NEWS26 February 2021

Office for Statistics Regulation publishes sex data collection draft guidance

News Public Sector UK

UK – The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has produced draft guidance for public bodies collecting data about sex, stating that the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ should not be used interchangeably.

Writing complete survey questionnaire_crop

The guidance, based on the OSR’s Code of Practice for Statistics, states that producers of official statistics must be transparent about what data is collected and “clear” about terminology used to describe data.

It says: “Producers should be clear about definitions or terminology they use, and these should be harmonised to be consistent and coherent with related statistics and data where possible. The terms ‘sex’ and ’gender’ should not be used interchangeably in official statistics.”

Those collecting data must “ensure statistics are of sufficient quality and based on appropriate data and methods”, and statistics should “meet their intended uses and be sufficient for the decisions they are being used to inform”, the guidance also notes.

Criminal justice statistics were cited by the OSR as an example of an area where there can be variations in the way data about sex is captured across England, Wales and Scotland. 

The guidance is not yet finalised and is open for feedback from interested parties.

The OSR has written to Roger Halliday, the Scottish government’s chief statistician and data officer, to flag the guidance and its relevance to the Scottish government’s ongoing review of how data on sex and gender is collected.

The Scottish government’s Sex and Gender in Data Working Group, led by Halliday, was set up in 2019 to consider what guidance should be offered to public bodies about how data on sex and gender is collected, disaggregated and used.

The group published a draft update in December, asking for feedback from stakeholders before it presents a final proposal to ministers. The OSR has not provided a response to the consultation but asked Halliday to “take on board the principles of the OSR guidance”.

In the letter to Halliday, Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation, wrote: “The final form of your guidance will have significant impact on data and statistics in Scotland, and possibly further afield. I will take a keen interest in your continued work to address any stakeholder feedback you have received and develop finalised guidance which will ensure data and statistics on sex and gender can be produced to best support society’s needs.”

In 2020, Scotland postponed its census, initially set to take place next month, for a year due to Covid-19. The England and Wales survey, and the Northern Ireland census, will still take place on 21st March.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has confirmed that the England and Wales census will include a voluntary question on gender identity for the first time.

Scotland’s census in 2022, run by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) will ask a binary sex question and include guidance that this can be self-identified, followed by a question on trans status.