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Make Spiritualism count in the census!    By Alv Hirst, Spiritualists’ National Union Director of Communications

SPOILER alert. This is a call to action! March 21 is a census day for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; Scotland is delaying its census until next year.

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You might think that this has little to do with Spiritualism, but in fact it’s very important.

The census survey has been undertaken every ten years and is the mass collection of statistics and information about the population of the UK.

The census surveys are run by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in England and Wales, and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). You may recognise these names, which are often the definitive source of information in a variety of news reports.

ALV HIRST: “Spiritualism’s presence on the census is not just a number.”


KALV HIRST: “Spiritualism’s presence
on the census is not just a number.”

The census provides a snapshot of life that is then used for the planning and delivery of services, and to gain an understanding of the population and its changing needs.

Each household is legally required to complete the census, so it is not optional; fines are in place for non-compliance.

Once collected and processed, the information is published and used by the government, business, charity sectors and the media to understand the environment that they are operating in and the people they serve.

One of the areas that the census now collects information on is religion. This is where we see that it is of vital concern to Spiritualism.

If we take a look at the last census, which took place in 2011, we find that 39,061 described their religion as “Spiritualism” in England and Wales.

Working out how many Spiritualists there are in the UK is no easy task, and gaining a definitive number is impossible. The census is our best opportunity for anyone to understand how widespread Spiritualism is.

A further 13,832 people in the 2011 census described their religion as “Spiritual.” I believe that there may be some Spiritualists in the latter group who have not used standard terminology.

There are still people who describe their Spiritualist church as a “spiritual church,” but this is obviously not accurate terminology. It’s possible that an undefinable number of this cohort of 13,832 people are Spiritualists.

A further 23,566 people stated they had a “mixed religion.” This group may, for example, have included some Christian Spiritualists (meaning neither the Christian nor Spiritualist aspects of their faith were represented).

Of course, individuals must ultimately feel free to define their own response, but we can see then that Spiritualism could easily fall through the cracks of the census and not be fully counted.

Why does this matter? Well, we have seen over the past decade the raising of Spiritualism’s profile.

From a national perspective, the SNU is now an integral part of the Inter Faith Network, has a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum, has a standing invitation to represent Spiritualism at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, and is increasingly consulted by the government for a Spiritualist perspective on a range of issues.

We are represented on the RE (Religious Education) Council and have involvement in the Prison Chaplaincy; the list is growing. Additionally, locally many Spiritualist churches of all kinds are involved in inter faith and community activities.

Spiritualism’s presence on the census is not just a number; it is a reminder to everyone that we are here… and we matter. In short, it makes us harder to overlook by the government, by national and local bodies, and by the media.

What do we need to do? It is important that all Spiritualists (of whatever denomination) ensure that they use the census to record this fact.

The Census 2021 logo

The Census 2021 logo


The ONS has said that it intends the religion question on the 2021 question to be the same as that on the 2011 census.

The main reason cited is in order to be consistent. This means that answering questions about religion will be voluntary and an optional part of the form used to collect the information.

Unfortunately, by keeping the same format for the section on religion, the ONS has not expanded the list of religions to select which does not include Spiritualism.

NISRA’s question is expected to be the same. For Spiritualists, the opportunity to identify themselves will be as a written response to the questions and is expected to be in the following formats taken from previous forms.

Question (England and Wales): “What is your religion?” Respond after: “Any other religion (write in).”

Question (Northern Ireland): “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”
Respond after: “Other, write in.”

Writing your response “Spiritualism” will count. Remember that “Spiritual” is such a vague term in this context that it will be of no strategic use to Spiritualism’s journey forwards, so we need to remind ourselves not to use it in place of “Spiritualism.”
In 2011, almost 40,000 people clearly identified themselves as Spiritualist. Seeing that number rise in the 2021 census will demonstrate the growth of the religion and be testimony to the work that we have all done locally and nationally to welcome new people into the wider Spiritualist community.

While Scotland will have to wait a year, a higher number from this census will bring greater visibility for us all and help to amplify the voice of all Spiritualists in the UK. On March 21 we really can all make Spiritualism count!


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