Ethnic groups in the United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom is composed of people of varying ethnicities. The largest ethnic group is White British and various other minority ethnic groups make up the rest. Ethnicity in the United Kingdom is formally recorded at a national level at each census. The 2011 United Kingdom census recorded a reduced share of White British people in the United Kingdom since the census preceding it in 2001. Contributing factors to growing populations of ethnic minorities are varied in nature, including differing birth rates and Immigration.


Indigenous British people are descended from the varied ethnic stocks that settled on the British Isles from the time of the last ice age until the 11th century. Included in these peoples are pre-Celts, Celtic-speaking people, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse and the Normans.[1] Some recent genetic analysis has suggested that the majority of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population arrived between 15,000 and 7,600 years ago and that the British broadly share a common ancestry with the Basque people,[2] although there is no consensus amongst geneticists.[3]

The first Jews in Britain were brought to England in 1070 by King William the Conqueror, while Roma in Britain have been documented since the 16th century. The UK has a history of small-scale non-European immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest Black British community, dating back to at least the 1730s during the period of the African slave trade,[4] and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the 19th century.[5] In the 19th century, there was an increase of Jewish and Irish people living in the United Kingdom, with many settling in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and in The East End Of London, where many parts of their dialects helped form the Cockney dialect.

Since 1948 substantial immigration from the West Indies and the Indian Subcontinent has been a legacy of ties forged by the British Empire.[6] Immigration started to increase in the 50s and 60s and they formed their own communities. However, instances of documented and perceived racism and heavy-handed policing by the native English population has led to many riots, most notably in 1958, 1981, 1985 and 2011. When Britain joined the EEC in 1973, migration from Western Europe increased. Migration from new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe since 2004 has resulted in growth in these population groups.[7]

Sociologist Steven Vertovec argues that whereas "Britain's immigrant and ethnic minority population has conventionally been characterized by large, well-organized African-Caribbean and South Asian communities of citizens originally from Commonwealth countries or formerly colonial territories", more recently the level of diversity of the population has increased significantly, as a result of "an increased number of new, small and scattered, multiple-origin, transnationally connected, socio-economically differentiated and legally stratified immigrants". He terms this "superdiversity".[8]

Official classification of ethnicity[edit]

The ethnic group question used in the 2011 census in England. In Wales, "Welsh" and "English" were listed in the opposite order. The options in Scotland and Northern Ireland were slightly different from those in England and Wales.[9]

The 2001 UK Census classified ethnicity into several groups: White, Black, Asian, Mixed, Chinese and Other.[10][11] These categories formed the basis for all National Statistics ethnicity statistics until the 2011 Census results were issued.[11] The 1991 UK census was the first to include a question on ethnicity.[12][13] A number of academics have pointed out that the ethnicity classification employed in the census and other official statistics in the UK since 1991 involve confusion between the concepts of ethnicity and race.[14][15] David I. Kertzer and Dominique Arel argue that this is the case in many censuses, and that "the case of Britain is illuminative of the recurring failure to distinguish race from ethnicity".[15] User consultation undertaken for the purpose of planning the 2011 census revealed that some participants thought the "use of colour (White and Black) to define ethnicity is confusing or unacceptable".[16]

Population by ethnicity[edit]

Map showing the percentage of the population who are not white according to the 2011 census.

According to the 2011 Census, the ethnic composition of the United Kingdom was as set out in the table below.

Ethnic group Population (2011) Percentage of total population[17]
White or White British: Total 55,010,359 87.1
Gypsy/Traveller/Irish Traveller: Total 63,193 0.1
Asian or Asian British: Indian 1,451,862 2.3
Asian or Asian British: Pakistani 1,174,983 1.9
Asian or Asian British: Bangladeshi 451,529 0.7
Asian or Asian British: Chinese 433,150 0.7
Asian or Asian British: Other Asian 861,815 1.4
Asian or Asian British: Total 4,373,339 7.0
Black or Black British: Total[note 1] 1,904,684 3.0
Mixed or Multiple: Total 1,250,229 2.0
Other Ethnic Group: Total 580,374 0.9
Total 63,182,178 100
  1. ^ For the purpose of harmonising results to make them comparable across the UK, the ONS includes individuals in Scotland who classified themselves in the "African" category (29,638 people), which in the Scottish version of the census is separate from "Caribbean or Black" (6,540 people),[18] in this "Black or Black British" group. The ONS note that "the African categories used in Scotland could potentially capture White/Asian/Other African in addition to Black identities".[19]

Note: In the 2011 Census Black Africans surpassed Black Caribbeans for the first time and became the largest black group:

National minorities[edit]

The British government recognises the Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Cornish peoples as national minorities under the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which the UK signed in 1995 and ratified in 1998.[20]

Multiculturalism and integration[edit]

It is estimated that in 1950 there were no more than 20,000 non-white residents in the United Kingdom, mainly in England and almost all born overseas.[21] With considerable migration after the Second World War making the UK an increasingly ethnically and racially diverse state especially in London, race relations policies have been developed that broadly reflect the principles of multiculturalism, although there is no official national commitment to multiculturalism.[22][23][24] This model has faced criticism on the grounds that it has failed to sufficiently promote social integration,[25][26][27] although some commentators have questioned the dichotomy between diversity and integration that this critique presumes.[26] It has been argued that the UK government has since 2001, moved away from policy characterised by multiculturalism and towards the assimilation of minority communities.[28]

