Attitudes towards ethnicity

This driver has been archived

Britain has long been culturally and ethnically diverse, although this varies across the country. British society is increasingly tolerant of diversity and multiculturalism. In 2005, 62% of the population said they believed multiculturalism makes Britain a better place to live [1]. In attempts to value difference, the Government has introduced policies that emphasise multiculturalism and social cohesion. As global population movements become more frequent, the UK is likely to become more diverse in future. Does your organisation work to promote social cohesion? How might this trend change the focus of what you do? Despite the increase in diversity and tolerance, concern about immigration has risen in the last decade. (See attitudes towards immigrants.) How might this impact on your work or your funders' perception of your work going forward?

What are the implications?

  • Managing diversity to minimise social fragmentation in society is likely to become a bigger challenge.
  • The VCS‘s response to issues of ethnic and cultural diversity could have a significant impact on the future of social cohesion in Britain and the development of civil society as the ‘good’ society.
  • High levels of poverty and inequality and competition for resources, particularly locally (see driver on inequalities between local areas), are often a cause of tension between ethnic groups.
  • The growth of a political agenda around citizenship and changing concepts of Britishness.
  • A move away from potentially dangerous identity politics.
  • Risk of overemphasis on integration to the detriment of recognising ethnic and cultural diversity.
  • Possible creation of stronger, more cohesive communities at a time where global population movements are more fluid and populations increasingly transient.
  • Attitudes towards immigrants may deteriorate if immigrants are perceived as not able/willing to integrate or take on ‘British’ values.

Moving forward

Social cohesion relies on getting the difficult balance between diversity and unity right.  Where this is not achieved there is a risk of marginalisation and inequality.

  • What relationship does your organisation have with other groups and/or different communities? 
  • Does your organisation have a role to play in addressing inequality and giving a voice to marginalised communities and groups?
  • Can you provide activities that contribute to a cohesive and inclusive society?

VCOs are good at building social capital especially ‘bonding social capital’ where ties are built between people with a common identity.

  • Can your organisation also generate’ bridging social capital’ – building ties amongst people who are different from each other?
  •  Could you for instance hold joint events or form and join networks and partnerships?
  •  Does your organisation have a role to play in a campaigning or advocacy capacity with different ethnic groups or immigrants to combat negative attitudes amongst the public and popular press?
  •  In the future, will your service users be from a wider variety of ethnic backgrounds and will they have different needs?

As the UK becomes more diverse, your organisation will need to think about the impact diversity has on the accessibility of its services. This will be particularly challenging for organisations in geographical areas that are not traditionally ethnically diverse but which absorb new immigrant communities

  • For example, are you able to deliver your products and services in a number of languages

If you need some guidance thinking through how to respond to this driver, have a look at our pages on planning. You need to bear in mind some of the issues here and on our other drivers to feed into your planning. You might also like to have a look at our Future Focus 6 publication which considers demographic drivers or Future Focus 5 which looks at changing social attitudes.

And of course you can join for free to get our ebulletin which will help you think through all these elements of facing the future with confidence.


  1. Multiculturalism poll, BBC/Ipsos MORI, 2005 [back]

Want to know more?

Doubting Multiculturalism: Trend Briefing #1


Published by: Ipsos MORI           

Date: May 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? Briefing examining current attitudes towards ethnicity and multiculturalism in Britain.

How useful is this? This briefing tracks and examines social attitudes towards multiculturalism and people of different ethnicities in Britain since 1997.  A useful analysis, this briefing is split into well presented and easily digestible sections enabling the analysis and interpretation of social attitudes, therefore enabling interpretation of possible future trends. 

Other comments: Part of the Real Trends series, which can be accessed from the Ipsos Mori website.

Experiencing Ethnicity: Discrimination and Service Provision


Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: September 2004

Format: PDF

What is it? Report illustrating different experiences of service provision, and examining how and why discrimination occurs

How useful is this? Part of the ‘Foundations; analysis informing policy’ series, this report helps analyse experiences of, and reasons for ethnic discrimination.  It examines how these issues have been addressed so far, and future directions for organisations.  Useful for understanding reasons for ethnic discrimination, and tracking their probable future direction.

Other comments: Part of the Race Equality and Disability research programme, further findings of which can be found on the JRF website

Understanding, accepting and valuing each other

Published by: CEMVO (Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations)

Date: 2005

Format: PDF

What is it? A guide produced for the VCS on ethnicity in Britain

How useful is this?  This guide examines Britain’s population makeup, equality legislation, and attitudes towards people of different ethnicities, and offers advice on how organisations can sensitively work with people of different ethnicities. 

Other comments:

UK majority back multiculturalism

Published by: BBC News

Date: 2005

Format: Web

What is it? An article that gives a detailed summary of the Ipsos MORI ‘multiculturalism poll’.

How useful is this? This article summarises the findings of the Ipsos MORI poll on multiculturalism. A booster survey of 204 British Muslims was also conducted for comparison of attitudes. It includes statistics and data on British attitudes towards national identity and pride, tolerance and terrorism.

Other comments: The article links to the full results of the poll.

Last updated at 14:32 Wed 19/Jan/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

  • Lock