New results released today from the 2021 Census have revealed that most people 73 and under in Wales ticked ‘No religion’. The results underline the more general Census religion figures, released in November, where more people ticked ‘No religion’ than ‘Christian’. Wales Humanists has said that the results show that Wales faces a non-religious future, and that public bodies need to keep up with today’s demographics.
The least religious age over 18 in Wales is 27, where 66% ticked ‘No religion’. For all age groups the Census saw 47% ticking ‘No religion’ and 44% ticking ‘Christian’.
The high numbers ticking ‘No religion’ were in spite of the Census question on religion being widely recognised as a biased and leading one – in reality England and Wales are even less religious, in terms of identity, belief, and practice than the Census results suggest. Research shows that those ticking ‘Christian’ are frequently not religious in their beliefs or practice – for example, less than half believe Jesus was a real person who was the son of god, died, and came back to life. In general, those who tick ‘Christian’ do so because they were christened, because their parents are/were Christian, or because they went to a Christian school.
As well as being less religious than England, Wales has also led the way in recent years in changing its laws to reflect the demographics. Last year, a new Curriculum Act came into effect that mandates equal teaching of humanism alongside major religions. Wales also has relatively few state-funded faith schools – 14% of the total. But unfortunately the new curriculum does not address the requirement for all state schools to carry out a daily act of Christian worship, a law that is completely out of step with the majority non-religious population. In schools of no religious character, this must be Christian – in spite of 59% of school-age pupils having ticked ‘no religion’. This law must now seriously come under question. School leaders in England (which has the same law) called for it to be scrapped when the headline Census results came out in November.
There are other areas of public life where equal treatment of the non-religious still needs to be realised. Pastoral care in hospitals and prisons is dominated by Christian chaplains with no paid positions for non-religious pastoral carers. All civic ceremonies also need to be reviewed to make sure they represent the population in Wales as it stands today.
Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented:
‘Wales has already made great strides towards an education system fit for the country as it is today. The Curriculum and Assessment Act represented very welcome reform, both on Religion, Values, and Ethics, and on Relationships and Sexuality Education.
‘But as today’s Census figures show, the Government needs to go further. Now that the curriculum reforms are done, it must turn its attention to repealing the archaic law requiring collective worship in all schools. Instead pupils should have inclusive assemblies, equally suitable to all.’
The result is still likely to underestimate the number of non-religious people. This is because the question is not only optional, but also uses leading wording (‘What is your religion?’) which has long been shown to inflate the number of people who do not believe in, practice, or consider themselves to belong to a religion choosing a religious box. The Office of National Statistics acknowledges this itself. The annual British Social Attitudes Survey, by contrast, asks a less leading question. While overall the Census saw 37% ticking ‘No religion’ and 46% ticking ‘Christian’, the Social Attitudes Survey found in 2020 that 53% of British adults belong to no religion, with only 37% Christians.
Separately a poll commissioned by Humanists UK in 2019 showed that 29% of British adults hold all the fundamental beliefs and values of humanists, hinting at the widespread shift in popular values, opinions, and identity the UK has undergone in the 21st century.
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read Wales Humanists’ analysis of the results. See the last columns of the final tab for the statistics cited in this article.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.