Migrants into UK now at record levels

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The Independent Online
IN 1900, Britain was a colonial power with a Navy second to none, the Boer War was being fought, the Labour Party was being founded and much of the nation's wealth was generated by the textile and mining industries.

At the start of the new millennium, the nation's Navy has shrunk to half its size, the Empire has well and truly crumbled, Labour is in power and less than one-quarter of the nation's wealth comes from manufacturing.

The picture of how Britain has changed since 1900 is laid out in the last official yearbook of the 20th century, Britain 2000, by the Office of National Statistics. It shows that although Britons are becoming richer, living longer and enjoying better weather, they are more likely to die from heart disease and cancer than people in the early 1900s. Increased life expectancy has been one of the century's most dramatic changes: from 45 years for men and nearly 49 for women in 1901 to 74 and 79 years respectively by 1997.

Although the average temperature in southern England has risen by only 0.6C this century, this has meant that settled snowfalls in England are comparatively rare. In the winter of 1899-1900, one London borough spent 55,000 hours of work clearing snow.

The yearbook figures show that Britain is booming at the end of the century and becoming a more attractive place to live. Average disposable incomes have doubled in real terms between 1971 and 1997 alone, while the number of people migrating to the UK last year was the highest since the International Passenger Survey began in 1964.

Overall, 178,000 more people came into the country than left in 1998 - nearly double the number for 1997. About 30 per cent of those coming in were returning British citizens. Half of those leaving were British. The bulk of the extra migrants were from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the European Union.

In 1997 just over 6 per cent of the population identified themselves as belonging to a non-white ethnic group.

The figures also show that Britain has transformed from a nation of manufacturers to one of shoppers. At the turn of the century, almost a million people worked in mines, with the same number employed in the textile trade, half of whom were working in cotton factories. Today there are 15,000 miners and 160,000 textile workers. The service industries dominate, with financial services employing as many people as the mines once did and generating 7 per cent of the national wealth.

"This year is a defining moment in all our lives, and the yearbook is a benchmark of that," said John King, who edited Britain 2000. "We may have started the century as a nation of shopkeepers, but we have finished it as a nation of shoppers."