The Census and Modern Britain

December 2, 2022

Much of the data from the new census release on ethnicity was already widely expected and foreseen in the Policy Exchange report Whatever Happened to Integration? from March this year. 

However, our report may have somewhat underestimated the scale of the change, with the white British decline slightly greater than expected while growth in the South Asian population accelerated a little and the black populations grew at a constant rate. The share of the population of England and Wales that is white has dropped to 82 per cent, down from 86 per cent in 2011. The share that is white British is 74 per cent, down from 80.5 per cent in 2011. Among those of school age probably only about two-thirds of the country is now white British.

Our own report, using the data from the Webber-Phillips analysis of ethnic change, predicted the way that ethnic diversity is continuing to spread out from big metropolitan centres into the suburbs – towns such as Watford and Milton Keynes – though it may have over-estimated the slowdown in the decrease of the white population in London. London is currently 37 per cent white British, down from 45 per cent in 2011 and 60 per cent in 2001.

In absolute terms, the number of white Britons has fallen by 780,000 over ten years.

We have seen an increase in the following: 

  • 198,000 Bangladeshis – 44% increase
  • 451,000 Indians – 32% increase
  • 463,000 Pakistanis – 41% increase
  • 499,000 black African – 50% increase
  • 1.2 million ‘other white’ – 48% increase

The ‘write in’ option on the census form allows for a more detailed picture of some ethnic groups. Not everyone fills in that part of the form, for example many Polish people will classify themselves as white other., but we have at least:

  • 624,000 Poles
  • 196,000 Somalis
  • 365,000 Romanians
  • 276,000 Nigerians
  • 153,000 Italians
  • 103,000 Roma
  • 465,000 Chinese
  • 46,000 Albanians

In response to a tweet from Nigel Farage, claiming London, Manchester and Birmingham are now “all minority white cities”. Farage was wrong, in that these cities are actually minority white British, not white, with the exception of Manchester. But Javid’s response reveals a tin ear on this issue. Whether one sees the changes as positive, negative or neutral, they will bring inevitable cultural change, and challenges for public service delivery, that must be discussed and debated publicly. 

The fact, for example, that the recent drive to recruit more police officers has failed to recruit ethnic minority officers in proportion to the general population (especially in London) matters, and is unlikely to help longer term community relations. Given the ‘boom and bust’ nature of police recruitment, this may represent a decade of missed opportunity.

The changes shown by the census raise many questions for government, both national and local. How will the changing mix of ethnicities, cultures and family structures impact on the quantity and form of healthcare provision required, on school places or on housing? We know that supply of houses and household formation is taking place in different ways, at different rates, in different parts of the country. In many cities, an increase in long-term house-sharing indicates the way that the supply of houses is lagging demand, whereas in more rural areas we see increasing numbers of elderly living alone – something that leads to a statistical increase in health risks and crime risk (particular types of burglaries).

What impact will changing age demographics – combined with the recent increase in early retirement – have on the labour force and growth? The health care costs of an 80 year old are four times those of a typical 50 year old, further adding to the strain on public finances. To what extent will the increasing secularisation amongst white British Christians be followed – or not – by secularisation amongst other religions and ethnicities?

Most fundamental though is the question of integration. Governments worry intermittently about issues of integration usually after riots (such as those recently in Leicester between Muslims and Hindus) or home grown terror attacks. But after the critical Casey review of integration in 2016, the Government produced a largely content-free response in 2018. One of the few proposals was five special integration areas (Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, Waltham Forest) where experiments were planned. Little has been heard of these experiments since. 

However Irena Hergottova who is head of integration in Walsall, one of the special integration areas, points out that while Government demands many things of public bodies and local authorities – such as conforming to the Public Sector Equality Duty – there is no requirement to publish an integration strategy. 

Local authorities and other public bodies should place integration at the heart of how they respond to the Public Sector Equality Duty. This would mean interpreting the requirement to ‘foster good relations’ as meaning a requirement to promote integration, this being the only sure long-term approach to creating good relationships. Only a greater focus on integration will allow us to make a success of the multicultural society that modern Britain is.

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