27th May 2014
The proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting community relations back 20 years.
New data from the authoritative British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001.
The data is in stark contrast to other indicators of social change such as attitudes to same-sex relationships and sex before marriage. By those measures, the UK has become a more accepting, liberal country.
The shadow justice minister, Sadiq Khan, said the findings should come as a wake-up call. “This is clear evidence that we cannot be complacent about racial prejudice. Where it manifests itself, it blights our society. Those in positions of authority must take their responsibilities seriously. It also falls to us to address the underlying causes.”
Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Integration doesn’t happen by accident – you have to work at it. If we want to avoid a slow descent into mutual bigotry, we need to drop the dogma, stop singing kumbaya to each other, weigh the evidence without sentiment, recognise the reality, and work out a programme – both symbolic and practical – to change the reality.”
Campaigners say the new findings are in part a result of a decade that included 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror”, rising inequality and increasing hostility towards immigration. The BSA survey data shows different levels of prejudice stemming from age, class and gender, with older men in manual jobs most ready to admit to racial prejudice.
So what has driven the apparent growth in prejudice? Prof Tariq Modood, from Bristol University, said the findings suggested many people were conflating anti-Muslim sentiment and racial animus. “I don’t think there is any doubt that hostility to Muslims and suspicion of Muslims has increased since 9/11, and that is having a knock-on effect on race and levels of racial prejudice.”
Prof Bhikhu Parekh, the Labour peer who in 1998 chaired the ground-breaking Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, said the data revealed a country increasingly ill at ease with itself.
The BSA survey data shows wide variance in levels of prejudice throughout the UK. In combined figures for 2012-13, 16% of people questioned in inner London admitted to racial prejudice. Outer London and Scotland emerged as the next most tolerant areas, at 26% and 25% respectively. Other regions – including Wales – hovered around the 30% mark. The West Midlands emerged as the place with the highest level of self-reported prejudice at 35% – a difference deemed statistically significant. The BSA survey shows that the West Midlands has the highest proportion of people – 36% – who say they are a little or very prejudiced against people of other races in the UK.