The 2021 census will officially record gender identity and sexuality for the first time in its 220-year history.

Two new questions have been added to capture data around sexual orientation and gender, allowing the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to produce the first ‘robust data’ on the number of LGBTQ people living in the UK.

The census is due to be distributed to every household in the UK on 21 March, and the new questions will be voluntary and available to everyone over the age of 16.

Iain Bell, deputy national statistician at the ONS, said the UK currently only has estimated data on sexual preference and no official data at all on gender identity, and that the responses will help shape service provision:

“These data are needed by local authorities and service providers to inform the provision of services. The sexual orientation and gender identity questions will be voluntary for people aged 16 and over.

“While there are estimates of sexual orientation at a national and regional level, it is not possible to produce robust estimates for all local authorities – that’s what census data will give.

“Without robust data on the size of the LGBT population at a national and local level, decision-makers are operating in a vacuum, unaware of the extent and nature of disadvantage which LGBT people may be experiencing in terms of health, educational outcomes, employment and housing.”

The move has been described as an ‘historic moment’ by LGBTQ charities. Chief executive of LGBT charity Stonewall, Nancy Kelley, said: 

“For far too long, our community has been a hidden population. Collecting this vital data will ensure researchers, policymakers, service providers and community organisations are able to understand the needs of LGBT+ people and develop tailored services to help us be treated fairly and achieve our potential.”