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First UK Law Tackling Religious Discrimination led to decline in religious discrimination

Date: 12/09/2013

A decade on since the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, new research indicates a reduction in religious discrimination in England and Wales.

The new report ‘Religion and Belief, Discrimination and Equality in England and Wales: A Decade of Continuity and Change’ led by Professor Paul Weller at the University of Derby, working with Oxford and Manchester universities. It builds on Professor Weller’s research for the Home Office in 1999-2001, and other work, and covers the decade following the 2003 law change; making it illegal in England and Wales to specifically discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief, regarding employment and vocational training. This was followed by the broader 2006 Incitement to Racial and Racial Hatred Act, and the 2006 and 2010 Equalities Acts. The project was funded as part of the Religion and Society Research Programme, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.


The project's summary findings include:

  • indications that changes in the law have contributed to a reduction in the reported experience of unfair treatment on the basis of religion or belief, BUT that “substantial” levels of such reports continue to affect important areas of people's lives;
  • unfair treatment is generally reported to be more to do with individuals’ attitudes and behaviours (including in employment situations) than with organisations’ policies and practices;
  • Muslim, Pagan and New Religious Movement organisations continue to report higher levels of unfair treatment than others. Jewish organisations continue to report anti-semitism, stereotyping and targeted attacks on Jewish property;
  • reported unfair treatment of female Muslims, and people of other faiths being perceived as Muslims, due to the wearing of head coverings;
  • Christians citing unfair treatment around wearing crosses, reporting pressure to work Sundays by employers and a sense of their religion being marginalised whilst other faiths received fairer treatment;
  • a sense from non-religious individuals that Christianity's being “structurally embedded” in British society led to preferential treatment for people of that faith, especially in matters of education and governance.


The two year project's findings are based on responses from almost 500 religious organisations, and interview and focus group discussions with 270 people, of various faiths and none.

Participants included religious organisations in England and Wales; fieldwork interviews with a range of people in Cardiff, Blackburn, Leicester, Newham, and Norwich; and focus groups held in those same areas with those understanding themselves to be ‘non-religious’; and a systematic review and analysis of legal cases and of previous research. Five Knowledge Exchange Workshops were also held in Cardiff, Derby, London, Manchester and Oxford with practitioners in the public, private, legal, voluntary and community, and religion and belief sectors.

The project found respondents saw public education as the primary way forward in tackling unfair treatment.

Gearing UK social policy towards an idea of ‘Britishness’ was seen as less helpful by people in fostering understanding than an emphasis on citizenship, equal opportunities, greater working between and cohesion of communities, and an appreciation of the benefits of multiculturalism.

Paul Weller, Professor of Inter-Religious Relations at the University of Derby, said: A decade ago in domestic law 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.


For further information, please contact:


  • A Summary Findings document and Policy Brief for the project are now available, together with further background information, on its website at: www.derby.ac.uk/religion-and-society.
  • Information on the project's broader outputs and its public engagement can accessed from the Research Councils’ Gateway to Research at http://gtr.ukri.org
  • The University of Derby achieved University status in 1992 and is home to a diverse community of more than 20,000 students from the UK and overseas. Professor John Coyne has been Vice-Chancellor since 2004.Students have the choice of studying in four faculties: Education, Health & Science; Business, Computing & Law; Art, Design & Technology; and University of Derby Buxton.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012/13 was £205 million.
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, along with other UK Research Councils. It is governed by its Council, which is responsible for its overall strategic direction, and we are incorporated by Royal Charter. It is unique in the world as a national funding agency, supporting both arts and humanities’ research. It provides public funding of approximately £98million per annum to fund research among one quarter of the United Kingdom's research population. Each year we provide some 700 research awards, 2,000 postgraduate scholarships, and numerous knowledge transfer awards.
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