Britain Today - Are We An Intolerant Nation?

A Reader's Digest survey reveals widespread intolerance of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers in Britain. The poll also exposes high levels of ignorance on both immigrant numbers and the financial assistance they are given.

A Reader's Digest survey reveals widespread intolerance of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers in Britain. The poll also exposes high levels of ignorance on both immigrant numbers and the financial assistance they are given.

  • A massive eight in ten (80%) of British adults believe that refugees come to this country because they regard Britain as 'a soft touch'.
  • Two thirds (66%) think that 'there are too many immigrants in Britain'.
  • Almost two thirds (63%) feel that 'too much is done to help immigrants'.
  • Nearly four in ten (37%) feel that those settling in this country 'should not maintain the culture and lifestyle they had at home'.

These alarming figures are reported in the November issue of Reader's Digest. The survey conducted by MORI of 2118 adults throughout Great Britain also reveals that many of these opinions are based at best on a sketchy knowledge of the facts.

Russell Twisk, Reader's Digest editor-in-chief comments: "This widespread resentment of immigrants and asylum seekers has worrying implications in a society that has traditionally prided itself on its racial tolerance. Do these attitudes reveal a deep-seated xenophobia or are they fuelled by segments of the media that can be accused of turning a normal trend in to a perceived crisis?"

  • Respondents grossly overestimated the financial aid asylum seekers receive, believing on average that an asylum seeker gets £113 a week to live on. In fact, a single adult seeking asylum gets £36.54 a week in vouchers to be spent at designated stores. Just £10 may be converted to cash.
  • On average the public estimates that 20 per cent of the British population are immigrants. The real figure is around 4 per cent.
  • Similarly, they believe that on average 26 per cent of the population belong to an ethnic minority. The real figure is around 7 per cent.

"Immigration issues are certain to be a factor at the forthcoming General Election and it is vital that the debate deals in facts not supposition," adds Russell Twisk. "With over a third of the public believing that racial prejudice will grow worse in the next five years, this situation looks likely to remain a sensitive and complex thread in the fabric of Britain's society."

Not all of Britain thinks in the same way:

The most likely to think that 'too much is done to help immigrants and asylum seekers' are:

  • Those aged 65+ (74%), compared with 50% of 15 - 24 year-olds.
  • Those living in the North-East (75%) compared to just 39 per cent of Londoners.
  • Conservative supporters (73%) compared with Liberal Democrats (46%) and Labour supporters (58%).

The most likely groups to think that 'refugees come here because they think Britain is a soft touch' are:

  • Those aged 65+ (88%), compared with 69% of 15 - 24 year-olds.
  • Those living in East Midlands (92%) and Wales (90%), compared with Londoners (61%).
  • Conservative supporters (90%) compared with Liberal Democrats (73%) and Labour supporters (77%).

Those more likely to believe that 'there are too many immigrants in Britain' are:

  • Those aged 65+ (83%), compared with 62% of 15 - 64 year-olds.
  • Those living in the North East (78%) compared with 47% of Londoners.
  • Conservative supporters (75%) compared with Liberal Democrat (54%) and Labour supporters (62%).

Are We An Intolerant Nation? - Topline Results

Q Which of these best describes your ethnic or racial group?

  %
Chinese *
Bangladeshi 1
Pakistani 1
Indian 2
Black - African 1
Black - Caribbean 1
Black - other *
White 92
Any other ethnic group 1
Refused *

Q1 Do you think there is generally more racial prejudice in Britain now than there was 5 years ago, less, or about the same amount?

  British Social Attitudes Study (BSA) Reader's Digest/MORI
  1983 1984 1985 1990 1996  
  % % % % % %
More now 45 40 38 32 29 37
Less now 16 20 20 20 20 21
About the same 36 37 39 45 48 38
Other - - 1 * * *
Don't know 3 3 2 3 3 3
Refused - - 0 0 * *

Q2 Do you think there will be more, less or about the same amount of racial prejudice in Britain in 5 years time compared with now?

  British Social Attitudes Study (BSA) Reader's Digest/MORI
  1983 1984 1985 1990 1996  
  % % % % % %
More in 5 years 42 40 42 37 32 38
Less 17 18 18 20 20 23
About the same 36 38 35 39 44 30
Other - - 2 * 1 1
Don't know 5 4 3 5 4 7
Refused - - 0 0 * *

Q3-10 I am now going to read out a list of statements and I would like you to tell me to what extent you agree or disagree with each.

  Strongly agree Tend to agree Neither agree nor disagree Tend to disagree Strongly disagree Don't know n/a Refused
  % % % % % % % %
Q3 Too much is done to help immigrants at present 32 31 13 15 7 3 * *
 
Q4* There are too many immigrants in Britain
MORI / Socioconsult
  - 1989 37 26 18 10 8 1 - -
  - 1994 24 40 - 24 9 3 - -
  - 1997 25 36 - 24 11 4 - -
  - 1999 22 33 - 22 11 13 - -
Readers' Digest / MORI
  - 2000 35 31 13 11 6 3 * *
 
Q5 Refugees come to Britain because they think Britain is a "soft touch" 50 30 6 8 4 2 * *
 
Q6 Those settling in this country should not maintain the culture and lifestyle they had at home 16 22 17 28 16 2 * *
 
Q7 It would upset me if a family of asylum seekers moved into my street Base: All white respondents (1,968) 13 14 17 30 22 3 * *
 
Q8 It would upset me if my boss was of Asian or Afro-caribbean origin 3 3 8 29 51 3 4 *
 
Q9 It would upset me if a close relative married a person of Asian or Afro-caribbean origin 5 7 9 28 47 3 * *
 
Q10 It would upset me if my neighbour was of Asian or Afro-caribbean origin 3 5 9 29 51 3 * 0

Q11 What proportion of the British population do you think are immigrants?

Q12 What proportion of the British population do you think belong to a "non-white" ethnic or racial group?

  Q11 Q12
  % %
Up to 5% 17 7
6% - 10% 14 11
11% - 20% 17 17
21% - 30% 15 17
31% - 40% 7 10
40% + 7 11
Don't know 24 28
MEAN SCORE 20% 26%

Q13 Under current legislation, how much money do you think an asylum seeker gets to live on per week from the British Government

  %
Up to £50 16
£51 - £100 23
£101 + 19
Don't know 41
MEAN SCORE £113

MORI interviewed a nationally representative quota sample of 2118 adults aged 15 + throughout Great Britain, across 185 constituency sampling points. Interviews were carried out using CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing), face-to-face in respondents' homes between 20th and 24th July. Data have been weighted to reflect the national profile.

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