The 2021 Census has revealed that London is more ethnically diverse but also more religious than most of the rest of the UK. This has been the case for some time and won’t surprise On London readers, but the latest headline figures have sent some into a frenzy, obscuring reality.
“Britain’s two largest cities are now minority white”, tweeted the Telegraph. Nigel Farage, that longstanding friend of London, recorded a classic camera-too-close-to-the-face video rant in which he declared that “London, Birmingham and Manchester are now all minority white cities”.
Is that true? The Census box marked White: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British was not the most commonly ticked across the capital. In fact, that category forms the majority in just six boroughs – Bexley, Bromley, Havering, Kingston, Richmond and Sutton – and in Newham and Brent it was selected by just 15% of residents. But the claim that London is a “minority white” city is factually inaccurate.
An excellent Financial Times explainer (paywall) about the national figures sets out why. Firstly, London’s population is still majority white, if only by a small margin: only 37% of Londoners describe themselves as white and British or a subdivision of it, yet when other “white” categories are included an overall 54% of Londoners define their ethnicity in that way.
The capital is also “majority British”, and by a much more substantial margin: around three quarters of Londoners are British if you include all ethnicities who identify as such, which you surely should do unless you believe someone cannot be British unless they are white, which is an extreme minority viewpoint.
Where London does stand out is by being more ethnically heterogenous than the national average, as is also true of other cities. This isn’t new either, though the capital has become more diverse since 2011. It is also true that London’s diversity contrasts with a nation in which 82% describe themselves as white, including just under three-quarters who say they are White: British.
It is of course possible that some commentators have accidentally mixed up “white” and “White British” when reporting this, perhaps due to numerical illiteracy and/or a lack of attention to detail. This may well be true of Farage, given how bad his financial advice is. But it seems obvious that “white minority” headlines were designed to shock, with some pretty nasty connotations.
Farage’s video centred on a conspiracy theory that in future the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will no longer ask about the birthplace or nationality of participants, as part of some sort of establishment cover-up of how Britain is changing. That isn’t true either and slightly gives away Farage’s position. In reality, the ONS is simply reconsidering its methodology in order to produce the most up-to-date and accurate statistics in this area.
Interestingly, a national decline in those identifying as Christian, which Farage’s video also mentions, seems to be mostly about white Brits becoming increasingly secular. Higher immigration levels are in fact sustaining levels of religious belief in cities like London, including Christianity. Those concerned primarily with the decline of that faith in the UK should perhaps welcome ever more migration. Equally, those concerned about “white minority” English cities should surely be keen on increasing migration from Europe – as much as a quarter of the population of some London boroughs identify as White: Other.
It is not intrinsically racist to discuss the changing demographics of our city – I agree with Sunder Katwala that it is important that we do so. But London has a long history of being more connected to the world – and, relatedly, more multicultural in its demographics – than much of the rest of the nation. This trend has waxed and waned throughout the capital’s history. In the 21st Century it has been increasing. London’s contribution to the UK economy has increased significantly over this time period. Go figure.
The Census also reports that 22% of London households have people of different ethnicities living together in them. Polling by King’s College London last year found that three quarters of Londoners felt that people from different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds got on well together where they lived, and 61% felt that immigration from outside of the UK had had a positive impact. Both figures were much higher than those reported in Paris.
It seems that most Londoners do not find increasing ethnic diversity frightening. Perhaps some outside the capital shouldn’t worry too much on our behalf.
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