New Study: Britain ‘Not Close to Being a Racially Just Society’

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More than a third of people from ethnic and religious minorities have experienced racially motivated physical or verbal abuse, according to the biggest and most comprehensive survey of race inequality in the UK for more than a quarter of a century.

The survey found “strikingly high” levels of exposure to abuse across a wide range of ethnic minority groups, as well as a high prevalence of racial discrimination and inequality of outcomes in education, the workplace, housing and interactions with the police.

“Britain is not close to being a racially just society,” concludes the two-year research project, which urges ministers to tackle what it describes as “substantial ethnic inequalities” found across a range of areas of British life and institutions.

It says its detailed evidence of discrimination and unfairness directly challenges the findings of the government-commissioned Sewell report on racial disparities published two years ago, which it argues downplayed the existence and impact of structural and institutional racism in the UK.

Almost one in six people from minority ethic and religious groups said they had experienced a racist physical assault prior to the pandemic, according to the survey. This increased to more than one in five Jewish people and more than one in three Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people.

More than a quarter of all respondents from minority ethnic groups had experienced racial insults, and 17% said their property had been damaged by racist attacks, it found. Nearly a third said they had experienced racism in a public place, and one in six said they had suffered racism at the hands of neighbours.

Nissa Finney, professor of human geography at the University of St Andrews, who led the study, said it showed racism was “part of the daily lives” of people from ethnic minorities: “The UK is immeasurably far from being a racially just society. The kinds of inequality we see in our study would not be there if we had a really just society.”

Despite abundant evidence of racial discrimination and unfairness, the survey found the vast majority of minority groups reported a strong sense of belonging to British society, often alongside deep attachment to their own ethnic identity. Many groups reported high levels of trust in the UK parliament and devolved governments.

Such relatively high trust levels were especially striking during the pandemic, when ethnic minorities had a higher than average chance of being infected or dying from Covid-19. With some exceptions, “ethnic minority people tended to trust the UK parliament more than white British people did”, the research found.

Other findings include:

  • Nearly a third of people from ethnic and religious minority groups reported racial discrimination in education (29%) and employment (29%), and nearly a fifth said they experienced discrimination when looking for housing.
  • More than a fifth of all minorities reported experience of discrimination from the police, though this rose to 43% of Black Caribbean groups and more than a third of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma groups.
  • Ethnic minority groups were more likely to live in overcrowded housing – 60% of Roma families were overcrowded and a quarter of Pakistani and Arab people – and far more likely than white British people to be without access to outdoor space at home.

Halima Begum, chief executive of the race equality thinktank the Runnymede Trust, said the survey data on racialised violence alone was “incredibly concerning” and disproved the idea that racially motivated hate crime was in decline. “Sadly, few ethnic minority Britons will be surprised by the findings,” she added.

The study recorded high levels of ethnic minority political engagement. The Labour party scored highest among Pakistani, Black African and Black Caribbean groups; the Tories gained the highest share of Jewish votes, while the Liberal Democrats got most support from white eastern European, Chinese and white Irish groups.

There was a rise in racist abuse against Chinese and Asian groups during the pandemic, the survey found. Ethnic minority groups were more likely to experience Covid-19 related bereavement than white British people. However, some minority groups were less likely to experience depression and loneliness during the crisis.

More than 14,000 people across 21 ethnic groups, including white British, were surveyed between February and October 2021. The Economic and Social Research Council-funded project was carried out by a team of academics from the universities of St Andrews, Manchester and King’s College London.

The research, published in a book Racism and Ethnic Inequality in a Time of Crisis this week, offers the most up-to-date and detailed evidence on ethnic inequalities in the UK, including what its authors say is unprecedented insight into the experiences of Gypsy, Traveller, Roma and Jewish people.

Produced by the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity at Manchester University, it claims to be the most extensive survey of racial inequalities since 1997, offering an unprecedented scale of access, granular detail and national reach. The survey was co-designed with 13 ethnic minority and community groups.

The researchers said the survey had relatively few participants aged under 18 or over 65 because of the online recruitment and interviewing methods used during the pandemic. They said this could mean the findings understate the extent of ethnic inequality in Britain.

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