Attitudes to race and inequality in Great Britain

New research shows Britons becoming more open-minded in their attitudes about race and more concerned about inequalities.

New research from Ipsos MORI shows that the British public have become avowedly more open-minded in their attitudes towards race since the mid-2000s.  However, seven in ten still think there is at least a fair amount of tension in Britain between people of different races and nationalities, and there are concerns about inequalities in public services, the police and politics.

Key findings

  • The vast majority, 89%, claim they would be happy for their child to marry someone from another ethnic group, and 70% strongly agree.  This is an improvement from January 2009, when 75% said they would be happy overall, and 41% strongly.
  • Similarly, the vast majority (93%, nearly all of them strongly disagreeing at 84%) disagree with the statement that, “to be truly British you have to be White”.  In October 2006, 82% disagreed,  55% strongly.  The proportion who agree with the statement has fallen from 10% to 3% in the last 14 years.
  • However, seven in ten (69%) think there is at least a fair amount of tension in Britain between people of different races and nationalities (one in five – 20% - say there is a great deal of tension).  However, this is a slight improvement from April 2008 when 76% felt there was a fair amount of tension.
  • Just over four in ten, 45%, believe there is more racial tolerance in Britain today than there was ten years ago – very similar to the results when this question was asked in 2009.  One in five think there is less racial tolerance than ten years ago (an improvement from 28% in 2009), while 31% think there has been little change (was 26% in 2009).
  • The majority, 67%, are broadly optimistic that in 10 years Britain will be a more diverse and tolerant place to live.  This is a trend question wording from 2009, when 49% agreed they were optimistic, so we can measure how results change over time. 
  • Half think that, generally speaking, Britain’s public services treat black (52%) and Asian (53%) people the same as white people.  However, 33% believe that black people are treated worse, and 27% believe that Asian people are treated worse.  Very few (4% and 7% respectively) think that black or Asian people are treated better than white people.
  • People were asked about the murder of Stephen Lawrence and subsequent inquiry, and whether they felt there would be similar failings if another police investigation such as that was carried out below.  Four in ten (41%) agreed there would be similar failings, while 34% disagreed.  This is slightly worse than when the question was asked in 2009, when 36% thought there would be failings in a police investigation, and 40% disagreed.
  • Just over one in three, 37%, believe that it is at least very likely that there will be a black, Asian or mixed race Prime Minister in the next 10-20 years, up from 21% in 2009.  However, 40% think this is only fairly likely and 22% say it is not very likely or certain not to happen (although this had almost halved from 42% in 2009)

BAME views

  • Just over 120 Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people were interviewed as part of this survey, roughly in line with the general adult population but still a small sub-group for analysis, which means findings need to be interpreted with caution given the wider margin of error on a small sample size.  
  • On several measures there is little difference between the views of white and BAME participants in the survey.  The vast majority of BAME respondents say they would be happy if their child married someone from another ethnic group, and disagree that to be “truly British you have to be White” (although they are marginally more likely to agree with this statement, albeit still a small minority).  Similarly, just under half think there is more racial tolerance than 10 years ago, although as many think there is still a fair amount of tension as the wider population.
  • However, BAME respondents are more likely to think that black and Asian people are treated worse by public services than white people, and they are also slightly less optimistic that there will be a BAME Prime Minister in the next 10 to 20 years.  They are also more likely to strongly agree that the failings identified by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry would still exist in similar police investigations today.

Commenting on the findings, Kully Kaur-Ballagan, Research Director at Ipsos MORI, said:

These findings show that on a personal level, people are more positive about racial diversity, for example, saying they would be happy for their child to marry someone from a different ethnic background and the fact that the overwhelming majority of people reject that being British means being white.  But the study highlights that perceptions of systemic racism are still prevalent with around three in ten believing that black and Asian people are treated worse by public services than white, and there is still a lack of confidence that the police have addressed all the failings highlighted by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.  As the Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted, many people still think there is lots of work to be done in addressing inequalities. 

Technical Note

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,059 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 5th – 10th June 2020.  Data are weighted to the profile of the population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

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