The decline of the White British population in inner city Britain appears to have halted and may even have reversed, according to a new report on ethnic integration and segregation.
The new demographic analysis for Policy Exchange by the Webber Phillips data analytics group confirms that neighbourhood segregation has been slowly declining for most ethnic minority groups as they spread out from inner city heartlands into the suburbs but it also finds that the level of mixing between ethnic minorities taken as a whole and the White British majority is barely moving at all. It is a similar story in schools, with over 40% of ethnic minority pupils attending a school that is less than 25% White British.
This confirms previous trends, but what is new is the stabilisation of the White British population in big cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester. And in some parts of inner city Britain there appears to have been an actual increase in the White British as white young professionals move in and poorer minority residents are driven out by higher rents, think Brixton in south London.
Brendan Cox, the widower of Jo Cox the MP murdered by a white identity extremist and now a campaigner for more cohesive communities, argues that “Britain is on the verge of a diversity boom” yet the issue of integration has been a political orphan with no consistent lobby for it and with neither of the main political parties having a strong incentive to pursue it.
Cox’s analysis is based on anonymised conversations with politicians of all parties including former prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair, five former Home Secretaries (Amber Rudd, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett, Jack Straw, Jacqui Smith) and other experts and leaders of ethnic minority organisations. A full list of those interviewed can be found in the report.
One of the former PMs is quoted as saying, “Later in my term I started to feel this was one of the most important issues, that there was nothing more important… The tough questions are schools, housing, immigration, you start with wild enthusiasm then look at the policies that stem from it and say ‘oh christ do I really need to do that.’”
And a former Home Secretary is quoted as saying: “It feels like a poisoned chalice. Long timelines, multi departmental approach and lack of definition about what we mean and controversial policy areas, are all real brakes on strategic action. It’s seen as unclear, potentially messy and with indeterminate benefits.”
Integration only tends to surface in response to terrorism or immigration crises, says Cox, and both of the main Westminster parties have historic legacies or ideological baggage that directs them away from the issue. For the Conservatives, argues Cox, “when it comes to integration and minority communities it’s not simply about fears of being seen as a nasty party but a racist one .”
For Labour, according to MPs interviewed for this report, “the political challenge comes from a political reliance on minority voters in particular areas of the country.” Cox says in theory this might incentivise engagement in integration given high levels of support from minority voters but many community leaders, especially in Muslim areas, are either ambivalent about integration or see it purely through a discrimination and anti-racism lens.
In other words parts of the left still view integration mainly as a problem of inequality, while the right avoids it out of fear of being branded racist. Cox, however, argues that there are some grounds for optimism. This is partly because the issue of integration and segregation has ceased to be an “us and them” issue and has evolved into an “everyone” issue. A 2021 YouGov poll found that 38% of British people agreed with the proposition that: “Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own country.” And more than a fifth of people in England say they are always or sometimes lonely.
“The problem has shifted from a narrow question of integrating ethnic minorities into a wider question about how to build meaningful communities for all…This needs to be framed as an ‘everyone issue’, not a question of them and us,” says Cox.
He also argues that the way the country came together during the pandemic provides some grounds for optimism about social cohesion in the future. “The aftermath of the Brexit referendum and the Covid pandemic both create moments of national introspection about the type of country we want to be and the communities we want to build. These are generational moments that could change dynamics and create an opportunity to change direction.”
Some other key points in the report:
- Overall, the White British share of the population continues to decline but at a slightly slower rate than in the recent past. According to ONS in 2001, 88 percent of the British population was White British. This fell by around 6 points between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. The Webber Phillips data suggest a further decline of 3 points in this share between 2011 and 2021. The fastest increases in the not white-British have occurred in London and in the West Midlands, in particular in boroughs in outer east London and in southeastern satellite towns which have experienced rapid growth of housing, population and jobs in warehousing and distribution. (page 23 and page 25)
- Britain’s minority population continues to be highly clustered. There remain ‘two Britains’. The not white-British continue to concentrate in urban areas, especially in wards where minorities constitute the majority. In 2011, almost half of not white-Britons lived in wards that were majority-minority. Meanwhile, 80 percent of wards remained over 90 percent white. Extreme US-style segregation is rare, however, and can generally only be found in former mill towns such as Oldham, Burnley or Blackburn, where segregation remains high.
- Overall, 29% of the UK adult population and 70% of the not white-British adult population live in “significantly ethnic postcodes”, postcodes where 20% or more adults are not white-British. Black Britons are significantly more dispersed than Muslims and the most segregated groups are Pakistanis, Sikhs and Somalis.
- The positive story is that, as in the 1991-2011 period, not white-Britons are gradually moving out from areas of own-group ethnic concentration. Virtually all ethnic groups show a modest decline in measures of segregation. Indeed, this suggests most minorities do not wish to self-segregate, but are moving in search of better housing and amenities commensurate with their upward mobility.
- However, the less positive aspect of the story is that minorities are tending to move to relatively mixed or even ‘superdiverse’ places where they encounter other minorities rather than the 8 in 10 wards in the country that are around 90 percent white. Minorities are becoming less segregated from each other, but barely so from the White British majority. And the one group which appears to have become slightly more segregated are the White English. This echoes ONS findings from 1991-2011.
- There continues to be a small minority flow into a select band of formerly heavily white wards and postcodes, often in affluent suburbs such as Kingston in London or Oadby in Leicestershire, but this does not alter the broad pattern of high minority clustering. One of the most enduring features of Britain’s demography since 2011 has been the continuing reluctance of minorities to settle in rural or seaside communities.
- Where our data show an important divergence from previous findings is with respect to ethnic change in London and some other large and diverse cities. London’s White British population declined from 71 percent of the total in 1991 to 58 percent in 2001 and 45 percent in 2011 according to the ONS. By contrast, our figures show a drop of only 3 points between 2011 and 2021. Birmingham underwent a similarly rapid ethnic change as London. Yet we find a similar stabilizing of the White British share in Birmingham, Manchester and some other cities.
- This disproportionate propensity of White Britons to leave the city for other parts of the country appears to have slowed while for minorities it has picked up. Hence some of the fastest growth of the not white-British population appears to have taken place beyond the M25 in exurban zones like the Thames Gateway in North Kent and South Essex, and in satellite towns around major cities such as Watford, Swindon, and Corby.
- Most ethnic minority pupils in England attend schools, at primary and secondary level, where ethnic minority pupils are in the majority. But it is also true that for most ethnic minority pupils the largest group they will encounter at school is still the White British (the two exceptions to this rule are Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils). The overall trend seems to be towards more mixing in school albeit from a low base in the case of some groups, especially Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.
- Secondary schools in England are generally more diverse than primary. School intakes generally reflect the demography of their neighbourhoods, even in the era of school choice. But that is not true for everyone. In 2017 the average Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupil was in a school less diverse than the neighbourhood, that was also true of Indian and Black African pupils but only at primary level.
Notes to Editors
A copy of the report can be read HERE.
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