The Covid-19 pandemic shows all too clearly the importance of data. Knowing that men and older people are more likely to die and that certain ethnic groups are also more at risk is worrying but vital information. Without accurate data, we are flying blind. In England and Wales, men are around twice as likely as women to die from the disease. But do fears about wading into the gender debate mean that crucial statistics are not being collected properly?
The UK census has collected data on sex since its inception in 1801, yet the census authorities plan to advise respondents to the 2021 census that they may answer the sex question according to their gender identity. This will damage the ability of the census to monitor inequalities between women and men, and to assess the sex-differentiated impacts of Covid-19. The 2021 census will be remembered as the Covid census. It should provide a unique opportunity to analyse the impact of the pandemic across social groups. It would be unfortunate if that opportunity was placed in jeopardy through the unforced error of muddled guidance on the sex question.