Monday, 11 January 2010

British Social Attitudes Survey reveals deep concerns over diversity

The publication in March of this year of the latest British Social Attitudes survey is certain to cause many UK businesses to question how effective the diversity agenda has been.

Speaking on Radio 4 yesterday, report author Professor David Voas (Professor of population studies at Manchester University) confirmed that the majority of people in the UK regard Britain as deeply divided on religious lines, and that tolerance towards religious diversity breaks down when it comes to feelings about Islam.

Responding to the finding that 52% of respondents agree that Britain is deeply divided along religious lines, Professor Voas stated that this “was not necessarily to say that it should be, but mainly people making an observation.”

Professor Voas added that this perception is relatively new, and that religion now seems to be joining race and social class as a major source of social division.

The positive news from the report is that 70% of respondents agree with the proposition that we must respect all religions. (Even the 60% of respondents who describes themselves as unreligious are of this opinion!) The bad news is that there is also, according to the report, “a strong indication that tolerance of diversity is limited when it comes to Islam.” In particular, the report reveals that although only 15% of respondents would be bothered by the construction of a large church in their community, the majority would be concerned by the construction of a large mosque.

Interviewed on the Radio 4 Sunday programme, Professor Voas explained:
“There seems to be willingness to pay lip service to the virtues of religion and the desirability of respecting religion, but when it comes down to specifics, people tend to show surprising levels of intolerance and anxiety about particular groups, with Muslims being the main target of that. The report certainly tells us we have something to worry about. It’s clear from the study that although some of the antipathy toward Muslims comes from those with a generalised dislike of anyone different, there’s something like a fifth of the population that respond negatively only to Muslims. Relatively few people feel unfavourable towards any other religious or ethnic group on its own. So there’s obviously something about Islam and current events that hasn’t helped and does worry people.”

Those with responsibility for diversity within UK businesses will be concerned that the report suggests that there is, according to Professor Voas, “more anxiety as a result of concerns about extremist violence and to some extent religious oppression, so our attitudes towards religion generally have been affected by some of this anxiety and it is likely to be making us less tolerant.”

  • If the British population is as “deeply divided along religious lines” as the report suggest, how does this affect the way that diversity should be addressed within the workplace?


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