NEWS15 March 2010

Tick-box surveys ‘fail to capture UK diversity’

Features News UK

UK— Survey research is failing to reflect the true nature of diversity in Britain by forcing people into ‘tick-box’ categories, a new study claims.

The paper from independent think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research seeks to “banish the tick-box” in order to “sharpen our analysis… and get smarter at treating people as individuals and not just as part of a group”.

The study, by broadcaster Simon Fanshawe and Danny Sriskandarajah, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, argues that Britain is not only more diverse than ever before, but that “diversity itself is growing more diverse”.

The approach to diversity in UK law is based on six strands: gender, race, disability, sexuality, faith and belief, and age. But the assumption that people’s lives are overwhelmingly affected by the group they belong to is “clearly not true any more”, the authors say.

“Identities are more complex and fluid than they used to be, reflecting shifting interests and allegiances… The very categorisations that we often rely on (for example ‘black’, ‘Asian’, ‘gay’ or ‘disabled’) no longer seem to be able to tell us much about who people are, what lives they lead, who they identify with or what services they need from government and society. And the tick-box approach to identity seems to be missing out on growing numbers of people who fall outside or across standard classifications, as some of our interviewees told us.”

The authors say they are frustrated at how the “tick-box approach” “has no finger on the pulse of how life is actually lived, whether it is about sexuality, ethnicity or any other form of capturing diversity”.

They cite the example of the 2001 census, which offered 16 boxes to tick for ethnicity but still could not cover everyone. For example Sriskandarajah’s son is one of 6,000 people of mixed Asian and black heritage in the UK who have to tick the box marked ‘Other’. Religious categorisation, they say, is even more flawed, with tick boxes encouraging people to select a religion, leading to people who belong to no religion or do not have a religion being underrepresented.

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