Key policy areas will be affected by the dynamic and volatile nature of UK identities, report finds

22 January 2013

The rapidly-changing nature of identities in the UK will have an important impact on future policies in crime, environment, health, education and skills, social mobility, social integration, and extremism, according to a new report.

The government advisory programme, Foresight, has published the final report of its Future Identities project, which was established to review and analyse the latest scientific evidence on changing identities in the UK and their implications for policy makers.

While the report acknowledges that the definition of 'identity' is complex, the term is used to refer to "the way in which individuals perceive themselves and their place in the world, and how they are categorised by others." People's identities often include several aspects of their lives, such as age, gender, nationality, profession, ethnicity, family roles and religion.

Over the next ten years, identities in the UK will shift. Baby boomers will move into retirement and young people raised in the digital age will enter adulthood. Dual ethnic and national identities will be more commonplace, and society will – slowly but surely – become more secular. These changing identities will also be influenced by how people use new technology – through unprecedented levels of online connectivity, the spread of social media and an increase in personal information available via the web.

The Foresight report was based on submissions from leading UK and international experts, including contributions from the Institute of Education (IOE). Professor Lucinda Platt, Principal Investigator of the Millennium Cohort Study, contributed a review of how minority ethnic groups’ complex identities are changing across generations.

While dual-identities are becoming the norm among minority ethnic groups, Lucinda emphasised that the pace of change across generations in feelings of ethnic, religious and British identity is different. For example the importance of religious affiliation among minority ethnic groups is relatively unchanged across generations (although with a slight trend towards secularisation), whereas they are increasingly identifying with Britishness from one generation to the next.

The Foresight report urges policy makers to take note of this trend towards greater social plurality, which could lead to less cohesive UK communities in 10 years’ time. However, the growing diversity could strengthen some group identities and create new ones, especially as people becoming increasingly connected via the internet.

“The economic downturn, the effects of globalisation, and increasing migration have all been influential [to how people see themselves and others], while the impact of social media and modern communications technology have created a new ‘digital’ UK” said Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor and head of the Government Office for Science. “This report provides an important opportunity for the Government to consider how identities in the UK are changing and the possible implications for policy making.”

The Future Identities project was overseen by a lead expert group, including Professor Ann Phoenix of the IOE.

The full report, executive summary and the twenty supporting evidence reviews are available on the Foresight website.

Prof Lucinda Platt to participate in Cambridge Union Society debate on multiculturalism

Lucinda will also be participating in the upcoming debate on multiculturalism at the Cambridge Union Society this Thursday 24 January 2013. Other participants include Zarghona Rassa, founder of the British Afghan Women's Association, Supt. Leroy Logan, founder of the National Black Police Association and Paul Uppal, MP for Wolverhampton South West.

For more information on the debate, visit the Cambridge Union Society website.