The research, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos, found 51% of Britons say inequalities between more and less deprived areas are one of the most serious types of inequality in the country – much higher than the European average of 39%, and above any other western European nation. Among this group of countries, Italy has the next-highest level of concern about this issue, on 42%, while only 22% in Germany think this is a serious form of inequality.
Aside from disparities in income and wealth (56%), other forms of inequality are seen as relatively less serious, with British opinion in line with that across Europe.
The major exception is gender inequality, which is viewed as a top concern by 33% of Europeans, compared with 23% of Britons.
Britain ranks among the lowest internationally for concern about gender inequality, alongside countries such as China (24%), Hungary (22%) and Saudi Arabia (19%), where relatively few people say disparities between men and women are one of the most serious forms of inequality. Globally, 36% of women say such inequalities are among the most concerning, compared with 26% of men.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, in 2020 Britain was ranked highly, as the 21st most gender-equal country for its actual levels of equality between men and women.
It may therefore seem right for Britons to be less focused on gender inequality as a serious issue – but interestingly, other nations that do better according to this objective measure in fact have greater levels of concern about inequalities between men and women than those seen in Britain.
For example, 42% of people in Spain say it is one of the most serious forms of inequality in their country, despite the country ranking eighth in the world for gender equality. And 37% of Swedes say the same – even though their nation comes higher still, ranking fourth globally.
Overall, concern about gender inequality appears to be unrelated to a nation’s actual performance on this issue. For example, only 19% of people in Saudi Arabia see this as a particularly serious concern there, despite the country doing very poorly according to objective measures, ranked 146th globally for equality between men and women.
Inequalities between ethnic groups
36% of Britons see disparities between ethnic groups as one of the most concerning forms of inequality in the nation, placing Britain in the top half of countries surveyed for concern about this issue.
But there are big differences in views by age: 47% of under-35s say ethnic inequalities are among the most serious in Britain, compared with 34% of 35-49-year-olds and 29% of 50-74-year-olds.
This age divide in views among the British public is much larger than the global country average, with 34% of under-35s around the world citing ethnic disparities as a serious concern and 27% of both older age groups saying the same.
Looking beyond Britain, 55% of Americans consider ethnic inequalities to be among the most serious forms of inequality in the US – the highest of any developed country surveyed and lower only than South Africa, on 65%.
56% of people in Britain think disparities in income are a particularly serious form of inequality in their country, making it one of the nation’s least concerned about this issue.
But concern in Britain is in line with the European average (57%), and is similar to other western countries, such as Spain (56%), the US (57%) and Germany (59%).
Even though it is considered the worst country for income equality by the World Bank, which ranks it at 165th globally, 62% of people in South Africa are particularly concerned about disparities in incomes there, which barely exceeds the global average of 60%.
By contrast, Belgium does much better according to objective measures, coming 10th for income equality globally, yet concern is relatively high there, with 69% seeing it as a serious issue – significantly higher than the European average.
Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:
The level of concern about inequalities between areas in Britain is unusually high – other European countries are much less likely to be concerned. It seems then that the government’s focus on the ‘levelling up’ agenda has struck a chord with the British public. But people are likely to have a variety of things in mind when they pick this out as a concern – from the north-south divide, to very local ‘left behind’ communities – and we need to reflect this in the policy response.“In contrast, we’re much less likely to pick out inequality between men and women as a serious problem compared with other countries. This may seem justified, as Britain does fairly well on international indices of actual gender inequality. But it also seems likely that this may be complacency, as other countries that rank even higher objective measures of gender equality are still more concerned than Britain.
Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos, said:
Spontaneous concern about inequality has been gradually increasing over the last decade in Ipsos’s Issues Index and these concerns are highlighted here. Britons are much more concerned about inequality between racial and ethnic groups than the average across the 28 countries and more so than many of their European neighbours. Britons are also among the most concerned about inequalities between people living in more and less deprived areas. The Covid-19 crisis has further revealed - and exacerbated a range of inequalities. The recovery from the pandemic must address these issues front and centre, given levels of concern about the here in the UK.
These are the results of a 28-market survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 23,004 adults aged 18-74 in Singapore, 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa and Turkey, 21-74 in Singapore and 16-74 in 22 other markets between 23 December 2020 and 8 January 2021.
The sample consists of approximately 1,000 individuals in each of Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, mainland China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain and the U.S., and 500 individuals in each of Argentina, Chile, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, and Turkey.
The samples in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the U.S. can be taken as representative of their general adult population under the age of 75.
The samples in Brazil, Chile, mainland China, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, and Turkey are more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population. The survey results for these markets should be viewed as reflecting the views of the more “connected” segment of their population.
The data is weighted so that each country’s sample composition best reflects the demographic profile of the adult population according to the most recent census data.
“The Global Country Average” reflects the average result for all the countries where the survey was conducted. It has not been adjusted to the population size of each country and is not intended to suggest a total result.
Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses, or the exclusion of “don’t know” or not stated responses.
The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 5.0 percentage points.
For more information on Ipsos’ use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website. The publication of these findings abides by local rules and regulations.