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Fear and Hope Wales: Identity, Politics and Belonging in Today’s Wales

The findings of the Fear and Hope Wales report show that the vast majority of people across Wales celebrate diversity and community, and are open to difference and change. But there is a sizeable proportion of the population who hold more hostile attitudes which contradict a view of Wales as welcoming, open and tolerant.


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Introduction

Click here to read this introduction in Welsh

HOPE not hate exists to challenge the politics of hate, and build more resilient communities. Since 2011, we have published our Fear and Hope series of research to better understand the full spectrum of public attitudes and what drives them. This research helps us to better understand where far-right and hateful narratives are cutting through, and what can be done to push back, to overcome division and build unity.

We have done so by creating segmentations, breaking the population down into groups based on their attitudes, values and the issues that motivate them, seeing how these change over time, and by mapping this data to small geographic units of around 300 households.

Our fear and hope research has largely focused on English identity, though in the current context we felt it was important to apply our fear and hope model to Wales, to create a new segmentation and look at questions of Welsh identity, relationships with the Senedd and Westminster, as well as key cultural and political questions and how any economic impact might impact these.

Our research took place in the midst of a pandemic that has hugely impacted Wales and redrawn the relationship between Welsh people and the Senedd, where Welsh Government has been tasked with enforcing the most onerous restrictions on people in peacetime history. Our polling was also carried out right before the Senedd elections where Labour held a majority in stark contrast to their rapidly falling vote share in both England and Scotland. In the shadow of Brexit, questions of Welsh independence have risen sharply on the agenda, as promises of a second referendum in Scotland threaten the breakup of the union.

Moreover, our research looks at Wales at a time where the economic impact of coronavirus is yet to take full force. At present, restrictions are costing the Welsh economy an estimated £10m a week, and the claimant count rate in Wales – the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit – rose 108%, from 58,600 in March 2020 to 121,800 in August 2020, surpassing the levels reached after the 2007/08 global financial crisis. And the Welsh economy was in decline before the pandemic hit.

The long-term impacts of the pandemic are yet to be seen, but it is clear that any loss will compound existing inequalities, adding to the economic challenges already worsened by Brexit. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has predicted a “tide of poverty” to hit Wales after coronavirus, deepening existing problems. And the uneven geographic spread of these impacts means that isolated towns reliant on already at-risk industries and declining populations could bear the brunt.

This context is not just a huge challenge for individuals and families, and as our polling shows half the Welsh population say that they are concerned they or someone in their family may lose their job as a result of the pandemic. But it will also have a substantial impact on communities, with the potential to damage social cohesion.

HOPE not hate research has consistently shown that the balance of social and cultural attitudes are often tipped by worsening economic conditions, as the very real resentments and frustrations that people feel about their own lives are exploited by those who seek to divide.

This report highlights that although most people in Wales are open, tolerant and welcoming, there is a sizeable proportion of the Welsh population who are susceptible to swing towards populist right support or far-right sympathies if conditions are stressed.

In developing our new tribes, we identify two groups who already hold hostile and reactive attitudes toward multiculturalism and immigration, but also two identity tribes who could fall into these hostile groups, one more likely to harden their reactive views through ‘culture war’ framing, and one whose own insecurity, pessimism and economic precarity opens them up to populist scapegoating.

While this paints a picture of a divided society in Wales, there is also a lot of hope. The vast majority of Welsh people celebrate diversity and community, and are open to difference and change. But we find some contradiction between a view of Wales as welcoming, open and tolerant and pockets of hostility and unease around issues like immigration and multiculturalism. While the most popular term used by participants to describe Wales today was Welcoming, around half of Welsh people are worried about the prospect of new immigrants arriving in their community and almost half of Welsh people believe that ‘discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against non-white people’.

We hope that this study is a useful contribution to all those looking to build hope in communities across Wales. In an increasingly complex and uncertain world, understanding the society around us will massively help our ability to engage in it.

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Overview

Click here to read this overview in Welsh

1. The uneven impact of the pandemic has rewritten people’s relationship with the Senedd, and with Westminster

The vaccine effect has seen a bounce in Welsh people’s optimism for the future, and the vast majority are happy with how Welsh government have handled the pandemic, but the economic hit of the coronavirus outbreak has already hit many people hard, and there is a lot of fear for how this will play out in the coming months.

While many who have lost jobs, seen their hours dropped, or gotten into debt during the pandemic have maintained faith in political leaders, for others resentment and anger are brewing, and eating away at trust.

2. Welsh independence remains a minority view, but there is a clear appetite for a rebalance of power for the nation which could be tapped into

Overall, there is a consensus that Wales and the other devolved nations lose out to England (53% agree), and that the issues and concerns of people living in the small towns and rural areas of Wales are often ignored in favour of people in big cities (63%). But only 35% think that politicians in the Senedd care about people like them and the same proportion feel that Welsh people’s views are well represented by the Westminster government.

3. Pockets of hostility and patterns of social conservatism contradict beliefs of Wales as a welcoming place

Looking at social attitudes across Wales, there is some contradiction between a view of Wales as welcoming, open and tolerant and pockets of hostility and unease around issues like immigration and multiculturalism.

The most popular term used by participants to describe Wales today was Welcoming, chosen by a third of all respondents (33%). But 46% say they are worried about the arrival of new immigrants in their community and almost half of Welsh people believe that discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against non-white people (48% agreed with this statement, 24% disagreed). Opposition to immigration emerges across welsh society, including among 18-24s who are less socially liberal than the same age cohort for UK as a whole.

4. Poverty and deprivation remain key challenges for communities in Wales, and many fear the impact of the coronavirus outbreak will make things worse

There is widespread concern among the Welsh population about poverty (65% say they are concerned), a lack of opportunities for children growing up today (69% say they are concerned) and the decline of the High street (68% say they are concerned). And many fear that these issues could get worse, as the economic impact of coronavirus threatens many jobs. Half the Welsh population say that they are concerned they or someone in their family may lose their job as a result of the pandemic.

5. A concentration of social and economic challenges in Welsh towns are undermining community resilience

Towns in Wales have been at the forefront of many of the economic challenges faced by the UK over the past decades, and have been more exposed than most.

Looking at social attitudes across Welsh towns, we can see some quite distinct trends. These relate to small and fairly isolated communities, with little ethnic diversity or population flux and significant deprivation, particularly when it comes to jobs and economic opportunities. These challenges can feed frustrations and resentments that the far right can exploit.

6. New Tribes

While our Fear and Hope reports have previously looked at attitudes across England, this report has developed a series of tribes specific for Wales. These ten groups offer a picture of social attitudes across Wales by splitting the Welsh population up by values, attitudes on key issues, as well as what drives them.

These ten identity tribes can broadly be placed into three groups. Social liberals, who value compassion and openness, are driven by fighting social inequality and believe immigration and multiculturalism bring richness to Wales. Social conservatives, who value security and pride, often reactive in the face of changes in British society and driven by protectionism. And ambivalents, who share some views of both sides, though are more likely to feel detached or disinterested.

While this paints a picture of a divided society in Wales, the different drivers and motivations of each of these groups also shows how polarisation in Welsh society is not simply groups being drawn towards two diametrically opposed ‘poles’. Core values, personal circumstance, political allegiance and current affairs all intersect to shape how people see the world around them.

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