Around one in six people in Europe claim to have personally experienced discrimination in the past year, according to a new opinion survey released by the European Commission on 9 November 2009.
Meanwhile, 64% of Europeans are concerned that the recession will contribute to more age discrimination in the job market. The latest Eurobarometer results come ahead of this year's European Equality Summit, to be held in Stockholm on 16 and-17 November.
Personal experience of discrimination by respondents remains largely unchanged since the same survey was carried out last year, with age being the most common reason (6% of respondents). Overall, 16% of Europeans reported experiencing discrimination (on the basis of race, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation) in 2009, the same level as in 2008.
However, there has been a strong increase in perceived discrimination based on age and disability. 58% of Europeans consider age discrimination to be widespread in their country, compared to 42% in 2008, while 53% cite disability discrimination (45% in 2008). There is also a clear link with the current economic situation, with 64% of people expecting the downturn to lead to more age discrimination in the job market. This may reflect rising unemployment among young people in many EU countries as a result of the slowdown and could also reflect growing awareness of these forms of discrimination.
Overall, one in three Europeans are aware of their rights should they become a victim of discrimination or harassment. However, this figure masks considerable differences at national level. Awareness has increased since the last survey in 2008 in the UK (+8 points), France (+7), Ireland and Sweden (each +6), but fallen in Poland (-12) and Portugal (-11).
Raising public awareness is a long-term process which requires joint efforts at European and national level, including important actors such as National Equality Bodies. The European Commission is pursuing efforts in this area through the 'For Diversity. Against Discrimination' pan-European information campaign, by funding national awareness-raising projects under the PROGRESS programme, and previously through the 2007 European Year for Equal Opportunities.
In terms of reporting cases of discrimination, most Europeans would first contact the police (55%), while 35% would get in touch with their equality body and 27% a trade union. Confidence in the various organisations working with discrimination issues differs strongly from one country to another.
Encouragingly, the survey data gives an insight into the social mechanisms by which discrimination can be resolved. The report shows that social circles, education and awareness-raising efforts are contributing to a better acceptance of diversity. Efforts and policies that seek to work with this reality will no doubt further contribute to combating discrimination and promoting diversity.