Perceptions of Discrimination

Today’s news includes a report that two devout Christians running a private hotel in Cornwall have been found to be in breach of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 for refusing to allow a gay couple to share a double room on their premises. The couple has been awarded damages against the hotel owners.

The fact that a Christian husband and wife seeking to uphold, as they saw it, a traditional Christian view of marriage have committed an act of direct discrimination against two homosexuals in a civil partnership will doubtless be seized upon by some Christians as further proof that the legal odds are stacked against Christians.

But does the general public agree with this reading of events? Before Christmas we reported on a ComRes poll for Christian Concern on the topic ( This probed attitudes to the rights of Christians, but largely in isolation from those of other sections of society.

Now YouGov has undertaken another poll for The Sun which provides a broader, more comparative context. The 1,884 respondents, adult Britons aged 18 and over interviewed online on 17 and 18 January, were asked to say how far they felt each of sixteen groups (four of them religious) was unfairly discriminated against in Britain.

10% said that Christians suffered a lot of discrimination, rising to 12% among men, the over-60s and Conservative voters. A further 18% thought they suffered some discrimination (including 24% of Conservatives and 22% of over-60s), 29 per cent a little, 34% not at all, while 10% had no clear opinion.

The proportion holding that Christians suffered a lot of discrimination was higher than those saying the same about Jews (5%) and atheists (2%), although it was less than for Muslims (18% saying that they experienced a lot of discrimination, peaking at 29% among the 18-24s).

Only 17% of the sample claimed that Muslims were not discriminated against at all, which was 7% less than in the case of Jews, 17% less than for Christians and 38% less than for atheists.

In fact, 55% were of the view that atheists suffered absolutely no discrimination, the only one of the sixteen groups for which an absolute majority took this line. This figure rose to 62% with Conservatives and 60% with over-60s and Scots.

If we combine the categories of groups perceived to suffer a lot of discrimination and to suffer some discrimination, then the following rank order emerges:

  1. Gypsies and travellers  –  60%
  2. Immigrants  –  54%
  3. Transsexuals  –  53%
  4. Muslims  –  50%
  5. Elderly people  –  45%
  6. Asian people  –  44%
  7. Gays and lesbians  –  43%
  8. Black people  –  41%
  9. White people  –  32%
  10. Working class people  –  31%
  11. Women  –  29%
  12. Christians  –  28%
  13. Jews  –  26%
  14. People with ginger hair  –  25%
  15. People with regional accents  –  17%
  16. Atheists  –  10%

The survey therefore appears to confirm the findings from other research that Muslims are the religious group suffering greatest discrimination. Despite a millennium of British anti-Semitism, and contrary to the impression of some Jewish commentators, Jews seem to fare better than expected and better even than Christians.

It should be remembered, of course, that this was a survey about people’s perceptions of groups which suffer discrimination, and that Christians would have been the largest single religious category of people doing the perceiving. The study was thus analogous to some of the questions in the Government Citizenship Surveys.

It is therefore possible that a different league table might have emerged had the questioning been about either personal experiences of being discriminated against and/or prejudices which individuals hold against particular groups. It would be especially interesting to know how atheists would come out of such an exercise, given that they seem the least disadvantaged of all the groups in this study.

The data tables for this YouGov poll will be found at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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