Religious Discrimination in Britain

A synthesis of the quantitative and qualitative evidence base for actual or perceived religious discrimination in Britain during the past decade was published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on 20 June as Research Report, 73.

Emanating from a desk-based study undertaken by Paul Weller and his colleagues at the University of Derby, Religious Discrimination in Britain: A Review of Research Evidence, 2000-10 is available to download from:

The statistics, which occupy a relatively and disappointingly small proportion of the document, mostly derive from sources which have already been covered by BRIN, so repetition of Weller’s summary and tabulation of them is perhaps unnecessary here.

Indeed, in the quantitative aspect, another recent EHRC publication, David Perfect’s Religion or Belief, is actually superior to Weller’s work, which is essentially an annotated literature review. See, especially, Tables 13-19 in Perfect’s paper, which we have already featured at:

Weller’s public opinion sources include: Eurobarometers for 2006-09 (pp. 27-30) and Citizenship Surveys for 2003-10 (pp. 30-1, 43). Other data comprise Employment Tribunal cases for 2003-10 (p. 31) and anti-Semitic incidents for 2000-10 (pp. 34-5). Non-recurrent statistics are generally unused by Weller.

One of Weller’s overarching conclusions (pp. vii, 36) is that: ‘At present there is insufficient quantitative and time series data to indicate conclusively whether “religious discrimination” in Britain is increasing or decreasing, taken as a whole.’

There is a useful analysis by Weller of gaps in existing research and statistical evidence (pp. ix-x, 52-8). This highlights especially the issue of visibility and invisibility in religious discrimination. A central recommendation is the implementation of a panel survey focusing on religious discrimination and equity.   

The report has already been surrounded in controversy, commencing with an interview given by Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC Commissioners, in the Sunday Telegraph of 19 June. This has been denounced as a ‘thoughtless intervention’ by the National Secular Society (NSS), which was likewise critical of Weller and his methods. The NSS assessed that the report ‘struggles hard to find evidence for any large-scale discrimination on religious grounds’.

Weller is also principal investigator for a three-year (2010-12) research project on ‘Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales: Theory, Policy and Practice, 2000-2010’. Described in detail on pp. 60-2 of his report, this is being funded by the Religion and Society Programme of the Arts and Humanities and Economic and Social Research Councils.

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