Chinese people in Britain report higher levels of racial harassment than any other ethnic group, according to the first study of its kind to be undertaken.
The new research, which will be published this week by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, suggests that 15% of Chinese men and women reported harassment last year, while between 4% and 10% of men and women from most ethnic minority groups said they experienced racial harassment in the same period.
But 50 years since the first anti-discrimination legislation came into force in the UK, there was a marked decline in reports of racial harassment among what the researchers describe as the most established minority – black Caribbeans, who have the highest proportion of adults aged 60 and over. Reports of harassment were down by 10 percentage points for men and five points for women.
The authors suggest that as older and retired individuals are less likely to visit public places, this sharp decrease for black Caribbeans is not surprising.
Ethnic minorities who live significantly outside multicultural areas were far more likely to experience racial harassment. There was a 14% chance of someone from an ethnic minority experiencing racial harassment if they lived in a predominantly white area. And there was a more than one in 10 chance they would be harassed if they lived in an area where 16% or more of the population had voted BNP or Ukip.
“The prevalence of racial or any other form of harassment is one of the most serious issues facing British society,” said Shamit Saggar, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Essex.
“We know now that place is significant. Ethnic minorities who live outside areas in which minorities cluster are more likely to experience harassment. The question now is how government, local government and other public authorities address how the perpetrators are behaving in these areas and to consider with urgency what can be done to change these behaviours.”
Those who experienced racism would be more prone to avoid certain places for fear of it happening again, the report suggested.
As many as one in five Indian Muslim women said they had felt unsafe or had avoided certain public places in the last year for fear of being harassed. “The study shows that harassment is not a defensive fantasy in the mind of some but rather a genuine harm that affects innocent people each day,” Saggar said. “This is a clear case for fresh and timely action to bear down further on harassment.”
The research found that the fear of being subjected to racial abuse was widespread. “Our study has found that harassment is experienced by the broad population of ethnic minorities, and damages mental health, even among those who do not directly experience it,” said Dr Renee Luthra, director of the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Essex.
Individuals reporting harassment were not necessarily from the most disadvantaged groups. The authors suggest: “This risk is higher for ethnic minorities who are younger, more highly educated and male. The reported harassment is predicated on eing in public places and possibly having the confidence to identify and report it.”
The study’s authors said their work had confirmed a substantial association between ethnic and racial harassment and a deterioration in mental health. They also found that harassment tended to be persistent. Almost one in three people who has experienced harassment will experience it again two years later, they suggest.
Dr Alita Nandi, research fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, said their findings showed there was a need to confront racism at many levels of British society, though the report noted that, since the last comparable survey in 1993, reports of ethnic and racial harassment have decreased slightly by between 2% and 4% for most ethnic groups.
“We hope this evidence will be taken up by law enforcement in identifying high-risk places and making public spaces accessible to all, and by mental health professionals by considering ethnic and racial harassment as an additional factor in mental health issues experienced by ethnic minorities in Britain,” Nandi said.