No Tick Box for the Cornish yet- but officials remain hopeful after meeting

Last week Cornwall Council Deputy Leader Julian German, Cornwall Councillors and Council officers met with senior officers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Truro to discuss the inclusion of tick boxes for the Cornish and Cornish language on the Census.

Although no change in position was forthcoming from the ONS officials on their visit, Cornish officials remain hopeful that time remains for the Cornish to be granted a tick box on the 2021 census.

In March 2017, in its Fourth Opinion to the UK Government on the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Council of Europe made a specific recommendation to the ONS stating it should “take the necessary measures to include the possibility to self-identify as Cornish, through a ‘tick-box’ in the next census.”

Is the Cornish Tick Box under threat?

In the last census in 2011, the Cornish did not have the option to tick a box to say they identified as Cornish like the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish and could only write Cornish under the ‘other’ option.

Deputy Leader Julian German said the meeting was an important milestone. “Cornish people have a proud and distinct identity.  We are proud of our history and language and want this to be reflected in the way the census captures data so it’s not an ‘other’ field in the language and identity section. 

“We believe this will provide a more accurate reflection of the number of Cornish in Cornwall and across the UK.

An accurate count of Cornish language speakers is a key factor in influencing funding and devolution – this is key to helping us get a better deal and more funding for Cornish people and culture,” the Deputy Leader said.

Although no commitment has been made from the ONS on the inclusion of the Cornish as a tick box option, the Office reaffirmed their commitment to support ethnic groups across the UK.

“Our meeting identified some really helpful points in the development and operation of the next census where ONS and Cornwall Council can work together to have a successful census in 2021,” said Ben Humberstone, Programme Director, 2021 Census, ONS.

The meeting is the latest push to gain more recognition for the Cornish and comes three years after the UK Government gave Cornish the same status as other Celtic communities the Scots, Welsh and Irish.This recognition by the UK government within the Framework Convention is not affected by Brexit.

The UK Government announced in 2014 that the Cornish people would be recognised under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The Convention expresses a resolution to foster minority groups and the UK has been one of 43 signatory nations since it ratified the agreement in 1998.


Cornwall in numbers from the 2011 Census –


Population 532,273
Number of Cornish 73,220 (14%)
Number of Cornish language speakers 557  in England and Wales (464 in Cornwall)

Government funding

In 2016, the government cut, with immediate effect, a yearly funding of £150,000 that Cornwall had received for a number of years in support of the Cornish language, after it was recognised under the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages in 2003.

In February this year, the Government announced a one off payment of £100,000 over two years to support the development of Cornish culture and heritage, including the Cornish language. This does not make up for the impact of losing significant funding specifically for the Cornish language and is yet again another example of how important it is for accurate data to be collected through the Census by means of a tick box.