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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 12:23 GMT
Racial prejudice 'rising in UK'
Britain's ethnic minority population is now 4.6 million
Britain became a more racist place last year after almost two decades of falling levels, a study suggests.

Almost one in three people admitted feelings of racial prejudice, compared to one in four a year earlier.

Media reports about immigration and a possible reaction to the 11 September attacks could be to blame, the 20th British Social Attitudes report said.

It predicted a "bumpy ride" in the immediate future, but greater tolerance in the long term as education improves.

'Very prejudiced'

According to the report, 2002's rise in racism followed a slow decline since 1987, when 39% of people admitted racial prejudice.

The latest figures include the 2% of people who described themselves as "very prejudiced".

British shopping street

Britain's ethnic minority population has grown by 53%, from three million in 1991 to 4.6 million in 2001, the report added.

But authors Catherine Rothon and Anthony Heath said they found no link between the number of people settling in the UK and the level of prejudice.

Instead, they said it was "noticeable that there was a huge increase in articles relating to immigration from 2000 onwards".

This, the report suggested, "could well be linked with the reversal in 2002 of what had until then been a downward trend in levels of prejudice".

The researchers added that although many papers urged readers not to link Islam and terrorism after 11 September, "numerous" articles made just such a connection.

University education

Despite the recent rise in racism, the report predicted a return to increasing tolerance in the years to come.

It suggested this would happen as more people went to university.

"People with degrees are less likely to describe themselves as prejudiced than are other educational groups," the study said.

The report said that people were more likely to become racially prejudiced as they grew older, although the effect of this would be "very small".

"Our best guess, then, is that the 'bumpy ride' will continue in the short term, but that in the medium term a continued decline in prejudice and intolerance is the most likely scenario," it concluded.

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