‘Long-term trend away from religion looks set to accelerate’: BHA comments on release of latest British Social Attitudes Survey

8 August, 2016

2016 08 08 LW v1 Pause at the end of the cliffToday sees the publication of the latest annual results from NatCen Social Research’s British Social Attitudes Survey. The question in the survey about religious belonging records 48% of the population as being of no religion, a one percent decline from the year before, and three percent down on 2009. The Telegraph reports this as ‘show[ing] decades of decline in religious affiliation appearing to level off.’ But the British Humanist Association (BHA) has commented that the long-term trend is clearly still one of moving towards an ever-less religious population.

The Telegraph cites the leading sociologist Professor Linda Woodhead as saying that the long-term trajectory is still downward. ‘The decline of religion particularly Christianity and the rise of no religion has always been a very slow, long-term process. We shouldn’t be looking to see a collapse in numbers in a few years, we have got to look at the long-term picture. But I can’t imagine any factor that would lead this long-term trend to change. If you look at the things that really matter to people – what they do with their babies, how they get married and how they deal with their dead – the rise of non-religious funerals, civil weddings and non-church baby-namings is very steady as well. The move from CofE to nones continues.’

It also cites fellow academic Dr Abby Day as saying that the churches face a ‘demographic time bomb’, because ‘There is a huge difference between the [more religious] pre-war and [less religious] baby-boomer generations. I think this could be the pause at the edge of the cliff.’

BHA Director of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘NatCen Social Research has said that the number of non-religious people has not increased since 2009, but this number similarly declined from 46% to 40% between 1998 and 2005, before springing up to 51% in 2009. The long-term trend is clearly away from religion, and with the oldest generation being far and away the most religious generation, this looks set to accelerate.

‘As the population becomes less and less religious, it becomes increasingly unjustified that religious schools are able to segregate children in admissions policies, that ever more public services are contracted out to discriminatory religious groups, and that 26 Church of England bishops sit and vote in the House of Lords. Politicians must realise the demographics will make change in all these areas inevitable.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Campaigns Manager Richy Thompson at richy@humanists.uk or on 020 7324 3072.

Read NatCen Social Research’s comment on the latest findings: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/news-media/press-releases/2016/august/british-social-attitudes-religious-decline-comes-to-a-halt/

Read more religion and belief surveys and statistics: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-some-surveys-and-statistics/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.