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The challenge of multiculturalism societies in the UK

The challenge of multicultural societies in the UK

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The challenge of multicultural societies in the UK
Reasons for the development of multicultural societies.
The geographical distribution of cultural groupings. Issues related to multicultural societies.

What you need to know:

Reasons for the development of multicultural societies in the UK

Migration of ethnic groups leads to the creation of multicultural societies. In most countries there is at least one minority group and, while they may be able to live peacefully with the majority, it is more likely that there will be a certain amount of prejudice and discrimination leading to tensions and conflict. There is therefore an emotive and sensitive issue, particularly when cultural differences are interpreted as racial differences.

What does multicultural mean?

Most UK cities are multicultural, technically meaning that people from different countries or religions live there. The term multicultural means that significant numbers of people differ from the majority, in that they:

  • don’t speak the majority language as their first language.
  • celebrate customs and festivals outside the calendar of the majority.
  • eat and sometime dress differently to the majority.
  • observe different religious beliefs.

London is by far the UK’s most multicultural area, with over 300 languages spoke.

Multicultural can refer to:

  • the extend to which the different cultures co-exist. Are they separate (or segregated) or have they adopted a majority culture? Have second generation children maintained their culture?
  • the variety or types of communities – in many cities a degree of segregation of different ethnicities has occurred. Some groups live in enclaves and often have little understanding of the lifestyle of others in the broader community. They have no need to learn the culture of the majority due to the fact that they can obtain all they need from their cultural group.

Manhattan’s Chinatown

Multicultural policies

Over time three policies have come to the fore regarding integration:

  • Separation – the policy suggests that because people of different ethnicities have little in common with the majority population, they should be kept separate. This approach has influenced policies in Australia which pursued a ‘white Australia’  migration policy in the 1960s and South Africa, which until 1994 practised a policy of complete separation known as ‘apartheid’.
White Area

An apartheid notice on a beach near Capetown, denoting the area for whites only. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • Assimilation – This policy expects immigrants (new migrants) to lose their distinctiveness, such as their style of dress or belief, and adopt the style of the host country.


  • Pluralism – This policy expects ethnic groups to participate and contribute to their host country, yet maintain their identity. Pluralist society applies common values to all. Everyone in the society has the same rights and access to services however they are required to accept the society and actively participate.


Multicultural societies are often the product of migration, but they also may be the stimulus for it as persecuted groups leave countries to escape oppression.

Ethnic segregation is the clustering of people with similar ethnic or cultural characteristics into separate urban residential areas. There are numerous examples in the UK. The largest ethnic minority in the country is the British-Indian population, which forms 27% of the total ethnic minority population. The next largest is the British-Pakistani ethnic minority (17%), followed by the Black Caribbean (15%). Smaller, but still significant, ethnic minorities of Bangladeshi, black African and Chinese people also live in the country.

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e.g. The Integrated household survey show that in April 2009 to March 2010:

• 89 per cent of people in the UK considered themselves in the White ethnic group
• about 5 per cent consider themselves Asian or Asian British
• about 3 per cent consider themselves Black or Black British
• just over 3 per cent identified themselves in another ethnic group

The data show that the most ethnically diverse Government Office Region in the UK was London, with:

• 64 per cent identifying themselves in the White ethnic group
• 15 per cent identifying themselves in the Asian or Asian British ethnic group
• 11 per cent identifying themselves in the Black or Black British ethnic group
• 10 per cent identified themselves in another ethnic group (Mixed, Chinese or Other Ethnic Group)

Outside of London, the West Midlands was the next most ethnically diverse region with 10 per cent of respondents identifying themselves as Asian or Asian British and just under 3 per cent as Black or Black British.

Data at the Unitary Authority or County level showed that in April 2009 to March 2010:
• Slough was the most ethnically diverse in England with 51 per cent reporting in an ethnic group other than White
• Cardiff was the most ethnically diverse in Wales with 14 per cent in an ethnic group other than White
• Glasgow City was the most diverse in Scotland with ten per cent in an ethnic group other than White

Reasons for the development of multicultural societies.

