Revealed: the diversity that defines a nation 

By Maxine Frith, Social Affairs Correspondent 

Published: 06 October 2006 

The most detailed map of ethnic and religious diversity in Britain has been published, showing where different groups live - and how Muslim minorities in particular are at a disadvantage. 

From a sizeable Sikh population in a Kent town to a Bradford suburb where 73 per cent of people are Pakistani; from atheist Brighton to Leicester's large Indian population, the breakdown provides a fascinating snapshot of 21st-century Britain.

The findings are revealed on a day when issues of race and religion are again leading the news agenda. The former foreign secretary Jack Straw said yesterday that he asks Muslim women to remove their veils when they visit his constituency surgery, because he feels "uncomfortable" about talking to someone whose face he cannot see.

In Windsor, extra police had to be drafted in following violent clashes between white and Asian youths. And a row broke out after an armed Muslim protection officer was excused from guarding the Israeli embassy in London, on grounds of "safety", during the recent war in Lebanon because he had relatives in the country.

The map marks the first time the country has been analysed not simply in terms of the ethnicity of its population, but also by its religions. It reveals diversity in some areas, and the absence of it in others.

New analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) of the 2001 census figures shows that the north-west London borough of Brent is the most ethnically diverse area in England and Wales. Ethnographers devised a "diversity index" - based on the probability that any two people chosen at random from a particular area would be from different ethnic groups, even if neither of them were white.

In Brent, the chance of doing so was 85 per cent. Just 29 per cent of residents are white British, with Indians, black Caribbeans and black Africans all heavily represented. That compares to Easington in Co Durham, where there is a 2 per cent chance, making it the least diverse place in the country. On average, two people bumping into each other in the street stand a 23 per cent chance of having different ethnic backgrounds. In some areas, more than 70 per cent of residents are from an ethnic minority.

For the first time in the history of the census, the 2001 survey asked people to state their religion as part of an effort to get a more detailed demographic picture of the world we live in.

Using the same diversity index calculations, the ONS found that the London borough of Harrow was the most religiously diverse, with a more than 60 per cent chance that someone standing next to you will not share the same faith. 

Mapping also showed that people from the same religions and ethnic groups moved to the same areas. Thus Indian Hindus tended to live in different regions from Indian Sikhs. In some areas, such as Leicester, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester, three-quarters of the population are non-white and non-Christian, despite the fact that this ethno-religious group accounts for 70 per cent of England and Wales as a whole.

Detailed analysis of ethnic minorities also shows how many are now second, third or fourth generation immigrants. More than half (57 per cent) of black Caribbeans were born in the UK, alongside 55 per cent of Pakistanis, 46 per cent of Bangladeshis and 45 per cent of Indians. The report also shows how, outside major cities, many areas remain predominantly white British.

Seven per cent of local authority areas are classed as being "highly ethnically diverse" - based on the idea that there is a more than 50 per cent chance that two random people will be from different backgrounds. Fewer - 3 per cent - are classed as being highly religiously diverse, on the same calculation.

More damning are differences in unemployment, overcrowding and other deprivation indicators. More than 40 per cent of Bangladeshi households are overcrowded, compared with 6 per cent of white British. One in three Muslim homes have dependent children but no working adults.

Black African Muslim men suffer most from the deprivation gap, with rates of unemployment three times higher than white British men. The new data shows that black African Muslims are also twice as likely as Indian Muslims to be unemployed. In turn, Indian Muslims are far more likely to be jobless than Sikhs or Hindus, suggesting that it is religion, rather than race, that is key.

Dr Jamil Sherif, secretary of the research committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "The issue of unemployment is extremely serious in parts of the Muslim community. There is an urgent need for bold policy initiatives in appropriate skills training and apprentice schemes.

"On a separate note, the ONS report highlights the ethnic and religious diversity in Brent and Harrow. Both local authority districts have good community relations and cohesion - which shows multiculturalism works."

England and Wales ethnicity

* White Britons make up 88.2 per cent of the population.

* 71.8 per cent describe themselves as Christian.

* 14 per cent of white Britons say they have no religion.

* Muslims make up three per cent of the population. Islam is the second biggest religion after Christianity.

* The Indian population is the largest non-white ethnic group, accounting for 1.8 per cent.

* Pakistani Muslims are the biggest non-white ethno-religious group.

* Black Caribbeans account for one per cent of the population.

* More than 60,000 white Britons are Muslims.

* One in three Black Africans was born in Britain. 

  Back to top