By Kevin Ovenden
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1977

Exploding the myths of ‘segregated Britain’

This article is over 18 years, 7 months old
Far from heading towards deeper segregation, Britain is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically mixed, according to a new study released this week.
Issue 1977
Shopping in Lewisham, south London — is Britain really “sleep-walking into segregation”? (Pic: Guy Smallman)
Shopping in Lewisham, south London — is Britain really “sleep-walking into segregation”? (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Far from heading towards deeper segregation, Britain is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically mixed, according to a new study released this week.

The analysis by Dr Ludi Simpson of Manchester University is based on the 2001 census. It flies in the face of claims by many politicians and commentators that Britain is “sleepwalking” towards greater segregation, as the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, said this summer.

Phillips claimed, “Residentially, some districts are on their way to becoming fully fledged ghettos — black holes into which no one goes without fear and trepidation, and from which no one ever escapes undamaged.”

But Simpson’s study found that “the number of mixed neighbourhoods (electoral wards) increased from 964 to 1,070 in the ten years between the last two censuses of 1991 and 2001. There will be at least 1,300 mixed neighbourhoods by 2011 — one in five throughout England.”

The number of “very mixed wards”, where white and minority ethnic groups each make up at least a quarter of the population, increased from 319 to 440.

Simpson explains, “If you are talking about areas of Britain with large numbers of black and Asian people, as a result of immigration and population growth, then sure, such places obviously exist.

“But that’s not segregation in my book. The kind of segregation people are talking about in a scaremongering way is that people are retreating into their own areas, that people are moving away from each other in racial terms.

“Now that is about migration — people moving from one area to another. So you can look at that through the census data.

“What that data shows is that black and Asian families, just like white families, move out of the inner city when they have the money to do so.

“The other thing it shows is that the populations are growing and there is a limit to housing. So if people haven’t got much money to move to more expensive areas they are going to move to the next door neighbourhood.

“The census data shows that you would have increasing concentrations of poor people in inner city areas and greater mixing elsewhere as some people move out.”

The study challenges the idea of “white flight” — white people flooding out of inner city areas in order to get away from non-whites.

While some white people might cite racist reasons for moving, they are leaving inner cities only at about the same rate as Asians — around 1 to 2 percent a year.

And, though there are concentrations of non-white groups in some areas, they do not amount to ghettos.

Out of over 8,850 electoral wards in England and Wales there are only 14 in which a non-white ethnic group makes up over half the population. In none does a single ethnic minority account for over three quarters of the population.

Where there are concentrations of ethnic minorities this is a result of population growth rather than people seeking segregation.

Simpson says, “You have a young population and young populations grow. It’s not primarily that, for example, each Bangladeshi woman is having more children than others.

“What’s more significant is that there are fewer older people in these populations, so the number of people dying is fewer.”

The fertility rate of the more recently arrived immigrant populations is declining over time. Simpson says, “It was the same pattern with Huguenot immigration, Irish immigration and Jewish immigration a century ago.

“After a major immigration stream people establish themselves in clusters where they feel secure. Then they move on.”

More households are mixed today

There has been a sharp increase in racial mixing of the closest type — within the same household — over the last decade.

Simpson’s study found the number of mixed households “has increased by 20 percent in ten years. It will increase much more. There are four times more mixed-ethnic children than adults.”

It continues, “And lest you respond with stereotypes that this will be almost all Caribbean children, the census records over 100,000 children of mixed Asian and white origin, and 158,000 children of mixed Caribbean and white origin.”

In the wake of the 7 July bombings and the riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley four years ago many commentators have fostered the idea that Asian Muslims are, unlike African Caribbeans, segregating themselves.

But in a study published last year, which looked in detail at Bradford, Simpson argued, “Increasing residential segregation of South Asian communities is a myth. The overall segregation between ‘South Asian’ and ‘Other’ populations has not changed in the 1990s.”

Simpson’s new study gives a rich and complex picture of immigration and migration. He comments, “The Caribbean population was the first post-war immigrant group. So it has had longer to disperse. One would expect it to be more dispersed than the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

“There are differences between communities in the rate of mixing and the hostility that they feel. Family structures affect the rate of mixing and dispersal. But the same trend is there for each group.”

The patterns of concentration of ethnic minority groups also reflect general statistical trends. So in seven of the 14 wards where a non-white group is the majority, the group is Indian (largely Hindu).

This is not surprising as there are more people of Indian decent in Britain than there are Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslims.

This latest analysis confirms a major study headed by Professor Tariq Modood in 1997, which also challenged the idea of self-segregation in education and employment.

Simpson says, “The census does not tell us a great deal about schools and workplaces because it is not a measure of institutions but of where you live. But one would expect similar things to be happening with schools.

“For example, you get people saying, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a school there that is 80 percent Pakistani.’ Well, that probably reflects more than anything the change in the community around it.

“I think school segregation is probably overplayed. Though that is not to underplay the importance of initiatives to bring people together and ensure equality.”

Institutions are at the root of racism

The fact that there are more mixed areas does not mean that Britain as a whole is evenly integrated.

The study found, for example, there are about 5,000 wards that are 98 percent white.

Simpson says, “The biggest worry is white fear, particularly of those who are in powerful positions and who feel uncomfortable because they never go to inner cities.

“But it is also there among disenchanted white community leaders who live in areas that are no longer white.

“It extends to white populations who live in mixed areas, but are frightened about the changes that are taking place, who feel there are certain areas they don’t go to because they feel they are no-go areas.

“They are not no-go areas, but their fears are real.”

And, while greater mixing is a precondition for undermining racial prejudice, it does not in and of itself mean that racist attitudes or the disadvantages black and Asian people face are automatically reduced.

Simpson says, “There are other links to make when it comes to the set of issues around racial tensions.”

The Crown Prosecution Service published figures last week that showed the number of people prosecuted for a racially aggravated offence in Britain rose by a third last year from 3,616 in the 12 months to 2004 to 4,660 in the year ending March 2005.

Some of the increase may be due to a greater willingness to report and prosecute such offences. But other figures also show an increase in racist attacks, particularly after the 7 July bombings.

A report this week said that young black and Indian people are more likely than their parents to get higher status white collar jobs.

But the overall figures for employment and education show persistent discrimination against the vast majority of non-whites in Britain, though the experience varies for different groups.

A greater level of mixing does not necessarily mean an equivalent decline in racism.

But it does suggest that what is fuelling that racism is not some inherent desire by ordinary people to self-segregate, but is more to do with policies and ideologies produced by elites and powerful institutions.

To read Dr Ludi Simpson’s study go to


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