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The prevalence and persistence of ethnic and racial harassment and its impact on health: a longitudinal analysis


The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under the Secondary Data Analysis Initiative. It uses Understanding Society, which includes an Ethnic Minority Boost, to understand how ethnic minorities in the UK experience harassment and its impact on their lives.

Project description

The project looked at several research areas:

Firstly, who experiences ethnic or racial harassment? The study looked at an overview of the prevalence, intensity and persistence of harassment in British society today. Following a long tradition of survey-based research on harassment and its effects, the researchers’ first aim was to understand who is most likely to experience harassment in Britain today. Are particular ethnic and religious groups more likely to experience harassment? Which types of individuals within these groups are more vulnerable?

Secondly, the study looked at whether ethnic minorities living in certain types of areas are at a greater risk of experiencing harassment and looked for the causal impact of residential characteristics on harassment.

Thirdly, researchers sought to identify protective factors against the negative impact of harassment on mental health and wellbeing. They uncovered factors that make individuals resilient to the negative consequences of harassment on mental health and wellbeing.

The fourth research area looked at the effect of ethnic or racial harassment on health behaviours. The researchers examined related – but distinct - research questions: what is the effect of ethnic and racial harassment on the health behaviours of the adult foreign born? and what is the effect of exposure to ethnic or racial harassment on the health behaviours of UK born (or raised) ethnic minorities?


There has been a spike in hate crimes following Brexit, evident in the recent report on hate crimes published by the Home Office and extensively reported in the media. The Home Office publishes annual reports on hate crime statistics based on police reports. However, these sources do not provide information on who experiences the harassment. The last report to provide such information was based on a 1994 survey. As part of this project, we have produced a report on “Who experiences ethnic and racial harassment” based on a large nationally representative survey of UK residents, Understanding Society. The survey started in 2009 and continues to interview the same people every year. Our research addresses the following questions:

Who experiences ethnic and racial harassment, defined as being physically or verbally attacked because of their ethnicity, religion or nationality?

  • Around 4-10% of men and women of most ethnic minority groups report experiencing ethnic and racial harassment in the past year
  • This proportion is higher, around 15%, for Chinese men and women, Pakistani men, Indian-Sikh men, Indian-Muslim men and Bangladeshi women

Where do they say they experienced it?

  • They are most likely to experience it in the streets, shops and public transport
  • They are less likely to experience it if they live in areas with a higher proportion of their own ethnic group members

Who lives with the fear of having such experiences expressed in feeling unsafe and avoiding places?

  • For most ethnic minority groups, twice as many people anticipate or fear harassment than actually experience it, with the exception of black Caribbean and black African groups.
  • Women are more likely than men to feel unsafe and avoid places, but men are more likely to report actually experiencing ethnic and racial harassment.

The 2016 report is available here.

Download the end of project briefing note on the project here.

Listen to Dr Alita Nandi talk about the research here:

Essex Research: Dr Alita Nandi from University of Essex on Vimeo.

Keys messages:

  • Individuals reporting ethnic and racial harassment are not necessarily the most disadvantaged. This risk is higher for ethnic minorities who are younger, more highly educated and male. The reported harassment is predicated on being in public places and possibly having the confidence to identify and report it.
  • Risk of harassment is positively associated with certain types of places: areas of high white concentration, areas with higher proportion of UKIP or BNP voters, more deprived areas (net of ethnic composition). But surprisingly, this risk is not related to other crime.
  • There is a substantial association of ethnic and racial harassment with worse mental health. Those experiencing ERH more stressed and anxious. There is some evidence that ethnic ties are a resilience factor. Some factors are more effective for UK-born ethnic minorities while others morefor the foreign-born.
  • There is a widespread ripple effect of ethnic and racial harassment as reflected through its persistence over time and spillover effects, especially for UK-born ethnic minorities. Ethnic and racial harassment is experienced by a broad population of ethnic minorities, with damage to mental health, even among those who do not directly experience it.

Findings from the project have been published as written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences.

