Is Britain really becoming more racist?

Black and white hands together

Journalists like their stories to fit into an accepted current narrative. With domestic politics dominated by concerns over Europe and immigration, and the rise of the far-right elsewhere in the EU, it is understandable that editors are alert to evidence of rising racism in Britain.

But today's figures are not evidence of rising racism. In fact, if anything, the trend is of flat or declining levels of self-reported racial prejudice.

The statistics come from the annual British Social Attitudes survey which, since 1983, has interviewed one or two thousand people and asked if they are "very prejudiced", "a little bit prejudiced" or "not prejudiced at all" against people of other races.

Adding together the "very" (3%) and "a little" (27%) figures from this year's survey produces a total of 30% - up from last year (26%) but well below the year before (38%).

Yes, the current figure is higher than the lowest figures ever recorded (25% in 2000 and 2001) but then you could equally argue it is well below the high point of 38% recorded in 1987 and 2011.

Social Attitudes Survey

What is most informative is the broad trend in self-reported racial prejudice. Falling from the 1980s until the end of the century, then rising during the first decade of the new millennium, and now flat or falling.

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We cannot be sure what people mean when they agree they are 'a little bit prejudiced against people of other races'”

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To be honest, we need a few more years of data before we can tell whether that fall is real or not. But to suggest that the latest figures represent a return to the racism levels of the 80s is clearly premature.

There is another difficulty with this data - it is a self-reported measure. We cannot be sure what people mean when they agree they are "a little bit prejudiced against people of other races". Could it be that the phrase today has as much to do with anxiety about the arrival of East European migrants as a belief that those from a different racial group are inferior?

The rise in self-reported prejudice during the noughties coincides with years of mass immigration, much of it made up of white Europeans. The figures may reflect concern about the impact of that as much as a true measure of racism.

Police figures of reported racist incidents are not a perfect proxy for racism levels either, but they provide further evidence that the trend is down or flat. Today's survey suggests younger people are significantly less likely to say they are prejudiced than their parents' generation. The trend among 17-34 year-olds is down while the trend among the over-55s is up.

The survey identifies some stark differences in self-reported prejudice - 19% among graduates but 38% among those without qualifications, 26% among professionals and managers but 41% among unskilled manual workers, 16% in booming inner London and 35% in the more economically sluggish West Midlands.

The key here, perhaps, is people's response to the cultural and economic impact of globalisation - attitudes towards foreigners will depend on whether one sees it as an opportunity or a threat.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    People feel how they feel, what may have changed is that some feel licenced to express feeiings they heve previously kept quiet about. Politics has always been about perception rather than facts. It does not matter what is objectively true all that matters is what people belive, however wrong that may be. Some politicians depend upon this for their success. Voters must choose carefully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    What we see (the indigenous) is our services being given free to newly arrived immigrants, free healthcare, free housing (HB) access to services and provision of materials and translation services to enable them to access all of the above at OUR expense.

    Yet we are facing cuts in all of the above, longer waiting times, and lack of houses for our own families.

    That is the cause of resentment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Culture changed during the boom times to a "I'm doing fine screw you" society which since then has mutated into "I'm doing badly screw the scroungers" society. Is it any wonder that fear distrust and loathing of the other or RACISM as the BBC likes to call it has increased. This is irrespective of actual issues with immigrants such as overwhelming cash strapped services in some places.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    British people don't stone their daughters to death. Restrict immigration YES.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Once again anyone that want control over immigration get shouted at as Racist!!

    In my experience it's not those who want controlled immigration. It's those who are being racist that get called racist. It's not complicated tbh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    There is nothing racist about saying immigration has ruined the country. Vast swathes of the nation are no go areas if you're white. There are also some lovely hot spots nowadays if you like Sharia law and stonings. The indigenous population are simply less afraid of the establishment when speaking out about their country being stolen/ given away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    You ask this after british Bengali families are forced to turn around and denied a vote at a London election after intimidation by muslim political campaigners, and you fail to report it, but still ask why we are worried ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    We are guilty of racism when we express concern, regret, anger, whatever, at the loss of or challenge to cultural identity.
    People object to EU migration because they fear for their jobs and an increased demand for services and benefits. While you may not like this, it is a rational response.
    Racism, the objection to, or fear of, an attack on, a supplanting of, one's own culture, is irrational.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Once again anyone that want control over immigration get shouted at as Racist!!

    The ignorance lies with the middle class politically correct people of this country who think that because they aren't effected by immigration, and don't see the actual effects of mass immigration in certain areas of the country it must be alright!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    How utterly pathetic that the BBC's response to UKIP's success is to run two 'are we racist' HYSs on the same day. The run-up to the election smear campaign was bad enough. I have a feeling it's going to get a whole lot worse as they desperately try to cling-on to their PC, unworkable ideology. BBS unbiased? LOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    It's peoples choices in life at the end of the day, if they don't like someone of the same colour skin as them there's no word for that other than "I don't like them" so why this brain washing mantra of racism. People of the same colour skin have & are being bullied. People are discriminated against in all different ways in the UK.

    I don't like Parsnips, so does that make me a Vegist, Parsnipist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I thought the reporting was rather lightweight, so looked at the British Social Attitudes site - which is equally light on information.

    For this to have any credibility, BSA need to make it available for peer review and provide much more data. How were the 3,000 selected, are they a balanced and statistically significant selection etc.

    So far it only seems good for ill-informed headlines

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Is Britain becoming more racist? Er..look at the council elections and EU vote. Theres yr answer.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    A survey of 2000 people does not even come close to fact and I wish the BBC would start to get serious when talking about its stats and put a validity of data warning on each article where it uses spurious data.

    No surprise, Mr Easton couldn't help but reiterate the beebs take on the stats that only thick people are racist and no thick people live in London.
    You are a disgrace Mr Easton.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Are we talking prejudice or fear? The area I lived in for 56 yrs became, in the last 10, an area being taken over by minority races. I left 10 years ago, and when I return, I see a growing aggression in the area, a lack of concern for others, and a lack of manners. I now feel afraid when walking in an area I loved as a kid but - oh, so different now - does that make me prejudiced or frightened

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    we as British people are a minority in this country now. We are constantly used for our free healthcare and benefits system but still the Government keeps on letting more people in! Why can't they actually listen to the public and put a stop to it all

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    This graph could really do with some error bars. It's quite possible there is actually no change at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Is Britain becoming more racist?

    Ask Anjem Choudary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Yes, but it isn't the white people who do it. It is the other way around. Take that from a brown man.


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