New Commission poll shows British institutions need to 'keep up with Obama generation'

20 January 2009

Ten years on from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry a new Ipsos MORI survey for the Commission shows British people are increasingly at ease with racial diversity but lack faith in our institutions to represent all groups or treat them fairly.

About half (49%) of the general public are optimistic Britain will be a more tolerant society in ten years time.  This figure increases for members of ethnic minorities with 58% optimistic about the future. 

The survey also shows that there are relatively high levels of social interaction between races.  The majority of the general public (70%) is comfortable for their children to choose a partner of a different race or faith.

On the day Obama becomes the USA’s first Black president just over half of the general public in this country (56%) think it is likely Britain will have a Black, Asian or mixed race Prime Minister in the next 10 to 20 years.

But the picture is not wholly positive. Ten years after Sir William Macpherson’s inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence the survey also reveals scepticism about the police and race among ethnic minority groups.  When asked to consider the police investigation into Stephen’s murder over half (53%) of ethnic minority groups think there would be similar failings today if the police were to investigate such a crime.

The study also shows that faith and belief may be a more significant source of division in Britain than race today.  Three in five (60%) of the general population and two in three (66%) of those in ethnic minority groups think religion is more divisive than race.

Commenting on the survey Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission said:

'This survey reinforces my faith in the basic decency of the British people. At this historic moment, when America has chosen its first black leader, it is heartening to recognise that here in Britain we have a sophisticated sense of our own identity and an appreciation and interest in difference.  But we can’t be complacent.  The survey points to emerging religious divisions and as we mark a darker moment in our own history, the tenth anniversary of the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it is clear the police still have work to do to convince our ethnic minority communities they deserve their trust. I believe the police are sincere about change but they, and other British institutions, need to work harder to keep up with an Obama generation so positive about the future and the diversity of Britain.'

Ben Page, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Public Affairs, said:

'This poll shows Britain is becoming a more racially tolerant society although obviously there are still differences across the population. Generally the picture is one of optimism, and ten years on from Macpherson the fact that we are able to have such a positive debate about race shows how far we have come and how much change there has been.'


For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767272818.

Notes to Editors

Further findings from the survey include:

  • Young people mix more socially outside work/ school with members of other ethnic groups. 32% of people aged 16-24 mix daily compared to 5% of people aged 65 or over.
  • Younger people from ethnic minorities are more positive about improvements in racial tolerance over the last ten years, than their older counterparts (40% of 16-24 year olds from a ethnic minority background think there is more racial tolerance than ten years ago compared to 25% for 65+).
  • There are high levels of social interaction between different ethnic groups in Britain.  Four in five people from ethnic minority communities (78%)mix socially with people from a difference ethnic background at least once a month outside of work/ school, with two thirds (66%) welcoming friends from other ethnic backgrounds into their home with this regularity.
  • Seven in 10 (70%) of the general population would be happy with their child marrying a member of another faith.  The major exception to this trend is the Muslim community with only one in three (33%) saying they would be comfortable with this.
  • There is widespread support for the idea that all ethnic groups in Britain should be free to celebrate their different customs and traditions alongside seeking to integrate into the British way of life. Eighty-four per cent of the general population and 90% of ethnic minority communities support this notion. Indeed, far fewer of the general public and ethnic minority communities agree that different communities should be free to not integrate into British society (24% and 36% respectively).  These findings echo previous polls showing a broad consensus across ethnic groups that individuals should seek to integrate into British society (Commission on Integration and Cohesion survey by Ipsos MORI, December/ January 2006/07).
  • Although you cannot make a causal link, there are large differences in attitudes between those who mix with other races and those who do not.  For example, 77% of those who mix socially outside work or school on a daily basis would be comfortable with their child marrying someone of another faith compared with just 60% of those who mix less than once a month.
  • The survey also reveals that concerns about race and immigration have fallen below worries over the economy and unemployment.  When people are asked to rank the issues most concerning them about living in Britain today, half (50%) rank the economy highest, followed by 11% citing unemployment and 8% race and immigration issues. Poll findings from last year show race and immigration were the biggest issue (Ipsos MORI Issues Index December 2007) This survey finding can clearly be linked to the current economic downturn.
  • The study shows that faith and belief are a more significant source of tension in Britain than race.  Three in five (60%) of the general population and two in three (66%) of those in ethnic minority groups think religion is more divisive than race today.
  • There is almost universal support for the idea that the police should be representative of the communities they serve with four in five (80%) of the public thinking this is important.
  • When considering the police inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder over half (53%) of ethnic minorities think there would be similar failings today in the way they would investigate such a crime, and this figure rises to 56% among Black residents (and 36% of Black people strongly agree, compared to 29% of all ethnic minorities).  Half of Muslims and non-Muslim Asians (each 50%) also believe this to be the case. Indeed, over one in three (36%) of the public at large believe there would be similar failings now.
  • Fewer members of ethnic minorities believe that they individually would be treated worse than other races when dealing with the Police. Just under two in three members of ethnic minority communities (62%) feel that they would be treated the same as other races (73% of the public as a whole feel this way).  It is still the case that over one in four members of ethnic minorities (28%) feel that they would be treated worse than other races. This suggests that ethnic minorities’ personal experience of dealing with the Police is more likely to be positive than their view of how Police treat ethnic minorities nationally. 
  • The Black community is more negative about treatment by the police.  Overall 38% of the Black community think they would be treated worse than other races by the Police. And 45% of black men think they would be treated worse compared with 32% of Black women.

A recent report from the Commission, 'Police and Racism, What has been achieved since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report?', commends the police for making considerable progress, particularly in the recruitment of ethnic minority officers and their success in tackling race hate crime. The positive perceptions in this survey are encouraging and may reflect the hard work of the police in this area.  The survey shows they have some way to go in winning the hearts and minds of Britain’s Black community in particular. Although we can’t directly make the link, recent figures published by the Commission show that in general the Black community still experience disproportionately high levels of stop and search.  This may contribute to the lower levels of trust within the Black community revealed in this survey.

Technical note

Findings are based on a total of 1,498 interviews, conducted by telephone using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI). Interviews were conducted by Ipsos MORI between 12 and 14 January 2009.

The questionnaire was approximately 12 minutes in length and contained a series of closed questions (single and multi-code) and demographic questions (the data are weighted to the population profile and to ensure results could be compared between different groups, e.g. Muslims versus the general GB population or males versus females).


In effect, a series of three surveys was conducted using an identical questionnaire:

  • 501 with a representative sample of adults in Great Britain, aged 16+ (GB sample)
  • 334 with a representative sample of Black African and Caribbeans in Great Britain, aged 16+ (Black African and Caribbeans sample)
  • 663 with a representative sample of Asians in Great Britain (excluding Chinese), aged 16+ (Asian sample)

For the Black African and Caribbeans and Asian surveys, respondents were targeted in those postcode sectors of the country the population of people from BME backgrounds 20% or more.

Data collected were then split, and weighted, and data tables and topline figures were produced as follows:

The GB sample

  • Results are based on a total of 501 responses, broadly representative of the GB population
  • Data are weighted to age, sex, working status (working full-time/ not working full-time) to the profile of GB, and the Government Office region

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.