Read the explainer: “Prevalence and Mental Health: Consequences of Ethnic and Racial Harassment”

Research papers and articles

Team members

Dr Alita Nandi

Research Fellow - ISER, University of Essex

Dr. Nandi conducts empirical research primarily in the areas of ethnicity, gender, identity and personality specifically investigating differences in subjective & economic wellbeing and labour market outcomes. She also works on partnership formation and dissolution and the impact of such changes on women and men’s wellbeing. She has recently co-authored a book with Dr. Longhi which provides practical guidance for conducting panel data analysis using some of the popular panel datasets of the world. She (co) leads the Understanding Society Ethnicity Strand and its capacity building activities and has contributed to questionnaire design, particularly to the measurement of identity across different dimensions including ethnic identity.

Professor Renee Luthra

Professor in Sociology - University of Essex

Professor Luthra's research interests are international migration, social stratification, education and cross-national comparison. Her current projects include second generation trajectories in the United States; the socio-cultural integration of new immigrants to Germany, the Netherlands, Dublin and London and inter-ethnic and cross national variation in returns to education.

Professor Michaela Benzeval

Director, Understanding Society - ISER, University of Essex

Professor Benzaval is Professor of Longitudinal Research at ISER and Director of Understanding Society. She is also a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow and Honorary Secretary of the Society for Social Medicine. Her research interests include: social inequalities in health at different life stages; the underlying mechanisms that link people’s social and economic circumstances with health over their life course and the role of macro contexts, particularly the policy environment, in shaping the links between people’s lives and their health.

Professor Shamit Saggar

Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research - University of Essex

Dr Saggar is currently the Director of the ESRC Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) at the University of Essex. He is also Non-executive Chairman of UPP Group Holdings Ltd. He was previously an Economic and Social Research Council Knowledge Exchange Fellow with HM Government; a Senior Policy Advisor in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office; Professor of Political Science, University of Sussex; Reader in Political Behaviour at Queen Mary, University of London; Harkness Fellow at UCLA; Yale World Fellow at Yale University; and Visiting Professor of Public Policy at the University of Toronto.


Zrinka Bralo - Advisory Group Member

Board Member - Women’s Refugee Commission

Zrinka Bralo is Chief Executive of Migrants Organise – community organising platform for migrants and refugees acting for justice. Zrinka is a refugee from Sarajevo (Bosnia), where she was a journalist and where she worked with leading war correspondents during the siege in the 90’s. She is a founder of Women on the Move Awards that celebrates achievement of migrant and refugee women and winner of the 2011 Voices of Courage Award by the Women’s Refugee Commission in New York. She was invited to join their Board in 2012. In September 2015 she became founding Chair of the National Refugee Welcome Board which is now developing community sponsorship visa scheme to ensure sanctuary for Syrian refugees. Zrinka holds MSc in Media and Communications from London School of Economics and is 2014 Churchill Fellow.

Dr Moira Dustin - Advisory Group Member

Research Fellow - Department of Law, University of Sussex

Moira is a Research Fellow in the Department of Law in the School of Law, Politics and Sociology. She joined the University of Sussex as a post-doctoral research fellow and teaching fellow in 2016. Together with two other research fellows, Dr Carmelo Danisi and Dr Nina Held she is working on the European Research Council project SOGICA - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum: A European human rights challenge (2016-2020). The project, led by Prof Nuno Ferreira, will generate the first ever theoretically and empirically-grounded comparative and comprehensive picture of the status and legal experiences of asylum-seekers across Europe claiming international protection on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), and determine how the European asylum systems can treat more fairly asylum claims based on the claimant's SOGI. She has a PhD in Gender Studies from the London School of Economics where she is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE). Before joining the University of Sussex, Moira was Director of Research and Communications at the Equality and Diversity Forum, a network of equality and human rights organisations, where she coordinated the Equality and Diversity Research Network. Moira has also worked at the Refugee Council, providing advice and information and developing national services for refugees and asylum-seekers. She has worked as a freelance sub-editor on the Guardian and Independent newspapers and was the Information Worker for the Carnegie Inquiry into the Third Age.

