A response to the media coverage of the Census 2011 figures on ethnicity and immigration
This week has seen the publication of the latest set of figures from the 2011 Census. The figures make for interesting reading, and provide data on a wide variety of issues from marriage to home ownership and numbers of cars per household. However, the media debate has focussed almost entirely on the immigration statistics.
The Census revealed that England and Wales have become more ethnically diverse with rising numbers of people identifying with minority ethnic groups. Overall, the Black, Asian and other minority ethnic population (excluding ‘White Other’) is 14.1% of the overall total in England and Wales, rising from 7.9% in 2001 and the ‘White Other’ population is 4.4% of the total population. London is the most ethnically diverse place in England and Wales with the lowest percentage of White British at 44.9 per cent.
So how did the media choose to cover the Census data? The Daily Express chose the headline “7.5M Migrants Live in Britain: White British now a minority in London, new Census reveals” accompanied by a picture of men in hoodies queuing to cross the channel, whilst the Daily Mail ran with “British Whites are the minority in London for the first time as census shows the number of UK immigrants has jumped by 3M in 10 years” accompanied by a picture of a woman in a niqab. During the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, white British people in London were referred to as a “minority ethnic group” and a text was read out stating that the statistics demonstrated “the bloodless genocide of the white race.”
The tone of the coverage has been irresponsible, focusing on scaremongering and creating a perceived threat to the ‘British way of life’. If we look at the London figures again, 63% of the population were born in the UK. However, throughout the media coverage there has been an implication that someone is only truly British if they are white, and a conflation of ‘non-white’ and ‘foreign’. It is also important to note that ‘White British’ is still the majority ethnic group in London as it can only be represented as a minority ethnic group if you aggregate all of the other ethnic groups into one.
There is also the suggestion that these levels of immigration are only seen in the UK, whereas, in reality, the vast majority of western European countries have seen increased immigration over the last 10 years and many western European capital cities show similar levels of diversity. Turning the immigration figures on their head, a Home Office report into emigration from the UK, published in November 2012 revealed that an estimated 4.7 million British born people live abroad…
Throughout our work, we constantly see the negative effects that irresponsible and inaccurate rhetoric on immigration has on young people. The vast majority of 11-14 year-olds that we work with have an immediate negative reaction to the word immigrant, with many stating that they do not want immigrants in the country and repeating received information about stealing jobs and houses, not speaking English and not accepting the British way of life. However, upon further questioning it becomes clear that many of these young people are unsure as to what the word means - automatically associating it with the word “illegal”, and are unaware that any members of their family who came to this country from abroad; or members of their family who are currently working abroad, are also immigrants.
The census statistics show that 1.2 million people identify as being of mixed ethnicity. Different ethnic groups in the UK are not segregated, but working and living together. We all reap the benefits of immigration and our diverse society is one to be celebrated and embraced. The government’s response today has been to stress that they are clamping down on immigration. However, in the modern, globalised world migration is a norm. Perhaps a more pertinent issue for our government would be to examine why the ethnic make-up of parliament doesn’t reflect that of the country it serves.