Politicians from all the major parties have condemned the second largest market research company in the UK, Ipsos MORI, for continuing to run polls without an option to indicate ‘civil partnership’ under relationship status, nine years after they were introduced in the UK.
Robert Hanwell, a director at Millivres Prowler Group (MPG), which publishes Gay Times magazine, was approached at his home in south London last weekend and asked to complete a survey about which radio station he listens to.
At around page four of the poll, he noticed that the form only allowed respondents to choose the options: ‘married’, ‘living with partner’ or ‘single’.
When approached about the missing option for those in civil partnerships, the company gave various reasons, including that the poll in question has been running for a long time, and claimed that they did not ask questions about “living arrangements”, despite including options like ‘married’ and ‘single’.
Speaking to PinkNews, the Chief Executive of the company, Ben Page, admitted that the questions on the survey “may have become outdated”, but went on to say that private companies were not interested in finding out the sexuality of respondents.
“This particular survey has been running for 20 years and the demographic questions may have become outdated. However, most of our private sector clients do not seek to identify the precise nature of people’s living arrangements – they simply want to know if they are married or live with a man/woman or are single, not their sexuality. On more detailed government surveys we collect a wider range of data depending on the precise purpose of the survey, including detailed marriage, living arrangements and sexuality questions,” he said.
After being asked why, nine years after civil partnerships were brought into effect in the UK, had the form simply not had the addition of civil partnership, he claimed those couples were “too small a group” to be included.
He said: “The other issue is that 250,000 people in civil partnerships means that as a percentage of the population they are too small a group to look at in a survey of this size with any validity, and nor are we interested in people’s sexuality for the purposes of many surveys – we don’t ask whether people are Trans, their sexuality, whether or not they eat meat on many surveys – it all depends on the particular issue , despite campaign groups feeling these are vital issues.”
Concluding, he said that, despite asking for marital status, the company collects “the minimum of detail”.
“We do periodically look at standard classifications and will review this, but simply we are collecting the minimum of detail , as simply as possible about people for any given survey – and for the purposes of the survey, this would not be necessary.”
In a later conversation Mr Page suggested that Mr Hanwell could have selected the option ‘Marriage’, however it has been pointed out that marriage and civil partnerships are not the same.
Labour MEP Michael Cashman, a co-founder of Stonewall told PinkNews: “I think this tells us more about how unreflective Ipsos MORI is of the British public. If it doesn’t record a substantial element of British society, how can it even put itself as being representative?
“As someone in a civil partnership, I want an opportunity on any form, on any enquiry to state whether I’m single, gay, whether I’m married, whether I’m in a civil partnership. It is extremely important if we want to bring together demographics that reflect the UK. If we want a false view of how we think the world is, then let Ipsos MORI continue to do its rather negative exclusive work.”
Tory MP for Finchley and Golders Green, and also an LGBT advisor to the Conservative Party leadership, Mike Freer, told PinkNews: “Ipsos MORI is simply wrong on this. Many organisations have updated forms when the issue has been raised (as did the Foreign Office) because it was a simple oversight. Others update when they overhaul their web presence. Ipsos MORI seem to suggest civil partner status isn’t relevant and we should just tick the closest box. That is insulting – they should monitor thoroughly or not at all.”
Barnoness Liz Barker, an openly-gay Lib Dem peer who came out during the equal marriage debate in the House of Lords last year, said: “If Ipsos MORI have failed to acknowledge the existence of Civil Partnerships since 2005, one does question how accurate their societal research might be”.
Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert told PinkNews that “civil partnerships are an intrinsic part of today’s relationship denominators – they are different to marriage, gay or straight, and clearly different to being single. As such I’m surprised that a market leading pollster is ignoring this important cohort of people who have chosen a particular way to define themselves and their relationship and they may well find, if they collected the information, had distinct views on other issues too – but without collecting that data we will never know.”
Mr Hanwell said he allowed the representative of Ipsos MORI into his home, but once he got a few pages into the survey and realised Civil Partnerships were not included, he asked to stop the survey.
“I was shocked that civil partnerships were not included, so I refused to continue,” going on to say that he is in a civil partnership with his partner of 23 years.
Saying he spoke to a gay representative of Ipsos MORI, he was told that it normally takes a long process of committees to make such a change. He said: “I pointed out that they had already had 8 years to update it.”
“Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005. Up until then society had sadly not legally recognised my long-term commitment to my partner. We all fought for that right in so many ways and to have a well respected organisation like Ipsos MORI take it away in such a lazy fashion in 2014 is disappointing and actually personally upsetting.
“If any survey asks about your relationship it should at the very least include all those categories that are legally recognised. I bet if Ipsos MORI asked about ethnicity they would not exclude say black citizens in the fear that it could be construed as racist. I can only conclude that excluding civil partnership from their question about my marital status is based at some level based on homophobia.”