You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

You are on the Natcen site

Click here for Scotcen

natcen map

New report uncovers extent of racial prejudice in Britain

29 September 2017 | Tags: British Social Attitudes, race, NatCen Panel, racial prejudice, European Social Survey, ESS

One in four British people admit to being racially prejudiced

A new briefing from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and Runnymede uncovers that one in four people in Britain admit to being prejudiced towards people of other races.

  • 26% say they are “very” or “a little” prejudiced towards people of other races in new results from the NatCen Panel survey.
  • The proportion saying they are racially prejudiced has never fallen below a quarter when people are asked the same question on NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey which goes back to 1983. It peaked at 39% in 1987 and hit a more recent peak of 37% in 2011.
  • Newly published data from the European Social Survey carried out in 2014 shows that almost one in five Brits (18%) agree that “some races or ethnic groups are born less intelligent” and 44% say that some are naturally harder working.

Who describes themselves as racially prejudiced?

The report “Racial Prejudice in Britain Today” found that some groups in society were more likely than others to describe themselves as prejudiced towards people of other races: 

  • Gender: Men (29%) were significantly more likely than women (23%) to say they were racially prejudiced.
  • Political party: 33% of Conservative party supporters described themselves as racially prejudiced, compared to 18% of Labour supporters.
  • EU referendum: Those who voted to leave the EU were more likely to describe themselves as racially prejudiced. 34% of Leave voters said they were racially prejudiced, more than the 18% of Remain voters who described themselves in this way.

Nancy Kelley, Deputy Chief Executive at The National Centre for Social Research, said:

“These numbers provide clear evidence that a significant minority of people in Britain feel prejudiced towards people of other races. The findings seem to buck the trend of growing tolerance we have seen in the British Social Attitudes survey.

Prejudice on this scale is something we as a society should be concerned about, not least as there is a significant body of evidence that even subtle racial prejudices contribute to racial inequality in areas such as education, employment and in the criminal justice system.”

Dr Omar Khan, Director, Runnymede said:

"It is deeply concerning that 1 in 4 people in Britain self-describe as racially prejudiced and that this hasn't changed in three decades. This is despite the trend towards socially liberal attitudes on other subjects and the widespread view that overt racism has declined. However over 40% of people in Britain agree that some ethnic groups are ‘born less hard-working’, with one in five agreeing some ethnic groups are ‘born less intelligent’. 

"This matters because the picture across society is one of unequal outcomes for BME citizens. People are consciously and unconsciously making decisions that impact negatively on black and Asian communities.

"We have been far too complacent about a rising wave of tolerance leading to a less prejudiced society. We need new ways of talking about race to tackle the stereotypes and fears of difference that give rise to unfairness. But even more importantly, we need policies that tackle racial inequality and enable greater social interaction between people from different backgrounds."


For more information or to arrange an interview with Nancy Kelley please contact Leigh Marshall: 0207 549 8506 or Sophie Brown: 0207 549 9550.

Notes to editors

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone. 

The data in the report comes from the NatCen Panel, NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey and the European Social Survey. 

NatCen Panel: 2,220 members of the NatCen Panel were interviewed between 16th March and 16th April 2017, either via the internet or over the phone. All respondents were originally interviewed as part of the random probability face-to-face 2015 or 2016 British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys. The data have been weighted to take account of differences between the composition of the sample and that of the original BSA sample, as well as to ensure that it matches the known demographic characteristics of the population. 

British Social Attitudes survey: The British Social Attitudes survey is Britain’s most authoritative barometer of public attitudes on political and social issues. The annual face to face survey of around 3,000 adults in Britain has been carried out by the National Centre for Social Research since 1983. 

European Social Survey: The European Social Survey (ESS) is cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe 2001. Every two years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples. In 2014 around 2,200 people in Britain took part in the survey.