Britons split on whether human rights abuse in the UK is a problem

Human rights seen as important around the world - but Britons are split on whether human rights abuse in the UK is a problem according to our latest 28-country Global Advisor survey.

Britons split on whether human rights abuse in the UK is a problem

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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A new global Ipsos poll conducted in 28 countries finds that only four in ten (43%) people globally agree that everyone in their country enjoys the same basic human rights, casting doubt over how universal human rights are in reality – even in some of the most developed countries. A third of people (33%) outright disagree that everyone in their country enjoys the same basic human rights, and two in ten (20%) are unsure. People in Germany (63%) and China (63%) are most likely to agree that everyone in their country enjoys the same basic human rights while those in South Africa (25%) and Italy (28%) are least likely to agree. Britons are in line with the global average; 41% think everyone in Britain enjoys the same basic human rights whereas 35% disagree.

Human rights abuses are a problem in some countries but they are not really a problem in the UK

Key Findings:

  • The majority of Britons (80%) agree that it is important to have a law that protects human rights in Britain compared with just six per cent who don’t. This is in line with the global average across the 28 countries (78%).
  • Almost six in ten Britons (58%) say that laws protecting human rights make a positive difference to their lives compared with 1 in 20 who think they have a negative impact and three in ten (30%) who say they make no difference. Britain ranks mid-table when compared with other countries but is in line with the global average (53%).
  • Just three in ten adults (31%) across 28 countries say that human rights abuses are not really a problem in their country but that they are in other countries. Britons are fairly split on this issue; 32% agree that human rights abuses are not really a problem in Britain compared with 35% who think they are. Germans are most likely to agree that human rights abuses are not a problem in their country (55%) compared to only 17% in Colombia.
  • The majority of Brits (63%) think that some people take unfair advantage of human rights, which is in line with the average across the 28 countries (64%) but higher than in some of our European counterparts - Belgium (44%), Sweden (47%), Germany (51%) and France (53%).
  • A significant minority of Brits think that undeserving groups are most likely to benefit from human rights; three in ten people in Britain (29%) agree that the only people who benefit from human rights are those who do not deserve them such as criminals and terrorists compared with 43% who disagree.  Globally, people are more split with 37% saying those undeserving benefit compared with 31% who disagree.
  • Knowledge of human rights is patchy; around a half of Britons (52%) say they know a great deal or fair amount about human rights compared with 43% who say they know very little or nothing at all.   This is slightly lower than the global average where 56% say they know a great deal or fair amount and 38% say they know little or nothing.  
  • When it comes to protecting human rights, Brits are much more likely to emphasise the need to protect the right to freedom from discrimination than people globally (33% of Brits say this right needs protecting compared with 26% globally).   This is followed by freedom of speech (28% in Britain vs 32% global average) and freedom from slavery or forced labour (27% in Britain vs 20% global average). Brits are also more likely to highlight protection for the right not to be tortured (26%) than the global average (20%). Globally, the rights that people rank as most important to protect are freedom of speech (32%), the right to one’s life (31%), the right to liberty (27%).  
  • Across the 28 countries, those picked out as needing greatest protection from human rights are children (56%), people who are disabled (48%) and older people (44%).  At the other end, those least needing protection are prisoners (8%), part-time workers (11%) and people with different political views (12%). In Britain the top groups are children (45%), people who are disabled (43%) and Brits are more likely to say refugees (34%) than the average across the 28 countries (24%)
  • The United Nations is by far the most well-known international human rights organisation; 72% of people globally say they have heard of it.  This is followed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (49%) and Amnesty International (48%).  In Britain, 80% say they have heard of the United Nations, whereas recognition of IRIC is slightly lower at 41% but Amnesty is much better known among Brits (76%) than the global average.

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

Human rights are seen as important and the majority of the British public values them, yet there is a sense that not everyone in the country enjoys the same universal basic human rights. This is borne out by the fact that Brits are more likely than the global average to highlight the need to protect people’s right to freedom from discrimination, slavery or forced labour and torture – issues which are disproportionately more likely to affect more vulnerable groups in society.
Knowledge of human rights is patchy, and there is a prevailing view that some people take unfair advantage of human rights. A significant minority believes that undeserving groups – such as criminals and terrorists- are most likely to benefit from them. That said, the majority of the British public believe that human rights do make a positive difference to their everyday lives.

Technical Note

The survey was conducted in 28 countries via the Ipsos Online Panel system: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America.

Interviews were conducted between May 25 and June 8, 2018 with 23,249 adults aged 18-64 in Canada and the U.S. and 16-64 in all other countries.

Approximately 1000+ individuals participated on a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel with the exception of Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Hungary, India, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Turkey, where each have a sample of approximately 500+.

Weighting has been employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to the most recent country census data.

A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points for a sample of 1,000 and an estimated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points for a 500 sample 19 times out of 20.

In 17 of the 28 countries surveyed internet penetration is sufficiently high to think of the samples as representative of the wider population within the age ranges covered: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain and United States.

Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, Peru, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey have lower levels of internet penetration and so these samples should not be considered to be fully nationally representative, but instead to represent a more affluent, connected population. These are still a vital social group to understand in these countries, representing an important and emerging middle class.

The author(s)

  • Kully Kaur-Ballagan Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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