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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
BBC Race Survey: What it reveals
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David Cowling
By David Cowling
Editor, BBC Political Research

This major survey provides a goldmine of information on attitudes to race in contemporary Britain.

Half of the British public believe Britain is a racist society. But half also believe we have become more racially tolerant than we were 10 years ago.

The survey probes in some depth perceptions of racial discrimination in education and at work.

Almost one-third of blacks and Asians said they had faced racial discrimination at school, college or university, compared with one per cent of whites.

And similar proportions of black and Asian respondents said they had faced discrimination at work, compared with three per cent of whites.

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These experiences clearly influenced responses to the more general question of whether one's colour makes a difference to the way a person is treated in education or at work. However, they do not account for all of them.

Whereas 28% of whites thought colour affected how individuals are treated in education, 48% of blacks and 42% of Asians subscribed to that view.

When it came to work, half of black and Asian respondents thought colour made a difference to how one was treated, compared with one-third of whites.

Matching perception and reality

Perception and reality do not always match exactly but one of the most disturbing findings of the survey was the one-third of black and Asian respondents who thought they had lost a job because of racial discrimination.

Questions about whether people mind working with or for someone of a different race provoked some interesting responses.

Whereas one-fifth of whites thought people did mind working with someone of a different race (broadly one-third of blacks and Asians shared this view) one-third thought people would mind working for such a person (slightly more blacks and Asians took this view).

One issue that provoked some of the sharpest differences between racial groups was whether ethnic minorities are given extra advantages when it comes to hiring them for jobs.

Just over one in four white respondents believed extra advantages were given (54 per cent did not).

However, 73 per cent of both black and Asians did not think they received any such advantages (about 14 per cent said they did).

Measuring workplace success

Respondents were asked whether they considered themselves successful at work. Answers to such a question can be influenced by a whole variety of factors, many of which have little if anything to do with ethnicity.

However, it was interesting to find that while three-quarters of white and Asian respondents judged themselves to be successful, among blacks the comparable figure was two-thirds.

When asked the key question "has immigration benefited or damaged British society over the past 50 years?", the answers provided a sombre picture of divided opinion.

Almost half (47 per cent) of whites think it has damaged British society (compared with 28 per cent who think it has benefited us).

Among black respondents 43 per cent said British society had benefited and among Asians half thought the same.

Some 22 per cent of both ethnic groups thought British society had been damaged by immigration and they registered high levels of "don't know" (35 per cent among black respondents and 29 per cent among Asians).

This important survey provides valuable insights into the state of multi-cultural Britain.

It also reveals some significant tensions and problems regarding race that decades of immigration have not resolved.

Race UK, a BBC News Online special report, runs from 20 - 31 May. Come back to the site daily for more features and analysis. Or, bookmark

Between 7 -11 May ICM Research interviewed 1,576 people aged 18 and over.

The interviews were conducted face-to-face and quotas were used to ensure that at least 500 interviews were conducted with people from white, black and Asian backgrounds.

The data collected was then weighted to bring it into a balance with a national profile of all adults. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3%.

However this margin increases when the answers are based on smaller groups within the total sample. For example when just Asian people are mentioned or when other individual groups are extracted from the total number of people asked.

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