Ten years dramatically change UK population

The 2011 Census, released this week, reveals the immigrant and mixed race population is up, Christianity down. Disastrous transformation or fascinating fresh chapter in UK history?

The British nation is in flux.

Every ten years, the Office for National Statistics requires every household, on the same night, to complete a survey about the people staying under their roof. The results are chased up by an army of researchers, and the data crunched to produce a comprehensive portrait of the UK.

This week, the data gathered in 2011 was released, revealing a rapidly changing picture.

Christianity, which through the Church of England is the established state religion, seems to be collapsing. And an increase in immigration has made what was once described as a ‘multicultural’ nation even more mixed. There are three million more resident immigrants than when the last census was taken ten years ago. The total population of England and Wales, according to the census, was 56.1 million, a 7 per cent increase on 2001. Of that increase, 55 per cent is due to immigration. Unlike Christianity, Islam is booming: the Muslim population has risen from 1.5 to 2.6 million.

In London, the changes are even more dramatic – more than a third of the capital city’s population were born outside the UK, and along with the Midlands city of Leicester, it has the lowest white British population of anywhere in England and Wales, at 45%.

Even in mainly white areas, the influx has been dramatic: in Wales, for example, the immigrant population has doubled from 2 to 4%.

The census measures facts and trends – in snapshot form. But other surveys suggest that attitudes have also changed rapidly. Only 15% in one study last year said they had any concerns about mixed race relationships, and only 1 in 20 of the under 25s. As recently as the 1990s, a majority said they would be opposed to a relationship or marriage between two people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Census sensibility

Optimists say any problems created by these changes are momentary blips – or challenges for the politicians to fix, like finding enough housing or local services to cater for incoming families. Fundamentally, the UK knows how to successfully absorb incoming populations, and to make use of their strengths to grow the economy and enrich the culture, because it has happened throughout the nation’s history.

‘What is happening to our country?’ lamented a Daily Mail writer yesterday, accusing the political class of censoring discussion for fear of encouraging racism. ‘Surely a cultural change of this magnitude should have been examined and debated at every level?’ Is he right to be concerned that the changes are happening too fast and bringing on an identity crisis? Or is all of this a natural stage in the evolution of a modern nation?

You Decide

  1. Do you find changes in society threatening, interesting, or exciting?
  2. One statistician wrote yesterday that lack of comparable statistics across the UK may be undermining the nation as a cohesive entity (see links). What does he mean?


  1. Research how your local area has changed since the 2001 Census.
  2. Choose one set of findings from the Census and make your own infographic to illustrate it.

Some People Say...

“Nought may endure but mutability.’ Percy Bysshe Shelley”

What do you think?

Q & A

I have no control over this so why think about it?
Well, two reasons at least. You are a member of society, so you are part of the overall picture and have a right to your own feelings and attitudes about how it develops. But also, these issues are part of a very animated political debate right now: whether the UK, an island nation, sees its future as preserved in isolation from further immigration or involvement with neighbouring European countries, is likely to be a major issue at the next General Election.
But I can’t vote yet.
You might be able to in 2015, when the next election is due. And if not, you can still develop opinions about the sort of nation you want to belong to – and the sort of debate about national identity that you want to participate in.

Word Watch

Office for National Statistics
The ONS is responsible for collecting statistics about the population, economics and society of England and Wales. That includes data on areas that affect normal people, like transport, family and religion, as well as information about government and business. Information the ONS collects and presents is used by both local and national government.
Church of England
The CofE is the official Christian church in England, but also the ‘mother church’ of Anglicanism, which has established churches all over the world. In Britain the CofE exerts a significant influence in society: bishops, its most senior figures, can sit in the House of Lords, and so have a say in national policy.
The East Midlands city of Leicester has a high population of immigrants from Asia, particularly India. As a result, the population has a diversity of religions and languages as well as races: Leicester is home to many Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, and alongside English around 70 languages or dialects are spoken in the city.

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