The recently published 29th British Social Attitudes Survey has a vast array of interesting results. It shows a country that sees health as its priority (68%), but wants to see a reduction in immigration (75%). A country that is steadily losing trust in all political parties but still believes in a United Kingdom.
And it also shows a country where religion is less relevant than ever. 45.7% of respondents stated that they do not belong to a religion. And this figure rises to 65% for the 18–24 age group.
Since the British Social Attitudes survey was first produced in 1983, religious affiliation among people in Britain has dropped from 68% to the current figure of 54%. Clearly this is a trend and not just a one off finding or a statistical blip.
The survey also showed that levels of religious practice remain static at a fairly low level, with only 14.3% attending religious services once a week or more. So it seems that even among those who consider themselves to have a religion, under a third actually attend a church or equivalent place of worship.
The annual British Social Attitudes Survey is prepared by the National Centre for Social Research and asks a vast array of questions to a sample of over 3,000 people, representing a cross section of the British population.
The religion with which the largest number identify is ‘Church of England’ at 21.1%. 8.7% of respondents identified as ‘Roman Catholic’, and 10.1% identified as ‘Christian’ but did not give a specific denomination. 3.4% of respondents identified as ‘Muslim’, 2.2% as ‘Hindu’, 0.8% as ‘Jewish’, 0.4% described as ‘Sikh’, and 0.2% as ‘Buddhist’.
The results of the questions on religion have not been widely publicised, with the media concentrating on findings about attitudes to public spending and immigration. But surely almost half of respondents having no religion is worthy of comment?
The academics who analysed the 2011 findings concluded that this long term decline in religion is not good news for the current Government, which seems more and more inclined to involve religion in public life.
“What does this decline mean for society and social policy more generally? On the one hand, we can expect to see a continued increase in liberal attitudes towards a range of issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, as the influence of considerations grounded in religion declines. Moreover, we may see an increased reluctance, particularly among the younger age groups, for matters of faith to enter the social and public spheres at all.
“The recently expressed sentiment of the current coalition government to “do” and “get” God (Baroness Warsi, 2011) therefore may not sit well with, and could alienate, certain sections of the population.”
Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, commented on the government’s attitude. “Certain government ministers have recently taken a more aggressive stance regarding the role of religion in public life, and have claimed that Britain is still a Christian country. We urge the government to take note of these new survey results, and to recognise the fact that almost half of the British population are in fact non-religious,” he said.
At a time when church leaders are commonly in the media being quoted on all sorts of subjects it seems strange that I cannot find a single quote from any religion on this survey. Perhaps they are all too busy with campaigns against marriage equality?