son to begin living as a girl called Maxine.
It’s vital that census data is accurate!
Dr Kath Murray
The main purpose of the census is to provide robust data that governments need to develop policies, run public services and allocate funding.
Furthermore, public bodies use the census numbers to fulfil their duty under the Equalities Act 2010 to monitor and assess the impact of their policies in relation to sex.
As the only data source that provides full coverage of the population, the census allows analysis at a level of detail that sample surveys cannot, and it is paramount that it is accurate.
NHS funding is distributed to different services on the basis of need within population groups, taking into account age and sex, and medical research uses census data to calculate and understand variation in the incidence and prevalence of diseases across different populations. Knowing how many people live in an area and their characteristics allows local authorities to identify what communities need. For example, which areas need resources for maternity services.
Within the field of criminal justice, census data is used to monitor how offending and victimisation rates differ between men and women.
This can be used to develop policies on tackling crimes such as domestic violence.
The census also provides information on educational attainment by sex. In London, for example, they use this data for schools planning, and to identity gaps in youth service provision.
Sex, together with age, is a core topic frequently compared with other population characteristics and this data has been gathered since the very first census in 1801.
Because of the importance of the census, whatever decision is taken in 2021 is likely to set a precedent for other data collection exercises.
If the UK census authorities proceed with a sex question on a self-identification basis, we are likely to see other public bodies do the same.
Having trouble deciding? Here are 21 genders to pick from
Sex at birth is the same as your gender identity now.
2. Transgender Sex at birth does not match your gender identity now.
3. Transsexual Happy for others to know you are having medical treatment to change sex.
4. Trans man
Born female but now identifies as a man.
5. Trans woman
Born male but now identifies as a woman.
Having more than one gender identity at the same time or at different times.
Having two genders which can be, but are not confined to, just male and female.
Fluctuating between being male, female or other gender.
Roughly in the middle of the gender spectrum between male and female.
Gender identity is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female.
Similar to non-binary, but an older term now less commonly used.
Having many genders that could be infinite in number.
Used to described having more than four genders.
Born female but identifying with a masculine gender.
Born male but identifying with a feminine gender.
Identifying as partly female and partly male or another gender.
Identifying as partly male and partly female or another gender.
Having a ‘neutral’ gender so neither male nor female.
Someone who identifies as having no gender.
From Native American cultures, a person who has both masculine and feminine spirits.
21. Third gender
Someone categorised by themselves or society as neither male nor female.
- See the Mermaids video on transgender terms here