Correspondence with National Statistician on sex and the census

On National Statistics Day, two days after our Sex and the Census webinar, we wrote to the National Statistician, Sir Ian Diamond.

In this letter, which you can read in full here, we said:

“We are pleased that ONS decided to preserve a mandatory, binary sex question for the 2021 census. However, we are extremely concerned that guidance proposed to accompany the sex question effectively makes it a question about self-declared gender identity, not biological sex.

“It is our understanding that the guidance for the 2021 census will soon be finalised. We call on you to address the concerns expressed by the UK’s leading social scientists in their letter to you sent in December 2019, but also the concerns of all the women who attended our event, whose consternation at this proposal was palpable.”

Sir Ian Diamond’s response

We received a response from Sir Ian Diamond on 4th November 2020:

In this letter Sir Ian states:

“The guidance for specific questions is yet to be finalised, including for the sex question.”

He also expressed disappointment that ONS were not invited to participate in the webinar.

You can read the letter from Sir Ian here:

Our reply

On 9th November, we replied to Sir Ian Diamond as follows:

“Thank you for your response of 4th  November and for your assurances that the ONS is continuing to engage with users and stakeholders on the guidance for the sex question in Census 2021. We are pleased to see you agree with us how important this is.

“We also know the importance of getting the guidance right is shared by Sir Bernard Silverman as outlined in his letter to you of 30th October.

“We will be glad to share your letter on our website to clarify matters for our supporters.

“We are very pleased to hear that ONS has undertaken further work on the guidance and that the guidance will be reviewed before a final decision is made on the wording.

“We hope that the guidance will take into account the need to collect robust sex-disaggregated data in order to uphold the rights of women and ensure our needs are being met.

“We are sorry you were disappointed not to have been invited to take part in our seminar on Sex and the Census. We are a women rights campaign and our priority is to provide a platform to amplify the voices of women whose voices have been excluded and marginalised.

“You will be aware, of course, that Prof. Alice Sullivan was disinvited from a NatCen seminar after raising concerns about the collection of sex data. You will also know about the important and highly respected work being carried out (on a shoestring) by independent policy analysis collective, Murray Blackburn Mackenzie. We were pleased to be able to offer these women a platform to share their expertise and research.

“However, we would be very happy to host a blog publishing your responses to questions posed by women during the webinar. Please let us know if you would be willing to do that and we can send you a list of the questions that were posed.

“We do appreciate you responding to us and showing that you take our concerns seriously.”

We will share any response we receive.


10th November 2020


We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.