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Public opinion surveys

Equality in Northern Ireland

What you need to know

Equality in Northern Ireland – Public Opinion Surveys

The Commission’s Public Opinion Surveys on Equality in Northern Ireland support the development, monitoring and evaluation of data and performance measures aligned with the delivery of our Corporate and Business planning outcomes.

Our Public Opinion Surveys are currently being under taken in the Autumn/Winter of each year, with publication on this website in the following Spring.  The surveys use a quota-based sampling approach of 500 completed telephone interviews.

Aspects of Life in Northern Ireland
A number of questions and statements were presented to participants covering various aspects of life in Northern Ireland, including views and attitudes to equality, discrimination, workplaces, education and public services.

Our latest Public Opinion Survey obtained responses to the following questions and issues:

Awareness and understanding of equality

When asked what the term ‘equality’ means to participants thinking specifically about Northern Ireland (NI), the most commonly cited response is that it means the equal treatment of all people (16%).

Over one in ten participants (14%) hold a negative view about the level of equality in NI or feel that equality is lacking.

Attitudes to equality

Over a third of participants agree that the term ‘equality’ is meaningless to them and not something they think about day to day (36%), marking a significant increase from the previous wave (28%).

Equality status and discrimination

The groups considered to be protected from unlawful discrimination overall are racial and ethnic groups (24%), those of a certain sexual orientation (18%) and those living with a disability (16%). The proportion of participants feeling that none of the listed groups are protected has increased this wave to 17%, from 10% in the previous

Almost a third of participants (30%) said that they do not know any groups protected from unlawful discrimination.

In terms of the settings in which people are protected from unlawful discrimination, 36% stated the workplace. Just over one in ten considered people to be protected in education (11%). While in 2018-19 18% of participants mentioned that people are protected from unlawful discrimination in accessing public services, this has dropped to 8% in 2019. Again there is a significant increase since the last wave in participants feeling that none of these settings are covered by unlawful discrimination (up to 12% from 8%).

Over a third of participants (36%) said they do not know any settings in which people are protected from unlawful discrimination.

Views on equality in Northern Ireland

The majority of participants overall agree that equality and antidiscrimination laws in NI are necessary (82%), however this marks a significant decrease since the last wave when 90% agreed. A small, albeit growing, proportion disagree that anti-discrimination laws are necessary (up to 8% in 2019 from 4% in 2018-19).

There is less optimism among NI citizens that people can achieve their potential regardless of their personal characteristics; while 61% agree that this is the case, two in ten disagree (20%), up from one in
ten in 2018-19 (12%).

The majority of participants agree that workplaces are welcoming and inclusive in NI generally (58%). However, since the last wave the proportion of participants disagreeing that workplaces are welcoming and inclusive has increased from 8% to 13%.

Similarly with the notion that workers are generally treated with dignity and respect, the proportion of participants disagreeing has increased from 13% in 2018-19 to 18% in 2019. The majority, however, agree that workers are generally treated with dignity and respect (57%).

The level of concern over future anti-discrimination laws in NI compared to Great Britain (GB) or the Republic of Ireland (ROI) is mixed. Over a third say they are worried that the laws protecting them from discrimination will not be as strong as for others in GB or ROI (34%). Just under a third are not worried about this (30%). It is
worth noting that those who express greatest concern are nonheterosexual individuals, those who are living with a disability or illness and those who identify as nationalist.

Personal experiences of unwanted behaviour

The majority of participants stated that they had not personally experienced a situation at work where they were not treated with dignity and respect based on their personal characteristics in the last 12 months (65%). Thirteen percent of participants stated that they had not been treated with dignity and respect (13%). Twenty two percent of participants stated that they have not been in a workplace during the last 12 months (22%).

Among those participants who are working, 70% reported that they had not witnessed a situation in the last 12 months where others in their workplace were not treated with dignity and respect based on their personal characteristics. Just under a third of participants said they had witnessed this (30%).


The level of agreement around aspects of workplaces in NI is mixed. Less than a third of participants (29%) agree that workplaces tend to employ people with disabilities, while over a third (37%) disagree that this is the case. This marks a significant shift since 2018-19, when over a third of people agreed that workplaces tend to employ people with disabilities (35%) and almost a quarter disagreed (24%).

Once in employment, just under half agree that employees with disabilities are well supported (49%). Since 2018-19, a higher proportion of participants disagree that workplaces support employees with disabilities (up to 20% in 2019 from 14% in 2018-19).

There are more mixed views over support on mental health in the workplace. Over a third of participants agree that they rarely support employees with mental ill-health (39%), however 29% disagree that this is the case.

In 2019, over half of participants (60%) share the perception that there are still jobs still more suited to men than women. Over a third (67%), reject the idea that employers should employ people according to a job being seen as a man’s or a woman’s job.


There is broad agreement that pre-school should meet the needs of all children, including those with disabilities or whose first language is not English (86%). There is also agreement, albeit to a lesser extent, that the curriculum should be used to address bullying because of a pupil’s personal characteristics (72%).

The issue of funding in schools to support the needs of all pupils draws more mixed levels of support, though the majority agree that funding should focus on those groups which do less well at school (59%). Just over two in ten participants disagree with this (21%).

Two thirds of participants agree that additional funding provided to schools by government – to meet the needs of, for example, disabled pupils – should be monitored in order to track how the funding is spent (66%). Around two in ten disagree that this funding should be monitored (19%).

Local Area

Thinking about participation at a local level, the majority of participants say they would consider voluntary or community work (67%), while 21% say they would not.

There is less engagement with the prospect of sitting on a public board such as a school’s board of governors or a board for a publicly funded body; over a third of participants would consider this (39%), however almost half would not (48%).

Public figures and public services

Overall, just under half of participants (49%) agree that the needs of different groups of people are taken into account when planning public services, while 25% disagree.

Less than a quarter of participants (22%) agree that public figures show leadership on equality matters, while over half (52%) disagree with this.

Download the full findings from our Winter 2019 survey :
Download the full findings from our Winter 2018 survey:

Related information




< Social Attitudes & good relations
< Addressing inequality

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