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Living with hate and harassment The impact on the health of ethnic minorities in the UK

Health harassment

Dr Alita Nandi, Dr Renee Luthra, Professor Michaela Benzeval and Professor Shamit Saggar are beginning a new ESRC Secondary Data Initiative study into the prevalence and persistence of ethnic and racial harassment and its impact on health using longitudinal analysis

The right to feel physically safe and to be treated civilly in public spaces, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, is core in modern democratic societies.

Yet this emerging research programme on the prevalence and persistence of ethnic and racial harassment reveals that not everyone enjoys this right. Using Understanding Society, a large scale nationally representative survey, the findings showed that between one in twenty and one in ten individuals report being insulted or attacked because of their ethnicity, nationality or religion in the past year alone. There are also important differences by gender. For nearly all groups, it is men, rather than women, who are more likely to report being physically or verbally attacked.

The study used an expanded definition of harassment to include anticipated harassment, measured as reporting feeling unsafe or avoiding of public spaces because of one’s ethnicity, nationality or religion. This demonstrated the burden of harassment on British minorities: nearly one in five non-white British residents report actual or anticipated harassment. And using this expanded definition showed that minority women were impacted by the potential for harassment just as much as men.

These initial results give a snapshot of ethnic and racial harassment in Britain which raises as many questions about fairness and ethnic inequality as it answers. Over the course of the project, the study will explore why certain ethnic minority groups are more vulnerable than others. Does it matter where they live? Does their gender, education, employment status matter? The data from Understanding Society’s rich information and longitudinal measures will enable the researchers to provide a comprehensive account of the causes of harassment.

The next aim is to quantify the costs of this breakdown of civility in terms of mental health and well-being, given these widespread reports of harassment. Most importantly, the study will seek to identify which individuals are more or less resilient to the negative effects of harassment, due to their support networks, ethnic identities, and personality traits. The researchers will also examine the association between harassment and a range of health behaviours such as drinking, smoking, activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Many ethnic minority groups have healthier behaviours than white British, for example only 10% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men have had a drink in the past year, compared to 60% of Indians and black Africans, and 80-90% of black Caribbeans and white British.

Yet those who were physically or verbally assaulted in the past year were also more likely to drink, smoke, have unhealthy eating habits, and were less likely to engage in physical activity compared to similar individuals who did not experience harassment. This was true for men and women across most ethnic groups. The next step is then to untangle the causes underlying these associations: do individuals experiencing harassment turn to unhealthy behaviours as a coping mechanism, or do individuals who drink and smoke find themselves at greater risk of harassment, for instance by frequenting bars and pubs? The results of the study will provide a new account of the causes and consequences of ethnic and racial harassment in Britain today.

More information about the project here