Researchers ask:“Are the religious unfairly treated?”

In the last decade a raft of legislation has attempted to bring about equality for people of all religions and beliefs within British society. A University of Derby-led research team who have been investigating what and how much has really changed over this decade will present their preliminary findings at a series of workshops around the UK this autumn.

Through a survey of religious organisations in England and Wales; fieldwork s in Cardiff, Blackburn, Newham, and Norwich; review and analysis of legal cases, and previous research; the research team from Derby and the Universities of Oxford and Manchester have built up a detailed picture of people’s reported experience of unfair treatment based on their religion or belief across the UK.

Compared to the results of similar research conducted for the Home Office in 1999-2001, which was also led by the University of Derby’s Professor Weller, the project’s initial findings have identified:

Substantial reporting of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief continuing across key areas of people’s lives.

Indications of some reductions in reported unfair treatment in some areas of people’s lives – including employment and, especially, criminal justice.

Reports of unfair treatment indicate that it continues to particularly affect certain sectors (employment, education and the media) and religious groups (Muslims, Pagans and New Religious Movements).

New examples of unfair treatment are being reported by Christians, with evidence pointing to increased incidence of issues round Sunday working.

Project focus groups have highlighted the degree to which “non-religious” people feel that Christianity receives privileged which result in unfair treatment for others, especially in education and in governance.

In a series of ‘knowledge exchange workshops’ to take place in Derby, Oxford, Cardiff, ‘Manchester and London between September and November 2012 the research team will share these initial findings and seek input from a wider range of practitioners from the religion or belief, community and voluntary, public, private and legal sectors.

The outcomes of the workshops will be integrated with the findings of the project so far.

Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, is leading academics from Derby and the Universities of Oxford and Manchester on the study entitled: ‘Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales, Theory, Policy and Practice, 2000-2010’.

He said: “A decade ago it was not illegal in England and Wales to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief, so at that time those who reported unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief had little scope for remedy.

“Since then we have had the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, Incitement to Racial and Racial Hatred Act, 2006, and the 2006 and 2010 Equalities Acts. Although unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief continues, evidence from our field research suggests that, particularly in the public sector, these legal changes have contributed to policy development and institutional change, resulting in some improvements in both inclusive consultation and practice.”

At the same time, as noted by Professor Weller: “The progress facilitated by new law has also highlighted unresolved tensions. We are still awaiting outcomes of key cases now before the European Court of Human Rights. The uncertainties mean that individuals and groups continue to feel unfairly treated on different grounds.”

The ‘knowledge exchange workshops’ take place in Derby on September 19, Oxford on October 5, Manchester on October 11, Cardiff on October 25 and London on November 7.

Following the workshops, the final results of the study will be drawn together and published in 2013. on the workshops please visit website­-exchange-­workshops.