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Volume 170: debated on Friday 30 March 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health whom he consulted about his plans to change the name of the groupings of occupations now described as the Registrar-General's social classes; how long the consultation period lasted; and whether any press release was issued to publicise the consultation.

"Social classes" is the name given to groupings of occupations which are used in the statistical analysis of census, mortality and other data. The name has been criticised because the classification is actually based entirely on occupation. The OPCS therefore decided to consult on whether the name should be changed before the tables to be produced from the 1991 census were specified. "Occupational skill groups" was suggested as a possible alternative.Consultation took place in October 1989 with other Government Departments and externally through the OPCS census advisory committees, medical advisory committee and demographic liaison group. There was no press release. Responses were originally sought by the end of November, but the deadline was extended into December to suit, in particular, the BMA.The consultation revealed some support for change, but there was also opposition. In particular, it was pointed out that, although the classification is indeed based on occupation, it is related to other factors, and is applied to all members of a family or household, including those without occupations.In the light of these points, it was decided to retain the name, "social class", but to extend it, to make its basis explicit, to "social class as defined by occupation". In using the expanded name, the OPCS will also make it clear whether individual people are being classified by their own occupations or by that of someone else in the family or household.The consultation also included a proposal to change the name of class II from "intermediate" to "managerial and technical"—again to clarify the basis of the classification. This change was welcomed, and it too is now being implemented in OPCS publications.