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Just 1.5 per cent of Britons are gay, says pioneering survey

Almost three-quarters of a million adults in the UK say they are gay, lesbian or bisexual according to the first attempt by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to quantify the gay population. The findings show that an estimated 480,000 people consider themselves gay or lesbian, and a further 245,000 said they were bisexual.

These figures estimate that Britain's gay community accounts for 1.5 per cent of the total population – much lower than previous estimates.

The most commonly used previous estimate was 6 per cent which was cited by ministers when civil partnership legislation was introduced in 2005. This suggested a gay population of 3.6 million. However critics said the estimate might not be accurate as respondents could be reluctant to talk about their sexuality on the doorstep.

London had the highest concentration of gay people at 2.2 per cent of the population, Northern Ireland had the lowest at 0.9 per cent. Overall 1.5 per cent of the population considered themselves to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The ONS received 450,000 responses in its new Integrated Household Survey (IHS) – the biggest pool of UK social data after the Census.

The figures also showed that people who said they were gay were much more likely to be in managerial or professional occupations than heterosexual workers – 49.1 per cent compared with 30.6 per cent for straight workers. They were also better educated with 38 per cent holding a degree compared to just 21.9 per cent of heterosexuals. Their age profile is also much younger than the rest of the population, with 66 per cent under the age of 44 and 17 per cent aged 16 to 24. A third of bisexual households include at least one child but only 8.6 per cent of gay or lesbian respondents live with a child.

The ONS said they were confident that their survey had produced an accurate measure of the gay population based on how people perceived their sexual identity. People aged 16 were asked to respond with one of four options: heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other. Higher estimates may have been produced by questioning people about their past sexual experiences rather than their sexual identity, the ONS said.

The data showed that 95 per cent said they were heterosexual, 1 per cent gay or lesbian, 0.5 per cent bisexual, 0.5 per cent other, and the remaining 3 per cent did not know or did not answer.

All IHS statistics are considered experimental, or in a testing phase, as they have not yet been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights charity Stonewall, said the figures were likely to be an underestimate and would increase as the survey was repeated. He said: "We warmly welcome these figures as Stonewall has pushed for this information. However, this is the first time people were asked and data collection happened on doorsteps or over the phone, which may deter people from giving accurate responses... if someone isn't openly gay."

The results of the first Integrated Household Survey also showed that 71 per cent of people in the UK say they are Christian, 4 per cent are Muslim and 21 per cent have no religious affiliation. Slough had the highest concentration of religious devotion in England at 93 per cent. Brighton had the lowest at 58 per cent.