April 27, 2023 - 7:15am

The UK is one of the least racist countries in the world, according to a massive new global study, with just 2% of Britons feeling uncomfortable about the idea of living next door to somebody of a different race. Asking whether someone would be happy living next to someone of a different race is one of the traditional ways that researchers measure racism. The data also shows that the British are amongst the most accepting countries in the world. In addition, the nation is among the highest-ranking for tolerance of gay people and immigrants.

The analysis from the Policy Institute at King’s College London, forming part of the World Values Survey (WVS), compared two dozen countries to judge global standards of trust and “acceptance of the people who live alongside us”. The proportion of Britons uncomfortable about living next door to somebody of a different ethnic background has gone down by eight percentage points from 10% in 1981 to 2% today, and now only Brazil and Sweden score lower (both 1%, essentially tied within the margin of error). Meanwhile, developed European countries like Italy and Spain score noticeably higher (12% and 13% respectively), with the least tolerant country on the continent being Greece, where almost a quarter (24%) of respondents would not want a neighbour of a different race.


Who would you NOT want to have as a neighbour? (%)

Source: The Policy Institute/World Values Survey

Britain has also come from behind to overtake the rest of the Anglosphere when it comes to racial tolerance. Since 1981, the United States has only gone down by five percentage points and Australia by two while Canada’s tolerance has, in the last forty years, actually risen, with a present-day figure of 4%. 

Views on racial difference have softened across generations, too. In 1981, 13% of the pre-war generation and 7% of baby boomers said they would not like to live next to somebody of a different race; the proportion for both groups is now 2%. Indeed, no age bracket scores more than 2% on the question, while less than 1% of Generation Z, the youngest category measured, object to ethnically diverse neighbours.

The overall acceptance of religious minorities is even more striking: just 1% of Britons would not want to live next door to someone of a different faith. Regardless of race or creed, the UK population is generally trustworthy of the people around them, with 84% trusting their neighbours — fourth in the WVS table behind Norway, Sweden and Egypt. Mexico (50%) was the only country surveyed in which there was not a majority in support of their neighbourhood. While Britain’s trust level has risen from 78% in 2005, the US’s fell from 80% to 72% between 2006 and 2017. 

Source: The Policy Institute/World Values Survey

The King’s study comes months after a UN working group claimed that ethnic minorities in Britain are “living in fear” as a result of systemic racism, and just two weeks after a separate report detailed that the UK is “not close to being a racially just society”. This new report provides a dramatic counterpoint, suggesting that Britain is, overall, a more welcoming place than its critics might suggest.

Rob Lownie is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.