Gay question on ONS surveys will help public bodies with equality duty

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The decision of the Office for National Statistics to start asking survey respondents about their sexual orientation could help promote equality.

A new Equality Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this week will extend the existing duty on public bodies to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices, and service delivery can affect people according to their race, disability, or gender to include sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief.

Ministers have said the Bill will “design out” discrimination.

“This means that public bodies will need to consider how services affect a wide range of different people,” according to the Equalities Office.

“For example, it may prompt a town planner to think about the impact that drop-down kerbs and accessible public toilets can have on the day-to-day life of a wheelchair user, or extra park benches could be provided in local parks by the council, so that older people can benefit from public spaces as well as younger people.”

Without reliable statistics on how many lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans people are in a specific area, it could be difficult for some public bodies to carry out their new duties effectively.

The ONS will from January be able to provide information on LGB people in a wide range of settings from the workplace to households.

This in turn will inform a local authority how many LGB-headed families live in their borough or how many lesbians live in a primary care trust area.

All major ONS surveys of people over 16, such as the labour force survey and the integrated household survey (IHS) will ask if they are straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other.

Stonewall had lobbied the ONS to improve its data gathering on the UK’s gay population.

“This information will be essential as public authorities prepare to implement the single equality duty, should we be successful in passing the Equality Bill through Parliament,” a spokesperson for the gay equality organisation told

The decision to include a question on sexual orientation is not an indication that a similar question will be added to the 2011 Census.

Questions on ONS surveys are voluntary, whereas the content of the Census must be approved by Parliament and it is compulsory to fill it out.

The Equality Bill is expected to come before MPs in April.

The government is confident it will become law by the end of 2009, but there are likely to be clashes with the Conservative party over public services provided by faith groups, such as homeless shelters or schools, being required to actively promote equality for gay people.