New study reveals discrimination levels remain unchanged since the late 1960s.

New study reveals discrimination levels remain unchanged since the late 1960s.

A study by experts at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford reviewed the applications of 3,200 individuals and compared call backs across a number of industries and application arenas.

The study undertook to review the positive responses from employers to applications from individuals of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The researchers sent almost 3,200 applications to both manual and non-manual roles, including marketing and software engineers, chefs and retail assistants. All applications were in response to roles being advertised on a well-known recruitment platform, between November 2016 and December 2017.

The study reviewed the responses to applications from 33 different minority groups, which were split into five broad groups. Two minority groups, Nigerian and Pakistani, were considered to have sufficiently large volumes of applications for separate analysis.

The results concluded that applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin.

All applicants, when of an ethnical minority background, stated that they were either British-born or had resided in the UK since before their sixth birthday, had been educated solely in the UK and had completed any further training in the UK too.

Black Britons and those of South Asian origin face ‘shocking’ discrimination in the labour markets, at levels which remain as poor as they were found to be during research conducted in the 1960s. The linked study, conducted by the same institution compared the results they had found in field experiments in 1969, with the results from 2017. The report concluded that reported discrimination- especially of black Britons and Pakistanis, remained unchanged in 50 years. The study is part of a larger cross-national project funded by the European Union. Results have prompted concerns that race relations legislation had failed in its attempts to reduce discrimination and racial bias in the workplace.

Published as a part of The Guardian’s Bias in Britain series, the results reflected the same conclusion found by research testing responses to flat share adverts. People from minority ethnic backgrounds, applying to online adverts looking for flat shares, were found to receive significantly less positive responses than those perceived to be white British. This survey compared the results for an applicant named Mohammad with an applicant named David.

Co-author of the paper, Prof Anthony Heath of Nuffield College, stated that “the absence of any real decline in discrimination against black British and people of Pakistani background is a disturbing finding, which calls into question the effectiveness of previous policies and there needs to be a radical rethink about how to tackle it.”

During the study, different ethnicity applicants were randomly assigned to different job vacancies. Only one application was sent per advertised post, with the number of callbacks as well as invitations to interviews or next stage of recruitment process, compared for analysis.

The study concluded that minority ethnic applicants, including white minorities, had to send 60% more applications, on average, to obtain a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. Applicants from Western Europe and the USA were treated in an almost equal manner to the applicants of white British origin. Applicants of Pakistani origin had to make 70% more applications, those of Nigerian origin, 80% more applications and those of Middle Eastern & North African (MENA) origin, 90% more applications.

High levels of discrimination were particularly clear when the individual originated from countries with a sizeable Muslim population. This result echoed strong anti-Muslim attitudes recorded in other recent surveys.

Dr. Zubaida Haque, deputy director of the race equality thinktank, Runnymede, described the findings as “overt and conscious racism” stating that it isn’t simply covert racism or unconscious bias that is causing issues. When applications are rejected simply based on ethnicity or name- with no improvements since the late 1960s, “it is clear that race relations legislation is not sufficient to hold employers to account. There are no real consequences for employers of racially discriminating in subtle ways.” The outcome for ethnic minority applicants are; higher unemployment, lower wages, poorer conditions and less security in work and life.

Authors of the study described the evidence of enduring discrimination of many minority ethnic groups as striking, given the length of time that the Race Relations Act of 1976 had been in place. In addition, the study of 1969 included a number of applicants that had been born abroad and had received some education in their country of birth, placing those in the 2017 study in, potentially, a perceived more positive light than their 1969 counterparts

Although general studies of public perception show declining racial prejudice, this study has shown a stark lack of change in the workplace> with the continued presence of “employer prejudice about the linguistic and work-related skills and motivations of minorities.”

During 2018 the Prime Minister launched a series of measures to help employers identify how to tackle ethnic disparities in the workplace, including a new race at work charter and a consultation on mandatory pay reporting. It is clear, however, that more must be done.

If you wish to discuss discrimination at work or for any other situation, in the first instance, please contact Vaishali Thakerar in our employment team on 0116 212 1000 or by emailing


This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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