Ethnic and cultural diversity

The UK has a long history of ethnic and cultural diversity.  Recent decades have seen substantial immigration of different ethnic groups into the UK from around the world. This has created a society so diverse in the 21st century that concepts such as ‘super-diversity’ have emerged in an attempt to convey the diversification of diversity.  Long-term immigration of non-British citizens into the UK has almost doubled between 2000-2010 [1], figures which have prompted the coalition government to introduce much stricter controls (see immigration). The most recent estimates suggest that people identifying as anything other than White British has risen to about 16% in England & Wales (up from 12.5% in 2001 [2]), however these figures vary widely across the country - 48% in inner London compared with less than 4% in parts of the South West and Wales [3]. In 2010 11.4% of the total UK population was born outside of the UK [4]. 

Managing diversity is a complex and difficult challenge. Government policies aimed at promoting multiculturalism over the past decade have failed to encourage social integration and cohesion to the degree envisaged.  The coalition government’s localism agenda may strain social cohesion in some areas and lead to increased fragmentation of certain ethnic group. This is because the devolution of power to communities in order to personalise services may result in groups that do not actively participate becoming left out from decision making and therefore further isolated. Managing diversity therefore remains a central challenge to 21st century society.

What are the implications?

  • Individuals increasingly have a variety of affiliations, defining themselves through multiple and overlapping criteria such as ethnicity, religion, kinships, regional and/or local identities.
  • This means some level of commonality between people is more likely.
  • There may be an increase in religious affiliation and spirituality as there are higher levels of religious practice amongst some ethnic groups.
  • Issues surrounding integration as new and existing members of minority communities have varying ‘equal opportunity’ and employment experiences as well as social interactions.
  • Disparity (mostly negative) in economic conditions and quality of life amongst some ethnic minority communities.
  • The state may increasingly look to the sector to “manage diversity”.
  • Approaches to multiculturalism and policies of assimilation and integration have been aimed at encouraging a shared national identity.  Within a family this process of assimilation into a shared cultural identity is likely to be more prominent with each future generation.

Moving forward

Does your organisation have a good understanding of the multiple and overlapping identities of its client groups?

How can you engage with your beneficiaries to get a better understanding of this?

Are there any changes that may need to be made to your service provision to respond effectively to the specific needs of different and diverse client groups – for instance providing language support and appropriate food? Could other organisations support you to be more responsive to the needs of a diverse community?

The Big Society Agenda, the move towards localism, and a reform of public service delivery may lead to changing dynamics of social cohesion and integration of ethnic groups.

  • How can your organisation ensure aspirations to engage local people (particularly in disadvantaged and marginalised communities) in decision making have the required resources for implementation and monitoring.
  • Could you identify small and niche groups that do not participate?
  • As a devolution of power to the local level means more personalised local services how can you prevent these groups that do not participate from becoming isolated further?

Would your organisation benefit from a more diverse workforce and trustee board, perhaps bringing in new skills and fresh perspectives?

Want to know more?

Focus on Ethnicity and Religions

Published by: Office for National Statistics


Format: PDF

What is it? An analysis of data collected in the 1991 and 2001 census focusing on ethnicity and religion

How useful is this? Organised into five chapters, this report examines changes in the following areas: population; geographic diversity; households and families; employment and labour market participation.

Other comments: More up-to-date data is available for some sections, eg, the ONS Labour Force Survey

Institute of Community Cohesion

What is it? One Stop Shop for cohesion and support on how to promote cohesion and integration. The site includes toolkits, links and briefings on key issues.

How useful is this? Good starting point for the issue. Launching pad to explore other websites and organisations of interest.

New Complexities of Cohesion in Britain: Super-Diversity, Transnationalism and Civil-Integration 

Published by: Commission on Integration and Cohesion 

Date: 2007

Format: PDF (317KB)

What is it? A report looking in-depth at the characteristics of immigration in the UK and the factors that affect the integration and cohesion of this migration-driven diversity. 

How useful is this? This report examines issues of integration and cohesion from three main perspectives;

Super-diversity - The first section defines super-diversity as a level of complexity in diversity that the UK has never experienced before and provides a good overview, complete with stats and graphs, of the current UK migrant population and continuing trends in immigration.

Transnationalism - The second section looks at how changing technology and reductions in the cost of transnational travel and communication are transforming migrant communities around the world. This is especially useful for those interested in how migrant communities maintain transnational ties to communities outside the UK and how this may affect their integration on both a local and regional level within the UK.

Civil-Integration - The final section looks at principles of civil-integration, examining how social-interactions between immigrants, minorities and the host (majority) population are maintained, promoted or broken. This section is a good read for those interested in the varying theories behind community cohesion and what can be done to promote it within society.

A shared vision for the future of the BME voluntary & community sector

Published by: Voice4Change

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A publication setting out a long term vision for the future of the Black and Minority Ethnic voluntary and community sector (BME VCS)

How useful is this? This publication takes into account recent political events including the evolution of the Big Society Agenda, localism, and the reform in public service delivery to present a vision for the future of the BME VCS.  While the vision may seem overly optimistic it gives a general overview of the changes that are occurring within the sector, opportunities and barriers that exist, issues for organisations to think about, and relevant steps that can be taken.

Other comments: As well as the full report there is an executive summary available that gives quickoverview of the topics discussed.


  1. Provisional IPS estimates of long-term international migration - ONS, 2010 [back]
  2. Census 2001 – Ethnicity and religion in England and Wales - ONS, 2003 [back]
  3. Population Estimates by Ethnic Group Mid-2007 - ONS, 2010 [back]
  4. Population by Country of Birth & Nationality 2009-2010 - ONS APS, 2011 [back]
Last updated at 12:18 Thu 03/Mar/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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