Conversely, the Christian population of England and Wales has fallen by four million to 33.2 million in the past decade, despite the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, saying English cathedral congregations have grown in recent years.
In a statement reflecting the concerns of the British Humanist Association (BHA), Nick Spencer, research director at think-tank Theos, said;
The census measures religious identification, not beliefs or practice. It's about what people call themselves and which group they wish to identify with.According the the British Social Attitudes survey in 2011 (infographic at bottom of post), it is believed that the number of people that do not regard themselves as belonging to a particular religion in the UK may be as high as 50%.
On the census results, BHA chief executive, Andrew Copson, said;
"Religious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline in this country and non-religious identities are on the rise. It is time that public policy caught up with this mass turning away from religious identities and stopped privileging religious bodies with ever increasing numbers of state-funded religious schools and other faith-based initiatives."
"They are decreasingly relevant to British life and identity and governments should catch up and accept that fact."
The humanists said the census "exaggerated" the number of Christians and that there were far fewer practising Christians.
It is, perhaps, because of the way the question was worded and the choices one could choose from - Christian (all denominations), Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, of no religion or to list themselves as belonging to any other faith - that only 29,267 people specifically described themselves as atheist.
Other points of interest include (source);
- In the 2001 census 390,000 people claimed they were Jedi - followers of a fictional faith popularised by the Star Wars films - but that figure fell to 177,000 in 2011.
- The census shows a 7% rise in the number of people living in England and Wales since 2001 - up to 56.1 million. More than half the increase is due to migration.
- The second largest religion, after Christianity, was Islam, with 2.7 million people professing themselves to be Muslims - 4.8% of the population, up from 1.8% in 2001.
- 6,242 put "heavy metal" down as their faith.