Seventy years ago in Britain issues of race and identity were unfamiliar to most, in a country that looked very different from today. However, since then the face of the nation has changed rapidly. Within the lifetime of the baby boomer generation, the UK has gone from a country where almost all communities were single faith and monocultural, to a society where one in ten are ethnic minorities.
The prevailing view about the 1950s through to the 1980s is that we didn’t handle this transition particularly well. Each new wave of immigration from another part of the Commonwealth sparked a reaction, often negative, that resulted in rushed legislation to extend restrictions on future entry into Britain. Those who had already arrived often felt targeted by politicians and the authorities – the stop and search powers from the sus laws were particularly resented.
Yet, there is a feeling that since the 1990s the political landscape and social attitudes have changed. This process began slowly with John Major, who made the first tentative steps towards supporting gender, racial and sexual equality. But it was during the premiership of Tony Blair that Britain appeared to become far more at ease with the multicultural society it had become.
Have we truly become comfortable with the multicultural society we’ve grown into, from both sides of the divide? Our insight certainly suggests that we think we have become more tolerant as a country, and this appears to be reflected in the hopes and beliefs of ethnic minorities in the UK.
Perhaps it is around our shared values of freedom and democracy that we can build a lasting multicultural and multiracial society that feels at ease with itself.
Just over half (54%) of all UK adults think that there are a set of values that all nationalities and religions in Britain can agree on in future. The encouraging sign is that this is particularly high in London, where almost three quarters (72%) of the diverse population think that there are values that we can all agree on regardless of our background.
There is also a broad agreement that a lack of integration is considered problematic. Two thirds (64%) of ethnic minorities agree that those moving to the UK should make an effort to integrate and not establish their own separate communities, similar to the 70% of all UK adults that think this.
Fortunately, there are favourable conditions in place for progress: most agree that cultural separation and exclusion is to be avoided, there is optimism about the possibility of a multi-ethnic society with shared values, and many believe that racism is on the decline. The groundwork seems to be in place for the decline in the feeling of isolation and discrimination that far too many in Britain still feel today.
Unity International Lunches hosts a monthly ‘international lunch’ featuring foods from different countries with an aim of integrating ethnic groups in Boscombe.