53% of Britons are non-religious, says latest BSA Survey

The 34th annual British Social Attitudes Survey shows that non-religious people represent a clear majority of British people in 2017.

This accounts for 53% of the general population, a new high for the non-religious population, which was previously estimated at 51% in 2014.

The result mirrors other recent polls which ask the questions Do you consider yourself to have a religion? and If so, which one?, which typically report that non‑religious Britons represent roughly half the population.

The British Social Attitudes Survey’s result, in particular, has asked the same question every year for several decades, creating a real-time picture of how attitudes to religion in Britain have changed with demographic shifts.

Most noticeable is the distinction between the views of younger age cohorts and older age cohorts with a majority of older Britons having strong religious identities that are not widely shared by their children and grandchildren. The result of this has been the rapid decline in the popularity of religion as people from older generations die.

The results of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, which found that 58% of Scots consider themselves non-religious, including 74% of Scots aged 18-34 is even more emphatic.

The only generation where religious belief was in the majority was Scots aged 65+, of whom only 34% were non-religious, compared to 57% of Scots aged 50-64.

Humanists UK, says: “Polls like the UK national census which use the leading question ‘What is your religion?’ tend to over-estimate religious belief in Britain by encouraging identification with a cultural or ethnic religious identity.”

The next census is scheduled for 2021 and Humanists UK has been campaigning, to see the question changed to the much more statistically valid and sound model used by the social attitudes surveys.

Andrew Copson

Andrew Copson

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, says: “For some time now, Prime Ministers, First Ministers, and senior politicians in every part of the country have made special claims for this being a “Christian country” as a means of justifying privileges given to religious institutions in our politics and in our public life. But the evidence again shows that the UK cannot be seen as a Christian country in anything but a narrow constitutional sense. We are simply not a nation of believing, practising Christians. We are a diverse, plural country made up of people from a range of beliefs and backgrounds, united not by a single creed but by common values such as empathy, compassion, and kindness, which predate the major religions.

“Yet as religion’s popularity declines, its disproportionate influence in our politics continues to grow. 26 bishops from the Anglican church sit and vote in the UK Parliament. A generation of young people are compelled by law to take part in Christian worship during assemblies. Over a third of our schools are ‘faith’ schools, most of which use religiously selective admissions criteria that discriminate against poorer families and families with no religion. And legal loopholes mean that religious institutions carrying out council contracts cannot be challenged for homophobic and sectarian discrimination. Surely all of this needs to be looked at again, and with some urgency, if we truly want to live in a fair society ensuring freedom of choice for everyone, regardless of religion or belief.”


To read the complete results of the British Social Attitudes survey, click here:

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