London: Europe's new ethnic melting pot

A new report suggests that within 15 years almost one third of the capital will be composed of ethnic minorities. Nicholas Timmins looks at London's changing profile

London has always been a cosmopolitan city, home to wave after wave of immigrants who in time have become Londoners, providing the mix that arguably makes London the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

There were Irish and Jewish people in London in the 12th Century. Greek Street in Soho takes its name from an Orthodox community there in the 17th century, while the East End has played host to seventeenth century Hugenots, eighteenth century Irish and 19th-century Jews before becoming the Bengali community it is today.

And work by the London Research Centre published this week, based on the 1991 census, shows the process is still at work. From 20 per cent of the population now, ethnic minorities are projected in just 15 years' time to make up 28 per cent of the capital's population.

Two London boroughs, Brent and Newham, will see the ethnic minorities become the majority, their present 45 per cent and 44 per cent rising to 52 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.

But in every London borough the numbers will rise, from Bexley and Bromley to Richmond and Sutton. Each of these outer boroughs at present has only a 5 or 6 per cent ethnic minority population. But each of which will see a similar 40 per cent rise to the rest of London, taking them close to 10 per cent.

The increase is almost entirely the result of the natural age structure, not the result of higher birth rates or continued immigration, according to the London Research Centre. Those groups which will enjoy the highest rate of growth at present have the lowest age profile. According to Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, these changes represent both a challenge and an opportunity. By 2011, well over half London's ethnic minorities will be British born, a proportion that will continue to rise sharply as the wave of Caribbean and Asian immigrants from the 1950s and 1960s dies off.

London's cosmopolitan nature, however, comes not just from New Commonwealth immigration. In 1991, the census showed there were communities more than 10,000 strong in London from 34 countries. They ranged from more than 250,000 Irish to 133,000 people born in EU countries, 32,000 Americans, 50,000 Cypriots, almost 12,000 from Vietnam, 18,000 from Hong Kong, almost 14,000 from Mauritius, 21,000 from Poland, 16,000 from Malaysia, a similar number from Iran and 20,000 from Turkey.

Not all of these will be British citizens and London's role as a key financial and trading centre has contributed to its ethnic mix - bringing in the Arabs in the 1970s and the Japanese and growing ranks of Europeans in the 1980s and 1990s - combined with Britain's traditional, if steadily more restrictive, role as a haven for refugees.

The most dramatic engine of the recent change in London's ethnic make- up, however, has indeed come from New Commonwealth immigration, starting almost 50 years ago when the Empire Windrush docked in 1948 with the first Caribbean immigrants brought over to boost Britain's labour force.

In assessing how well the capital has coped, Anne Page, chief executive of the London Research Centre, and Chris Myant, a spokesman for the Commission on Racial Equality, strive for a balance.

On one level the capital has adapted remarkably well. Only briefly in the 1950s in Notting Hill has there been anything in London that could fairly be called race riots: the 1980s riots in Brixton and at Blackwater Farm having causes far more complex than race alone.

None the less, immigration initially produced the growth in intolerance that almost every wave of immigrants has faced. Its peaks were symbolised by Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech in 1968 and the growth of the National Front in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But as legislation progressively restricted immigration, governments of both colours began to take positive action to promote good race relations with the result that London now has a record far better than probably any other European city, where in most cases mass immigration has been far more recent.

"The reason, I think, is that we deliberately faced the issues after the growth of intolerance of the 1950s and 1960s," Anne Page, the London Research Centre's chief executive says, defining the passage of the 1976 Race Relations Act as the crucial moment in that.

"As a result, London today enjoys a rich mix of people and culture unparalleled in Europe, and an atmosphere of racial harmony, compared to its own recent past and possibly to other large cities in Europe," she says.

Chris Myant points not just to the immense range of restaurants and shops reflecting flavours and cultures from around the world but whole ethnic shopping centres from Soho's Chinatown to Southall's Indian markets that are an intrinsic part of London life, as is the Notting Hill Carnival, a uniquely Afro-Caribbean event that draws in a vastly wider range of the population than Afro-Caribbeans alone. That, he says, "is very different from the odd Chinese or Japanese shop. These are real communities that are part of London and it is something that gives us great confidence and hope for the future."

There remains, he says, however, a darker side, one of unequal opportunities and uneven achievement, fuelled by continuing discrimination. There is a seemingly permanent undertow of racial attacks and violence in parts of London. Employment opportunities still vary widely by race. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, the Labour Force Survey showed last year that 60 per cent of black males were unemployed, a rate approaching three times that for whites. Average weekly earnings for whites in London are just under pounds 400 a week against not much more than half that figure for the ethnic minorities. And while a black and Asian middle class has emerged in growing numbers there are wide variations among the ethnic groups.

The 1991 census showed that among black Caribbeans, there were half the managers there would have been if there was no employment difference between ethnic groups: the figure for the professions being a third. By contrast, among Indians the proportion in the professions was higher than expected, although managerial numbers were relatively low. The professions employed almost twice as many Chinese as might be expected. Bangladeshis, particularly, were over-represented among unskilled workers. And despite considerable considerable efforts, the ethnic minorities remain under-represented across wide swathes of city life, not just in professions and top management. The Metropolitan Police, already policing a city a fifth of whose population is from the ethnic minority still has only around 1.5 per cent black and Asian officers.

If there is a long way to go to achieve equal opportunity, the continued growth of London's ethnic minority population, however, is surely less threatening to the white population now than the original immigration of the 1950s and 1960s. Familiarity has bred mutual tolerance. The National Front and British National Party, which once had their bases firmly in London's inner city, now seem to do better in Bexley where ethnic minorities still make up a mere six per cent of the population.

In an increasingly global world, London's cultural and linguistic diversity can be seen as a key competitive advantage, if only the capital has the wit to use it. "Britain's ethnic minorities are an irreversible part of the social, cultural and economic well-being of London," Mr Ouseley argues. "Employers in London have the opportunities to be the envy of the world with such diversity".

With more inter-marriage, more mixed communities, more ethnically mixed children and more diversity, London is set in the 21st century to become a new type of city for Europe - one more like the immigrant cities of the United States, but without, if London gets it right, their segregation.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?