Attitudes to multiculturalism[edit]

A poll conducted by MORI for the BBC in 2005 found that 62 per cent of respondents agreed that multiculturalism made the UK a better place to live, compared to 32 percent who saw it as a threat.[29] Ipsos MORI data from 2008 by contrast, showed that only 30 per cent saw multiculturalism as making the UK a better place to live, with 38 per cent seeing it as a threat. 41 per cent of respondents to the 2008 poll favoured the development of a shared identity over the celebration of diverse values and cultures, with 27 per cent favouring the latter and 30 per cent undecided.[30]

A study conducted for the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in 2005 found that in England, the majority of ethnic minority participants called themselves British, whereas indigenous English participants said English first and British second. In Wales and Scotland the majority of white and ethnic minority participants said Welsh or Scottish first and British second.[31]

Other research conducted for the CRE found that white participants felt that there was a threat to Britishness from large-scale immigration, the claims that they perceived ethnic minorities made on the welfare state, a rise in moral pluralism and perceived political correctness. Much of this frustration was vented at Muslims rather than minorities in general. Muslim participants in the study reported feeling victimised and stated that they felt that they were being asked to choose between Muslim and British identities, whereas they saw it possible to be both.[32]

Political representation[edit]

There has been a trend of under-representation of ethnic minorities in the political system in the United Kingdom, in both the British Parliament and local government in England.[citation needed] In 1981, the Home Affairs Select Committee report stated that an increase in ethnic minority involvement in politics will create ... special representation for ethnic minorities.[33] Adolino noted that increase in ethnic minorities participating is an important new development in British politics.[33] However, the problem was still apparent in 2017, and Theresa May has stated ethnic minorities are still under-represented.[34]

It has been seen over the years that representation is continuing to develop, but whether there will be a representative group in parliament and local councils remains to be seen.[citation needed] The Labour party have been seen as the most favourable party for non-white minorities.[citation needed]

Representation in Parliament[edit]

The representation for ethnic minorities in Parliament started in 1987, with four ethnic minorities being elected into parliament, following the statement by the Home Affairs Select Committee in 1981. Diane Abbott was among them, who is now a prominent figure within the Labour party, as part of the shadow cabinet. From these, all of them were Labour, who have had significantly higher minority candidates to become an MP in comparison to the Conservative party; Labour since 1987 have had 46 MPs whereas Conservatives have had 22.

Prior to the 2010 elections, the Conservatives had only 2 MPs who were minorities and this increased to 11 after the 2010 General Elections.[35] After the 2017 General Elections, 52 minority MPs were elected, shared between Labour (32) and the Conservative (19) and one from the Liberal Democrats.[36] This confirmed the ending of Labour's monopoly, being the party to represent ethnic minorities but now there is a rebalancing amongst the leading parties in the UK.[37] However, other parties are still behind in order to a part of the rebalancing, never having an ethnic minority representation in parliament.[37][35] However, the Liberal Democrats are not at fault for lacking representation for minority MPs as it has been revealed between 1992 and 2010, they increased their candidates for MPs from a minority background: 5, (1992), 17 (1997), 29 (2001), 40 (2005) and 44 (2010); it reveals they should consider candidates for more winnable seats to allow more representation.[38] Nonetheless in 2004, Parmjit Singh Gil won the by-election for the Liberal Democrats but failed to retain his seat in the 2005 elections.

Even though, there has been an increase in ethnic minorities representation, if they are to be represented correctly, there should 88 ethnic minority MPs in parliament to match the population proportionally.[39] Katwala and Ballinger have concluded that as there has been progression in the past 20 years, there can potentially be a representative Parliament by 2020 as well as an ethnic minority as the Prime Minister.[37] Looking at the pace of development, this could be the case as minorities are now being selected for the Cabinet; currently Rishi Sunak is serving as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Priti Patel as the Home Secretary.

Representation in Local Councils[edit]

A report by Green Park (2018) revealed across all local government sectors, there is only a representation of 3.7% for minorities.[40] London councils has the highest percentage for representation in their local councils in late 2017, 10.5%; this increased from 5.6% previously in the year.[40] Even though representation grew in London as it has a large population for ethnic minorities, the under-representation gap is still huge as 40% of Londoners are minorities. Outside London, councils have an average of 3% minority representation.[40] In Scotland, 3.2% are ethnic minorities in local governments which is the most representative as ethnic minorities dictate 3.32% of the population.[41]

Since the 1880s, the number of minority councillors have been increasing over time. However, the main parties that minorities were involved in were the Labour party as both Adolino found 94.4% of the minorities are involved with the Labour party in local councils.[33] Anwar confirmed that this is trend that continues and we can see this today.[42]

There were 35 minority councillors in London local councils in 1978 and increased in 1990 to 193;[33] this was 10% of the 1,915 councillors representing 20% of London's minorities.[33] Even though it was not representative, this displayed the great achievement in order to pursue representation during the time. The problem has not improved other time, there is only 3.7% representation for minorities across all councils according to a Census of Local Authority Councillors for 14% of the population;[43] Labour remained to have the most representative councillors with 9.2%, followed by Conservatives having 1.5%.[43]

Anwar's statement concludes the misrepresentation of minorities in local councils in the UK which is still relevant today: At local council level the representation of ethnic minority has made slow progress and it still does not reflect the nature of multi-ethnic Britain[42].

See also[edit]


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