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The Muslim community: 'We're British!'

Posted on 07 February 2011 .
Tags: Citizenship Survey, religion, research commissioning, social inclusion

David Cameron’s speech this weekend at the Munich Security Conference had a lot to say about how well integrated – or not - different communities are into British life: “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”
The speech has certainly attracted attention, but does it reflect how people actually think and behave? The main focus of the speech was on the Muslim community. The government has some great quantitative evidence here: on the attitudes of Muslims, and attitudes towards Muslims in England based on the Citizenship Survey.  The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) published an extensive report devoted to this subject a year ago, based on data collected by the National Centre for Social Research. Key findings included:
  • Muslims in England are pretty similar to the population as a whole when it comes to feeling a part of British society: 93% of Muslims agreed that they “personally feel a part of British society”; the same figure for the population as a whole. Muslims are slightly less likely to strongly agree (47% compared with 53%) but overall the picture is remarkably similar.  There were no differences between men and women in the Muslim community, and no difference between older and younger Muslims.
  • In contrast with the population as a whole in England, Muslims tend to identify themselves as having a ‘British’ national identity rather than ‘English’:  65% of Muslims in England describe themselves as having a ‘British’ national identity and only 12% as ‘English’.   In contrast, only 44% of the population as a whole describes themselves as having a ‘British’ national identity– with 60% describing choosing ‘English’. (Technical note: people could describe themselves as more than one category.)
  • Most people – whether Muslim or not - see their primary identity in terms of their family.  But Muslims were much more likely to define their identity in terms of their faith than the general population: 31% of Muslims said that their religion was important to their sense of who they were, compared with only 4% of the population as a whole.
  • Muslims share the view of the general population that there is religious prejudice in Britain today:  71% of Muslims and 70% of the population as a whole agreed that there is a lot or a fair amount of religious prejudice in Britain today.    And people feel it is getting worse: around 60% of both groups felt it was worse than five years ago.
  • Only a minority (22%, or one in five) of non-Muslims thought that the government was doing too much to protect the rights of Muslims – not many more than the 16% who thought the government was doing too little. 
CLG’s research is based on data we collected in 2007-8 as part of the Citizenship survey. CLG announced the cancellation of the Citizenship Survey just a few weeks ago.  It hasn’t yet said how it intends to replace any of the information collected, but promises to respond ‘in due course’.  The survey itself was classified under 'National Statistics', so was seen as an important part of the UK’s data infrastructure.   
As an organisation committed to understanding and explaining how the British public thinks, behaves and lives their lives, and indeed in the business of helping Governments make decisions based on firm evidence, I won’t pretend that we don’t have something of a vested interest in such surveys! Although to be fair to us, the contract currently sits with IPSOS-MORI and TNS-BMRB, so we’re not affected by the cancellation.   
However data is collected in the future, we hope that future debate about integration of minority groups is well evidenced: controversial and sensitive subjects require more information, not less, if debate is to generate positive change for the public as a whole.
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