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46% of Britons say they are non-religious: largest single category of identity

Results of the 29th British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) have been released today, with 45.7% of respondents claiming that they do not belong to a religion.  The results also show that levels of religious practice remain static at a low level, with only 14.3% claiming to attend religious services once a week or more.  A large number of people have left the religion which they were brought up in.  Compared with the results of the first BSA in 1983, this year’s results show that religious identity in Britain has been in decline over the past three decades.

In answer to the question ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?’ 45.7% of respondents to the 29th BSA said that they did not.  The religion with which the largest number of individuals identify is ‘Church of England’ at 21.1%.  8.7% of respondents identfied 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’.

In 1983, when the first BSA was conducted, only about one in three (31%) claimed not to belong to a religion.  The data on religious practice in this year’s BSA also shows that the number of people who attend religious services on a regular basis has remained almost static.  In answer to the question ‘Apart from such special occasions as weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often nowadays do you attend services or meetings connected with your religion?’, only 14.3% said that they attend once a week or more.  In last year’s BSA, 14% said that they attend religious services at least weekly.

The question on religious upbringing shows many respondents have left the religion which they were brought up in.  45.7% of respondents claim not to have a religion now, but only 18.3% of respondents said that they were brought up in a family which did not have a religion.  The non-religious group therefore includes a large number of people who had a religious upbringing but decided to leave their faith.

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented ‘Religious identities in Britain have been in decline over the past few decades and religious practice has remained static at a low level.  These figures should be borne in mind when the upcoming results of the 2011 Census results are released, as the Census results routinely exaggerate the number of religious believers in the population.  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.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The 29th British Social Attitudes Survey: http://bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/

See the questions which were asked as part of the 29thBSA (includes data on religious belief): http://bsa-29.natcen.ac.uk/see-the-questions.aspx

The 28th British Social Attitudes Survey: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/study/british-social-attitudes-28th-report

The BHA’s page on statistics and surveys on religious belief: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-surveys-statistics

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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