Classification of ethnicity in the United Kingdom
The classification of ethnicity in the United Kingdom has attracted controversy in the past. This was particularly the situation at the time of the 2001 Census, where the existence and nature of such a classification, which appeared on the Census form, became more widely known than general. Different classifications, both formal and informal, are used in Britain.
The ethnicity data used in UK national statistics relies on individuals' self-definition. The Office for National Statistics explain this as follows:
Is a person's ethnic group self-defined?
Yes. Membership of an ethnic group is something that is subjectively meaningful to the person concerned, and this is the principal basis for ethnic categorisation in the United Kingdom. So, in ethnic group questions, we are unable to base ethnic identification upon objective, quantifiable information as we would, say, for age or gender. And this means that we should rather ask people which group they see themselves as belonging to.
This self-defined categorization was also used for classifying ethnicity in the 2001 UK Census. Slightly different categories were employed in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as compared with England and Wales, "to reflect local differences in the requirement for information". However, the data collected still allow for comparison across the UK. Different classifications were used in the 1991 Census, which was the first to include a question on ethnicity.
Proposed changes to the 2011 Census regarding ethnicity
There were calls for the 2011 national census in England and Wales to include extra tick boxes so people could identify their ethnic group in category A as Welsh, English and Cornish The tick boxes at the time only included British, Irish or any other.
Some experts, community and special interest group respondents also pointed out that the 'Black African' category was too broad. They remarked that the category did not provide enough information on the considerable diversity that existed within the various populations currently classified under this heading. This concealed heterogeneity ultimately made the gathered data of limited use analytically. To remedy this, the Muslim Council of Britain proposed that this census category should be broken down instead into specific ethnic groups.
The National Association of British Arabs and other Arab organizations also lobbied for the inclusion of a separate "Arab" entry, which would include under-reported groups from the Arab world such as Syrians, Yemenis, Somalis and Maghrebis.
The specimen 2011 Census questions were published in 2009 and included new "Gypsy or Irish Traveller" and "Arab" categories.
The following are the options the ONS currently recommends for ethnicity surveys:
|England and Wales||Scotland||Northern Ireland|
|English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British||Scottish||Irish Traveller|
|Irish||Other British||Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups|
|Gypsy or Irish traveller||Irish||White and Black Caribbean|
|Any other White background, please describe||Gypsy or Irish Traveller||White and Black African|
|Mixed / multiple ethnic groups||Polish||White and Asian|
|White and Black Caribbean||Any other White ethnic group, please describe||Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe|
|White and Black African||Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups||Asian / Asian British|
|White and Asian||Any Mixed or Multiple ethnic groups, please describe||Indian|
|Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background, please describe||Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British||Pakistani|
|Asian / Asian British||Pakistani, Pakistani Scottish or Pakistani British||Bangladeshi|
|Indian||Indian, Indian Scottish or Indian British||Chinese|
|Pakistani||Bangladeshi, Bangladeshi Scottish or Bangladeshi British||Any other Asian background, please describe|
|Bangladeshi||Chinese, Chinese Scottish or Chinese British||Black / African / Caribbean / Black British|
|Chinese||Any other Asian, please describe||African|
|Any other Asian background, please describe||African||Caribbean|
|Black / African / Caribbean / Black British||African, African Scottish or African British||Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe|
|African||Any other African, please describe||Other ethnic group|
|Caribbean||Caribbean or Black||Arab|
|Any other Black / African / Caribbean background, please describe||Caribbean, Caribbean Scottish or Caribbean British||Any other ethnic group, please describe|
|Other ethnic group||Black, Black Scottish or Black British|
|Arab||Any other Caribbean or Black, please describe|
|Any other ethnic group, please describe||Other ethnic group|
|Arab, Arab Scottish or Arab British|
|Any other ethnic group, please describe|
In addition to the above "tick-box" options, respondents can also make use of "write-in" or "please describe" options. To do this, they would have to select one of the "other" categories on the census form and write in their answer in the box provided. More details are available on the National Statistics website.
- IC1 White person
- IC2 Mediterranean person
- IC3 African/Caribbean person
- IC4 Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani, Maldivian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, or any other (South) Asian person
- IC5 Chinese, Japanese, Korean or South-East Asian person
- IC6 Arabic, Egyptian or Maghreb person
- IC0 Origin unknown
This classification is still referred to on some police websites and police chase TV shows, e.g. "Driver is IC1 male, passenger is IC3 male".
From 1 April 2003, police forces were required to use the new system described above. Police forces and civil and emergency services, the NHS and local authorities in England and Wales may refer to this as the "16+1" system, named after the 16 classifications of ethnicity plus one category for "not stated". The IC classification is still used for descriptions of suspects by police officers amongst themselves, but does risk incorrectly identifying a victim a witness or a suspect compared to that person's own description of their ethnicity. When a person is stopped by a police officer exercising statutory powers and asked to provide information under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, they are asked to select one of the five main categories representing broad ethnic groups and then a more specific cultural background from within this group. Officers must record the respondent's answer, not their own opinion.
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- "Harmonised Concepts and Questions for Social Data Sources: Primary Standards – Ethnic Group". Office for National Statistics. April 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
- "Population size: 7.9% from a non-White ethnic group". Office for National Statistics. 2004-01-08. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
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- Bosveld, Karin; Connolly, Helen; Rendall, Michael S. (31 March 2006). "A guide to comparing 1991 and 2001 Census ethnic group data". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 21 November 2010.
- Fight goes on to include Cornish ethnicity and language in Census 2011 options [dead link]
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- "Code of Practice for the Exercise by Police Officers of Statutory Powers of Stop and Search; Police Officers and Police Staff of Requirements to Record Public Encounters". Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 CODE A (HMSO).