The census has given us a snapshot of just how rapidly England’s (and to a lesser extent Wales’s) population is changing but it doesn’t tell us much about how we are living together. What kind of new life is being created between the existing people and the new ones? Is a harmonious common life emerging across ethnic boundaries, or are different ethnic communities living largely apart from each other?
There are a few signals from the census. On the positive side about 2m households (12 per cent of households with at least two people) had people of more than one ethnic background living in them—an increase from 9 per cent in 2001.
But a less optimistic story appears to lie behind the rather dramatic changes in the demography of the capital—perhaps the one big development to surprise even the experts on ethnicity and demography. The story is not just one about the inflow of many minorities into London but also about a huge exodus from the city of the white British—a 600,000 fall between 2001 (4.3m) and 2011 (3.7m)—which is making the capital increasingly unrepresentative of the country as a whole.
There are many reasons for that exodus, of course, it is not just an expression of discomfort at the arrival of large numbers of rather different people. But the latter clearly is a factor in some places. Consider the astonishing fall in the white British population in Barking and Dagenham: in the space of just 10 years about 40,000 white British people have left, almost one third of the white British population there.
London is evidently not everywhere the happily mixed, multiracial city it likes to think. If you walk around the centre or many neighbourhoods you see very mixed pavements, cafés, shops, buses, tubes and even workplaces. But London also has a lot of what is called in America “sundown segregation,” people mixing to some degree during the day but returning to rather segregated neighbourhoods at night. And London also has a serious problem of school segregation in many areas.
None of this was reflected in the coverage of the census in the London media, despite the fact that London was the biggest story. The item was the lead story in the main BBC news (at least the one I saw at 10pm) but came only about two-thirds of the way through the BBC London news, and the Evening Standard could only find room for this historic story on page 10.
Liberal London shrugs its shoulders and says, “so what!” Moreover liberal London, indeed liberal Britain, still equates dislike of the effects of large scale immigration with dislike of immigrants—yet the increasing white flight from London combined with the continuing decline in racist attitudes in modern Britain suggests that the liberal assumption is wrong. Demos is working with Eric Kaufmann, of Birkbeck College, on a project to understand the true scale of this problem. He will also be writing more about this on the Demos blog later this week.
England and Wales is almost 20 per cent minority (including white minorities) already and about 14 per cent visible minority. On current trends England and Wales will be 20 per cent visible minority by the time of the next census in 2021—and 20 per cent visible minority for the whole of Britain a few years later. This represents a trebling of the visible minority population in the space of about 25 years.
If Britain was a country with a confident sense of itself with a good record of integrating newcomers, none of this might matter very much, but neither is true. The danger is that even as we become less racist we become more tribal, that we have a cold accommodation of new populations but no real creation of a common life.
That is why it is so important that we know more about what is happening on the ground about integration and segregation. These are complex and disputed concepts but we do collect vast amounts of data about majority/minority interactions on residence, schooling, employment, marriage and friendship across ethnic boundaries, language spoken at home and so on; but we don’t bring the information together to tell us where we are on the road to integration either in the country as a whole or in particular towns and neighbourhoods.
That is why Demos has launched a research project—headed by former Equalities Commission head Trevor Phillips—called “Mapping Integration,” in which we will seek to find out what lies behind these census numbers in the lived experience of everyday Britain.
David Goodhart is the director of Demos and Prospect’s editor at large