The Guardian, The Independent, Daily Mirror, Sky News and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme all report on new data from the British Social Attitudes Survey which shows that 1 in 3 people in the UK admit to being ‘very’ or ‘a little’ racially prejudiced.
The results vary by region, with the West and East Midlands showing the greatest level of prejudice, on 35% and 33% respectively, and Inner London and Outer London much lower levels, on 16 and 26% respectively, the latter taking third place behind Scotland on 25%.
The survey reveals that the highest level of racial prejudice is reported among older generations, those with low levels of education and those in less skilled occupations.
In an article, the co-director of the survey Alison Park emphasised that “these findings are not indicative of anything other than how many people describe themselves as racially prejudiced in an interview situation. They are not indicative of an increase in racially motivated crime, workplace discrimination or a nation catapulting to the far right. They are, nonetheless, significant and show that the fight against racism is no fait accompli.”
The BSA survey has been conducted annually since 1983. Up until 2000, the level of self-reported racial prejudice had been declining. In contrast, the latest survey in 2013, consisting of 3,244 interviews between June and October 2013 using a representative random sample of adults in Britain, reflects the continuous rise in the level of racial prejudice that people are prepared to admit since 2000.
Participants were initially asked a ‘warm up’ question about whether they think levels of racial prejudice have increased or not over the last five years. This was followed by a question attempting to record self-reported levels of racism. Participants were asked “How would you describe yourself… as prejudiced against people of other races, a little prejudiced, or not prejudiced at all?”
Though the term ‘prejudice’ is not defined in the question, the survey results are broken down by gender, age, education, occupation and political party.
According to the results, 32% of men described themselves as racially prejudiced in comparison to 29% women. However, the Guardian notes that the gap has closed significantly over the last 10 years as the number of men admitting prejudice decreased from 37% in 2002 to 32% in 2013 and the respective figures for women has risen from 25% to 29%.
Over a third of over 55s (36%) described themselves as racially prejudiced, in comparison to 25% of 17-34 year olds. This is consistent with research conducted by far right expert Matthew Goodwin, who has noted the discernable difference between older and younger generations in their attitudes toward multiculturalism.
The figures on Scotland are interesting given the findings of an earlier report by the British Council on Muslims in Scotland which presents some disturbing figures on the level of anti-Muslim prejudice in Scotland. For example, Almost twice as many respondents agree that the Christian religion is compatible with life in Scotland as agree that the Islamic religion is compatible (80% compared with 42%).
While 38% of those with no qualifications admitted to racial prejudice, only one in five (19%) of those with degrees did so. However, it is worth noting that those with lower levels of education such as GCSE (35%), CSE (40%), and higher education below degree level (32%) also identified themselves as having racial prejudice.
Manual workers (41% of unskilled manual workers and 38% of skilled manual) are more likely to admit racial prejudice than those in non-manual professions (26% professionals/managers, 26% intermediate non-manual and 32% junior non-manual).
Along political party lines, the survey suggests that Conservative supporters are more likely to describe themselves as racially prejudiced (39) though this is narrowly beaten by “Other” party supporters at 41. Liberal Democrat supporters are the least likely to admit to racial prejudice (18) while 30 of those without a political affiliation claim to have racial prejudice. The figures for ‘other’ and ‘none’ do present challenges for mainstream parties given the attraction to those bearing racial prejudice of either fringe parties or no party at all.
The Guardian notes that the sharp rise in self-reported racial prejudice since 2000 follows the 9/11 attacks in New York and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Tariq Modood, from Bristol University, states that the findings suggest that many people were conflating anti-Muslim sentiment and racial hatred saying “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 levels of racial prejudice.”
Such would certainly be consistent with the results of other BSA surveys which reveal an overall negative attitude towards Muslim migrants and a 2009 survey which revealed deep antipathy towards Islam. For example:
- 52 per cent think of people interviewed think Britain is deeply divided along religious lines
- 55 per cent of people said they would be ‘bothered’ if a large mosque was built in their locality while only 15 per cent said they would have similar concerns about a church being built locally
- Only one in four people in Britain feel positively about Islam
- And less than half of those questioned in the BSA 2009 survey, 45 per cent, felt that diversity had brought benefits to the UK.
The BSA results on racial prejudice come as the agency also publishes findings on whether adults in Britain are proud to be British. The results from a self-completion survey of 904 people found that 19% of people felt ‘very proud’ and 48% ‘somewhat proud’ of Britain for “its fair and equal treatment of all groups in society”. The figures on the self-declared levels of racial prejudice suggest some disparity in the appraisal of Britain’s treatment of groups in society and social attitudes towards them.