Incendiary claims about the UK census do not reflect reality

This week, the latest tranche of data from the UK’s 2021 census was published, including figures on race and ethnicity. It was promptly met with a volley of incendiary responses, giving away the eagerness with which some had evidently been waiting to weaponise the results.

Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence party, recorded a hasty video from a union-jack-draped car seat, in which he said that “London, Birmingham and Manchester are all now minority-white cities”, and “only 46 per cent [of Britons] now identify as Christian . . . a massive change in the identity of this country that is taking place through immigration”.

Conservative commentator Douglas Murray, who has previously described London as having “become a foreign country”, echoed Farage in blaming the declining numbers of British Christians on immigration. Others talked of rising segregation and “no-go areas” on social media.

But almost all of these claims are untrue, as even a cursory look at the data reveals.

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First, there’s the fact that London (54 per cent white) and Manchester (57 per cent) are not minority white at all, and Birmingham (49 per cent) only makes it under the wire by a hair’s breadth. Farage and co must have been looking only at those who identify as both British and white.

But if identifying as British is the key, why count only white Britons? (I think we know the answer.) We have data on the share of people in each region that have a British identity. In London, it’s 78 per cent — and black and mixed-race Londoners are more likely to identify as British than the white population.

The religion claim is even more risible. The argument is that “mass immigration” has hastened Christianity’s decline in Britain. Yet that decline has been driven overwhelmingly by white Britons, less than half of whom now say they are Christian, down from 69 per cent in 2011, a loss of about 7mn.

Chart showing that the decline in people identifying as Christian has been driven by white Britons

If preserving the Christian faith is crucial to “saving” Britain, then we should look to the country’s black population. Seventy-two per cent of this demographic are Christian, half a million more than in 2011. The non-British white community is also worth examining — 60 per cent are Christian, with a million added since the last census.

One might also ask why this seems to matter so much. As far back as 1995, less than a third of Britons thought being Christian was an important part of being British. By 2020, that had fallen to 20 per cent. The last time I set foot in a church, except for Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals, was when I went to Doncaster’s “iconic” nightclub Camelots, a former Presbyterian chapel behind whose stained-glass windows many sins have been committed. In modern Britain, I suspect a drunken night out provides a stronger source of shared national experience than attending church on a Sunday.

Chart showing that exceptionally few Britons think someone must be white to be British

Finally, we come to the warnings over “segregation” and “no-go areas”, which again prove unfounded. While Christianity ranks low on the list of things Britons say one requires to be truly British, speaking the language ranks highest. But drill down to even the most monoethnic of Britain’s non-white neighbourhoods, and a clear majority speak fluent English in every single one.

Segregation is one of many terms UK culture warriors have imported from the US and now apply liberally but incorrectly on this side of the Atlantic. Racial segregation was legally mandated in the US south for the best part of a century under Jim Crow, and the policy of “redlining” — or denying financial services on racial grounds — quietly extended similar practices. This has left a long shadow, with one in 40 US neighbourhoods still highly segregated, compared to fewer than one in 1,000 in Britain.

There is, though, one point on which I will concede: these commentators are right in implying that they are part of a minority group facing terminal decline. In 2006, only 10 per cent of Britons thought that to be truly British you had to be white. By 2020, that figure had fallen to 3 per cent.

[email protected], @jburnmurdoch

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