Prejudice is being privatised by equality legislation

  •  Equality legislation has changed behaviour but not views
  •  A privatisation of prejudice is taking place
  •  Theory could help explain the rise of anti-immigration parties like UKIP

Prejudiced attitudes towards minorities have not gone away as a result of equality legislation they have just been privatised, new research by the University of Sheffield has revealed.

PrejudiceThe study, which looked at attitudes towards minority groups and legislation in the UK, identified widespread hostility towards laws and regulations which were viewed as unfairly privileging minority groups.

It found that people alter how they relate to others in public, out of an obligation to comply with the law rather than because they believe in or accept the values enshrined in it.

Many of the respondents claimed their ‘true’ opinions about minority groups could only be freely voiced in the private setting of their home amongst people they trust where they are immune from legal constraints and the expectations of society.

The research also offers a new angle to understand the rise of populist parties like UKIP.

The majority of those asked in the study acknowledged they know little about the specifics of The Equality Act 2010 but expressed hostility to the form and content of the equality law which they dubbed ‘political correctness.’

The research revealed a perception that behaviour in public is regulated and controlled by equality legislation. This was seen as restricting natural or normal ways of behaving in public space.

The workplace was named as an area where people viewed these forms of regulation as being particularly prevalent and feared expressing prejudice there because of the risk of legal sanction or disciplinary action. It was also felt these forms of legislation unduly privileged minority groups.

Author of the report, Professor Gill Valentine, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Social Sciences said: “Equality legislation produces an expectation that the UK has a progressive and cosmopolitan public culture yet rather than prejudiced views disappearing, as a consequence of the obligation to comply, it is just changing its form. Blatant public expressions of intolerance are becoming less commonplace but privatised and discrete forms of prejudice persist. A privatisation of prejudice is taking place.”

The research says this causes problems for both those who the legislation seeks to protect - because it makes it more difficult to expose and challenge prejudice views - and for those critical of the social expectations equality legislation creates, because it breeds a sense of anger and frustration that their views are being silenced in public by the law.

The study claims the privatisation of prejudice provides fertile ground for anti-immigration parties such as UKIP with disaffected members of society, unable to express their anxieties about minority groups in public because of what they perceive as ‘political correctness,’ doing so through the ballot box instead.

Additional information

The study was carried out as part of a wider research programme at the University of Sheffield called LIVEDIFFERENCE and is funded by the European Research Council.
The full brief relating to this research is available at
The research is based on in-depth multi-stage qualitative research involving 30 individual case studies from a range of social backgrounds.

The University of Sheffield
With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
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For further information please contact:

Clare Parkin
Media Relations Officer
University of Sheffield
0114 2229851