Ratna Dutt - Advisory Group Member

Chief Executive - Race Equality Foundation

Her background in social work has prompted Ratna to become involved in areas of work including: race equality in child care and child protection, adoption, mental health and workforce issues. Ratna was a member of the ‘NHS Future Forum’ an independent advisory panel set up by the Government in April 2011 and a member of Future Forum phase 2. At present she is a member of National Stakeholder Forum which is led by the Secretary of State for Health and supported by the full Ministerial team and the Department of Health’s senior leadership. She is also a member of the Ministerial group on Equalities and mental Health. She received an OBE in 2000 for her work in race equality.

Farah Elahi - Advisory Group Member

Research and Policy Analyst - The Runnymede Trust

Prior to joining Runnymede, Farah worked in research and project management for the Family and Childcare Trust and MEND. Farah’s previous research has focussed on education, marginalization and discrimination in the UK. For her MA thesis Farah explored the theoretical frameworks underpinning education provision in multicultural Britain, with a focus on experiences of BME communities in mainstream schools. Farah completed a Masters in the Philosophy of Education from UCL - Institute of Education, and a BA in Economics and Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Oliver Hypolite-Bishop - Advisory Group Member

Senior Campaigns Adviser - Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Oliver manages various key campaigns across the CBI, including the CBI’s headline campaign of improving public confidence in business. Prior to this role Oliver was a senior lobbyist for the CBI, working on public services reform. He sits on the boards of numerous charities geared towards ethnic minority inclusion, such as Elevation Networks, and chairs the Board of Trustees for the Spirit of London Awards, a role he took up after assisting its parent organisation, the Damilola Taylor Trust, as Policy Director. Oliver was an elected member of the UK Youth Parliament and in 2012 he headed up the policy, strategy and communications for Siobhan Benita, the independent candidate for Mayor of London.

Adeeba Malik CBE - Advisory Group Member

Deputy Chief Executive - QED Foundation

Adeeba Malik CBE is Deputy Chief Executive of a leading and respected national Bradford based economic development agency, the QED Foundation. Founded in 1990, QED aims to tackle poverty and disadvantage faced by South Asian communities, in particular the British Pakistani community. It is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Some of QED's highlights include runner up to the National Charity of the Year Award and winner of the Professor Charles Handy Alchemist Award. QED runs campaigns aimed at disadvantaged communities and delivers public sector contracts and has worked with many Government Departments. Adeeba has also held numerous ministerial and non-ministerial high profile regional/national board level appointments in the UK over the last 15 years. These include Yorkshire Forward, British Waterways, Advisory Board on Naturalisation and Immigration, Waterways Trust, Chair of Yorkshire's Young Peoples Enterprise Forum, Chair of the National Ethnic Minority Business Forum based in the Department for Trade and Industry, a Commissioner for the Women and Work Commission set up by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and member of the Government’s Muslim Women's Advisory Board, as well as Governor of Sheffield Hallam University. She was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen in 2004 and in January 2015 was honoured with the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in the Queens New Year’s Honours List.

Fiyaz Mughal OBE FCMI

Founder and Director - Faith Matters

Fiyaz is currently the Founder and Director of a not for profit organization called Faith Matters ( which has worked for over a decade on national social cohesion, integration and countering extremism projects. Fiyaz‘s working history includes over 18 years-experience in the community and voluntary sector in positions that have included social policy lobbying, project and general management, conflict resolution work and leading organizations as the Chief Operating Officer. He is also the founder and Director of the acclaimed national anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring project called TELL MAMA, which ensures the mapping monitoring and measuring of anti-Muslim hatred across England and Wales and is the only national project that works in this area. Since 2012, the project has assisted over 9,700 people and ensured over 512 arrests across the country. It has fast become a well-recognised brand in the field of hate crime work. Fiyaz was previously a Councillor in Haringey (2006-2010) and in Oxford (2002-2004). A previous Deputy President of a mainstream political party in the UK, he was also appointed to the Working Group for Communities as part of the Extremism Task Force developed in 2005 after the 7/7 bombings.

Dr Shazad Amin

Chief Executive - Muslim Engagement & Development

Muslim Engagement & Development is a grassroots organisation tackling Islamophobia in the UK by promoting greater civic, media and political engagement by British Muslims. He is also a NHS Consultant in Adult Psychiatry based in Manchester. He works as an Expert Witness, mainly in the area of Clinical Negligence. He is also a Chair of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, and a Care Quality Commission Specialist Advisor.