Lens Blog

Psychological insight on current affairs


posted on 10th July 2019

New analysis from Global Future demonstrates the outsized impact those from migrant and minority ethnic backgrounds have on British culture. According to the research, more than one in three of our most celebrated cultural leaders are from multicultural backgrounds – well above the general population.

  • Writing a foreword to the ‘Stretching the Flag’ report globally renowned British Dancer Akram Khan argues: “Our differences fuel our creativity, and our exposure to all the cultures of the world does nothing but improve our own”
  • Since 2014, migrant and minority representation at the top of arts and culture has soared from under a third to nearly 40% – well above the general population
  • Art, dance, fashion and music are the most diverse.

The report, called Stretching the Flag: Measuring and celebrating the diversity of British culture, looks at the major UK awards in music, dance, books, film, TV, sports, fashion, food, theatre and art to quantify the impact made by those from multicultural backgrounds on Britain’s cultural output. Key findings include:

  • Over 38% of our cultural icons are from migrant or minority ethnic backgrounds
  • Our culture is getting more diverse every year: since 2014, migrant and minority representation at the top of the arts has shot up from under a third to almost 40%
  • In most branches of our cultural industries, those from migrant families or ethnic minority backgrounds are over-achieving at the very top
  • Art, dance, fashion and music are our most diverse cultural industries

The positive impact made by our diverse cultural icons is widely recognised by the public. Our polling [3] shows:

  • More than seven in ten of us believe our diversity has had a positive impact on our food (77%), music (72%) and sport (78%) – less than one in 20 think diversity has had a negative impact
  • 69% of the public agree that diversity has improved our culture, against 15% who disagree
  • Young people are most likely to celebrate diversity in our culture: 18-45yos are less than half as likely to feel diversity has had a negative impact on British culture than those aged 55 and over

Akram Khan, dancer and choreographer, said:

“Diversity is what makes Britain’s culture great. But recently it has felt as though we have lost sight of that. Brexit and the poisonous debate about immigration threaten to turn our diversity into division. That would be a historic disaster for the country.

“But when it comes to our culture, we are not divided at all. We are united in our admiration for the acting of Idris Elba, the athleticism of Jess Ennis-Hill, and the artistry of Anish Kapoor.

“Our culture should be ours collectively, not reserved for a few – and we have to work tirelessly to make sure that is the case. But let’s never lose sight of what makes Britain so special. Our differences fuel our creativity, and our exposure to all the cultures of the world does nothing but improve our own.”

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said:

“The much-needed attention on the Windrush Scandal has been crucial in exposing the government’s hostile environment for what it is: a cruel and odious attack on diversity. There is a danger, though, that the coverage of this scandal has served to portray first, second and third-generation immigrants as an agent-less victimised mass.

“This report goes a long way to resisting this narrative, celebrating the creative and iconic power of individuals from migrant and minority ethnic backgrounds. It highlights the immeasurable scale of their contribution to this country’s cultural scene. And it tells us that the government’s anti-immigrant rhetoric isn’t just in contradiction to justice and morality. It’s in contradiction to the public’s welcoming and positive attitude toward diversity and difference.”

Will Brett, Director of Research and Campaigns at Global Future, said:

Britain’s diversity is our biggest strength. Today, a clear majority of Brits agree that immigration has enriched our culture, yet that story is rarely discussed. Our analysis brings that to life – and shows that nearly 40% of British cultural icons from music, dance and art to sport, TV and film come from migrant and minority backgrounds.

Danny Boyle’s London 2012 opening ceremony put the best of our country on display – in all its diversity. But in the years since, that story has faded from national debate. Instead, the debate focuses on the barriers to entry for those from multicultural backgrounds.

But in spite of those barriers, Britain’s migrant communities have shaped our national culture to a remarkable degree.

Britain is a cultural superpower. Our creative industries are the envy of the world. We must do more to increase diversity but we also must not forget to celebrate how rich and diverse our culture has become.”


The analysis looks at awards and prizes at the peak of each cultural discipline (Sports Personality of the Year, the Oliviers, the Brits etc) to create a list of winners or nominees across the most relevant categories. Overall, taking an average of the figures across each discipline, 38% of cultural leaders came from culturally diverse backgrounds and 31% were BME or immigrants themselves.

Proportion of cultural icons from diverse backgrounds, 2014-2018

Migrant Child of migrants BME BME or migrant BME, migrant or child of migrants
Dance 46.8% 6.4% 23.4% 55.3% 55.3%
Books 14.3% 10.5% 11.4% 19.0% 26.7%
Theatre 17.7% 12.9% 17.7% 29.0% 37.1%
Sports 6.7% 16.7% 30.0% 30.0% 36.7%
Music 0.0% 36.0% 26.0% 26.0% 40.0%
TV 2.5% 15.0% 15.0% 17.5% 17.5%
Film 0.0% 29.3% 9.8% 9.8% 29.3%
Fashion 38.9% 8.3% 12.0% 47.2% 49.1%
Visual arts 41.2% 17.6% 29.4% 58.8% 64.7%
Food 14.0% 10.0% 4.0% 18.0% 26.0%
OVERALL AVERAGE 18.2% 16.3% 17.9% 31.1% 38.2%

Overall, the national data are quite clear that the total population with either an ethnic minority or recent immigrant background is under 30%. By that benchmark, our analysis finds that diverse groups punch above their weight in Britain’s most celebrated arts and culture. In seven of the ten surveyed disciplines, the BME/immigrant share of award-winners and nominees was clearly above the UK-wide share. In all but one, television, the proportion who were from culturally diverse backgrounds was 25% or higher – in some cases, several times higher.

Although our analysis is limited to the last five years, there is a clear picture of improvement over time. Looking at award-winners and nominees across all our cultural disciplines since 2014, the BME share has risen sharply from less than 8% to almost a fifth, while the migrant and minority share in 2018 was over 41%.

Year BME BME/1st/2nd
2014 7.7% 31.9%
2015 9.7% 32.0%
2016 13.8% 33.0%
2017 32.3% 47.5%
2018 19.1% 41.5%