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Study into attitudes of young people reveals widespread misconceptions about immigration

A two year research project reveals many young people overestimate the percentage of immigrants and Muslims in the UK

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“We have found that there is a large amount of negativity when young people are asked questions about “immigration” or “Muslims”,’ he said. “This survey shows that this is fuelled by a totally distorted view of the number of immigrants and Muslims living in the UK.”
- Ged Grebby, Chief Executive, Show Racism the Red Card

A survey of six thousand school children has found widespread misconceptions about the number of immigrants and non-white people living in England as well as negative attitudes towards Muslims and those born overseas.

The study, believed to be the largest of its kind to be carried out in the UK, found 60% of the children questioned believed it was true that “asylum seekers and immigrants are stealing our jobs,” while 35% agreed or partly agreed that “muslims are taking over our country.”

The research was carried out by charity Show Racism the Red Card [SRTRC] and based on questionnaires sent to 8,793 young people from 60 participating schools throughout England between 2012 - 2014.

Ged Grebby, SRTRC chief executive, said the findings raised serious questions about the information young people were getting from the media and sharing online - and warned more needed to be done to prevent them succumbing to far right ideologies.

“We have found that there is a large amount of negativity when young people are asked questions about “immigration” or “Muslims”,’ he said. “This survey shows that this is fuelled by a totally distorted view of the number of immigrants and Muslims living in the UK.”

The study of almost 6,000 children at schools across England found:

• The average estimate for the percentage of foreign born people living in the UK was 47% [the true figure is 13% according to the 2011 census]

• 28% believed jobs being taken by foreign workers might stop them reaching their goals and half [49%] agreed that migration to the UK is out of control/not being managed properly. 

• More than a third agreed with the statement “muslims are taking over England” while 41% disagreed, and on average respondents thought Muslims made up 36% of the population [as opposed to the true figure of around 5%].

Almost half [47%] agreed there are poor relations between muslims and non-muslims in England. 

• Many of those questioned were also pessimistic about their own futures, with more than a third [35%] believing they would not achieve their potential at school, 40% believe they will not have enough or earn enough in the future and 43% believe there is a lack of job opportunities.

Dr Paul Jackson from the University of Northampton worked on the research with SRTC and said it findings shed light on young people’s attitudes to immigration, identity and integration.

“There is clearly a gap between the reality and perception on issues like the number of immigrants or the size of the UK’s muslim community among some young people. The subsequent levels of hostility towards these groups is very worrying and is something that we, as a society, need to take seriously.”

Prof Hilary Pilkington, from the University of Manchester, said that unless these perceptions are challenged – and young are given more reason to be optimistic about their own futures – the political and social implications could be far reaching.

“This is not evidence of widespread racism among young people but it is clear there is a large degree of anxiety - often based on inaccurate information - about what is happening in their communities and about their own futures.”

Pilkington, who has written extensively on young people and the far right, said young people had been hit particularly hard in the downturn and it was very easy for those valid economic concerns - over things like housing and jobs - to spill over into antipathy towards immigrant communities, foreigners and Muslims.

“The political and educational challenge we now face is to find a way of constructively talking about culture, faith and immigration so that those who are most dispossessed can see the similarities of their precarious positions with those of marginalised ethnic or immigrant communities.”

The study was based on questionnaires sent to schools around England between 2012 and 2014 ahead of visits from the SRTRC team. Although it is not a representative survey the authors say in terms of ethnic and religious breakdown of those questioned it is broadly in line with the census of 2011. 

Grebby said that the attitudes in the survey mirrored the experience of his staff who give talks and lessons in schools up and down the country every week. But he said there was evidence that these attitudes changed among young people who had attended SRTC workshops.

“SRtRC’s educational model is built around the need to ensure young people have the critical thinking skills necessary to challenge inaccurate information and build resilience towards the adoption of potentially prejudicial attitudes. It is only once we acknowledge the existence of these attitudes and identify the influences at work that we can deliver the right kind of educational interventions to help build capacity to resist racist ideas and attitudes among young people.”
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