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New British Social Attitudes survey shows continued decline of Christianity in Britain

Data from the latest British Social Attitudes survey has shown that the number of people in Britain who identify as Christian continues to be on the decline. In particular, the proportion of the population who identify as belonging to the Church of England stands at just 17%, falling from 21% in 2012 and a long way from the 29% recorded as recently as 2004.

When all denominations are taken into account, less than 42% of the British public identify as Christian. By contrast, those who identify with no religion continue to account for approximately half the population, rising steadily from 31% in 1983 and 43% in 2004. The total non-religious population has hovered between 48% and 51% in the past few years of the survey.

However, this trend stands in stark contrast with the rhetoric of many politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who has repeatedly made special claims for Britain being a ‘Christian country’. Other politicians who have taken a similar line include former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles, who entreated ‘militant atheists’ to ‘get over’ the fact that Britain is a Christian nation before his department oversaw the provision of £400,000 of funding intended to ‘strengthen faith institutions’.

The fall in the number of Church of England worshippers has been sufficiently stark as to lead former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to warn that the church is ‘one generation away from extinction’ and so must invest more heavily to assure its status in society.

Responding to the findings, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘This latest British Social Attitudes survey confirms the trend seen in all major surveys on this subject. As the population grows increasingly diverse and we record ever lower proportions of people identifying as Christian, it will become increasingly difficult for Government to justify things like discrimination on the basis of religion in schools, compulsory collective worship, and the presence of an established or national church in England and Scotland.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on andrew@humanism.org.uk or 07534 248596.

The data set for this question in British Social Attitudes 32: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/media/893167/religious-affiliation-british-social-attitudes.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Other polls in recent months have estimated even higher rates for the non-religious in Britain. An April WIN/Gallup poll found that 66% of Britons are non-religious, while a Times/YouGov poll that same month found a similar figure of 62%. The Census traditionally finds lower figures for the non-religious in Britain (26.1% in 2011), something which demographers and statisticians attribute to the use of a leading question and the placement of the question within the survey.

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