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A nuanced look at public opinions on diversity

10 May 2022

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A nuanced look at public opinions on diversity

Reported by Melissa Evans, Policy Fellowships Coordinator at CSaP

The Centre for Science and Policy resumed its series of in-person seminars in collaboration with the British Academy on 26 April 2022 with a discussion of The Woolf Institute’s report: “How We Get Along: The Diversity Study of England and Wales 2020”. The Institute’s Director of Research Dr Julian Hargreaves presented the findings and sought feedback from CSaP’s Policy Fellows, as well as Professor Tariq Modood, Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy, University of Bristol, to inform the Woolf Institute’s next iteration of the Diversity Survey.

In his presentation, Dr Hargreaves described how the Woolf Institute works - primarily to understand and support faith communities, including through the study of interfaith work. Considering recent socio-political changes stemming from Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Woolf Institute has broadened its focus to consider diversity and policymaking. The Diversity Study was conducted with this new focus in mind with a view to inform policymaking.

Overall, Dr Hargreaves found evidence that diversity is perceived positively by British citizens. Some key findings were that more than half of people surveyed agree that ethnic diversity is good for British society, and 41% agree that religious diversity is also beneficial. However, 60% of respondents felt that the number of migrants has increased too quickly in the past 10 years.

Dr Hargreaves included the employment status of participants in the survey. He found there to be less research on the impact of friendships and workplace connections on perceptions of diversity. By breaking down the responses by employment status, he observed that employees had more of a positive attitude toward diversity in general. Similarly, those who circulated in diverse personal and professional environments were more comfortable with religious and ethnic diversity. Consequently, he recommended focusing on workplaces to help promote and improve diversity.

Professor Modood said that the Diversity Study was noteworthy because it highlighted that religious prejudice was more prevalent than racism or xenophobia. He suggested that the higher levels of religious prejudice might be linked with citizens’ perceptions of what activities are considered acceptable in public. Professor Modood elaborated further that, even amongst friends, discussing religious topics remain taboo in British society, which might prevent acceptance.

Following the presentations, much of the discussion focussed on the construction of the survey. For instance, some questioned whether “migrants” referred to those who had arrived within a specific time frame. Dr Hargreaves acknowledged this criticism and explained that this was the reasoning why some question the “increase in migrants” over the last ten years. He demonstrated a difference between acceptance of recent migrants and those who have been in the UK for longer. One participant suggested that the different perceptions of migrants might be due to feelings of disenfranchisement with government processes and that, perhaps, more participatory policymaking would improve feelings about change.

Dr Hargreaves intends to conduct a second study with the Woolf Institute on perceptions of diversity and said he looks forward to further feedback from CSaP Fellows and its affiliates.


The seminar series at the British Academy will continue through the 2022 Easter Term and is open to CSaP Policy Fellows.

Image credit: Duy Pham on Unsplash

Melissa Evans

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge

Dr Julian Hargreaves

The Woolf Institute