Press Release - Census 2021 Sikh Ethnic Tickbox 211017


London – 24 October 2017

On 23 October the Sikh community moved a step closer to securing a separate Sikh ethnic tick box in the 2021 Census after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) called an open meeting of stakeholders to update them on progress. Around 80 or so Sikh representatives from a wide-range of Sikh organisations participated. By the end of the evening the ONS was left in no doubt concerning the level of support for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box with many accusing the ONS of discrimination for ignoring the fact that Sikhs are a legally recognised ethnic group.

In a show of hands virtually all present called for a Sikh tick box in the ethnicity question and to also retain the optional religious question. Only two Sikhs present, both from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), dissented with one calling for a Sikh tick box under religion only and the other calling for a Sikh tick box under ethnicity only.

Lord Singh, the head of the NSO, became a laughing stock by ignoring the legal reality by arguing Sikhs were simply a religion and not an ethnic group. The 85-year old dinosaur sounded like a broken record that has seen better days. At the end he showed he had either totally lost the plot by being the one person calling for a Sikh tick box under ethnicity only or he had made a dramatic U-turn. The overall conclusion was consistent with what the Sikh Federation (UK) and The Sikh Network have been telling ONS over the last three years. 93.5% of the 4,500+ respondents to the UK Sikh Survey last year stated they wanted a Sikh ethnic tick box and 19 out of 20 preferred to be identified as Sikh rather than Indian or Asian given the choice.

Many in the Sikh community have been saying for over a decade the claims by the NSO that it ‘represents’ 130 organisations is false. In the Census consultation process this has become crystal clear. None of the so-called 130 organisations the NSO claims to represent responded to the ONS consultation or turned up yesterday. This has much wider implications across government where the NSO and Lord Singh’s standing has declined. The ONS had completely downplayed the results of the test they carried out earlier this year at 40,000 households in Hounslow and Wolverhampton at previous meetings. The main reason for this was because the Sikh Federation (UK) and The Sikh Network had pointed out a number of shortcomings. Surprisingly the ONS presented the results from the test yesterday without reflecting some of the caveats. Sikhs from the Sikh Federation (UK) and The Sikh Network were then forced to expose some of the serious limitations of the test. These included:

• An overall response rate lower than expected at 13.4%. The Census is compulsory with the Census 2011 having a response rate of 94%. • Only 4.3% of the respondents were from Sikh households (the target population) and significantly lower than the 10% expected based on the estimated Sikh population in Hounslow and Wolverhampton.
• Trying to arrive at a meaningful conclusion on such an important matter based on only 228 responses from Sikh households was totally inadequate.
• The test proved too confusing. • The online test of the ethnic group question with a Sikh tick box was also flawed as it failed to recognise many respondents given the previous census options since 1991 have become accustomed to stating their ethnicity under the ‘Asian/Asian British’ category rather than ‘Other ethnic group’ category that came after and contained a sub-option of Sikh. • The only meaningful conclusion from the test is the number identifying as Sikh when adding a Sikh tick box more than doubled from 11.6% to 24.3% highlighting that there is a need for the tick box. This would increase with appropriate publicity and information in Punjabi that would naturally accompany the actual census.

The Sikh representatives rejected the test carried out by the ONS and suggested it had wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money with nothing worthwhile emerging. The ONS confirmed it was analysing census data from 2011 using Sikh surnames to determine the undercount of Sikhs and to estimate the possible number of people with a Sikh ethnic origin. Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs has tabled a series of Parliamentary Questions to obtain more information.


Gurjeet Singh National Press Secretary Sikh Federation (UK)

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