Poverty more likely cause of mistrust than race

Poverty and gross inequality are six times more likely than ethnic diversity to cause British people to be suspicious of their neighbours, according to research carried out by a team including ISER Associate Dr Nick Allum.

Using government surveys of more than 25,000 individuals in 4,000 neighbourhoods, the research team found little evidence that levels of trust and co-operation were highest in the most ‘homogenous’ neighbourhoods. Instead, people living in deprived areas were the most suspicious of those who don’t look like them – and those that do.

Dr Allum commented:

“We thought that the effect of ethnic diversity might be greater in the most socially deprived areas, where competition between different groups for jobs and social services could lead to conflict but in fact we found the opposite. It is areas where there is little deprivation and people don’t know their neighbours personally that there is a greater suspicion of others. So if diversity does reduce trust in one’s neighbours, it would not appear to be a result of competition, real or imagined, between different ethnic groups for scarce resources but more
as a result of a lack of social and community contact.”

The study published in the British Journal of Political Science, appears to fly in the face of research undertaken in the States by Harvard academic Robert Putnam, who in 2007 first argued that diversity reduces trust since people ‘act like turtles’, hunkering down to avoid those who are somehow different’.

According to Dr Allum’s co-author Patrick Sturgis, from the University of Southampton, the idea that diversity makes people anti-social had become ‘mainstream wisdom’. He said:

“We have seen Trevor Phillips the Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman, David Goodhart-the Prospect magazine founder and David Blunkett the former home secretary, all advance this thesis. They have all been quite pessimistic, arguing that immigration is leading to segregated communities and distrustful citizens. But the evidence in Britain is that diversity has an almost negligible effect on how much people trusted each other.”

The research concluded that striving to reduce economic inequalities that lead to isolation and mistrust was the answer to reviving community spirit in much of Britain.


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