Dozens of Jamaicans disembark the MV Empire Windrush at the Port of Tilbury in 1948

Dozens of Jamaicans disembark the MV Empire Windrush at the Port of Tilbury in 1948

Multicultural societies are formed by migration. There have been a number of significant migrations into the UK over the last 200 years. The descendants of these migrants, and the intermarriage that has taken place since, have created the multicultural society that now exists.

The main migrations that have taken place to the UK are:
• nineteenth century: Jewish arrivals from Russia/Poland, escaping persecution
• nineteenth century: Irish people escaping from poverty in rural Ireland particularly the Potato Famine of 1845 -1851
• 1930s – 1940s: Jews and Poles escaping persecution before and during the Second World War.
• 1948 – 1960s: Caribbean workers from former British colonies were invited to help rebuild post-war Britain, mainly in public services, e.g. British Railways, London Transport and the National Health Service. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 people from the Caribbean settled permanently between 1955 and 1962.
• 1950s – 1960s: Asians from the former British colonies of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh seeking work in public services and the textile industries of Yorkshire and Lancashire
• 1970s: East African Asians (mainly from Uganda) escaping persecution. There were also Vietnamese people who fled Vietnam following the communist victory in the Vietnam War. Many were supporters of the old regime. These two groups were often well-educated middle class people with professional qualifications.
• 1980 – 1990s: eastern European refugees escaping from war and political unrest in Romania and former Yugoslavia
• 2000s – Economic migration from eastern Europe caused by enlargement of the EU

Issues related to multicultural societies

Housing: In the initial phases of immigration, multiple occupancy of rented accommodation in inner city areas (Terraced houses) was widespread. As migrants are often a source of cheap labour in low paid jobs, they have tended to concentrate in areas of poorest housing in major cities. Such concentrations are then built on by later migrants who wish to live near family or within an ethnic community that is familiar to them.

Ethnic minorities find it difficult to obtain a house mortgage. This contributes to the low rate of owner occupancy among the ethnic minority population. Islamic law does not permit the charging or payment of interest on a loan; this further decreases the chances of people within the Islamic community becoming home-owners. Over the last few years there has been an increasing number of ‘halal’ mortgages where people do not pay interest on the mortgage, but pay both repayments on the initial loan as well as rent for the use of the property.

Despite claims from certain sectors of society ethnic minorities have also been discriminated against in access to local authority housing, finding it difficult to obtain a council house. Private landlords also discriminate, allowing only certain ethnic groups to occupy their housing.

Despite the problems, owner occupancy has increased and some wealthy individuals have moved into suburban areas. In addition many members of the ethnic minorities run small business such as shops, and live ‘above the shop’.. Despite this geographical segregation is clear, as is inequality. On average, Asian households are the largest of all ethnic groups, contain most dependent children, are the most overcrowded and have the highest rate of unemployment.

Education: Concentrations of minorities in inner-city areas have led to some schools being dominated by one ethnic group. If the pupils are children of relatively recent arrivals the communication with the parents is difficult. Other schools have children from a huge range of ethnic backgrounds, e.g. Southfields Community College, Wandsworth, has pupils that speak 71 different first languages. There has been a slow increase in ‘faith schools’ e.g. in communities like Leicester and Bradford, where holiday patterns, school timetables and meals reflect the ethnic mix of the area. This helps to enhance mutual understanding of culture, particularly among the young.

Healthcare: In the past there has been a lack of resistance to childhood diseases among the children of newly arrived immigrants, and fears about immunisation. Tuberculosis, a disease that had been virtually wiped out in the UK has made a come-back amongst certain immigrant groups. Literature has been produced in ethnic minority languages to inform parents about the benefits of immunisation.

Many ethnic minority groups continue to live in run-down inner-city areas and there remains a higher concentration of communicable and transmittable disease in such areas. However, this is more a reflection of the living standards in these areas than of the people who live in them.

Language: New migrants can find it difficult to obtain employment and to integrate if they do not speak English. Second-generation migrant children, educated in the UK, grow up speaking English and have different aspirations from their parents. They are more likely to integrate.

Religion: Migrants from the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia, are likely to follow a different religion from the host population. This may cause friction with employers and authorities when migrants wish to adhere to their own religious calendars and practices. There can also be tensions between different migrant groups e.g. between the Hindus from India and the Muslims from Pakistan.

Economic Issues: Migrants are often welcomed during times of economic growth but resented during recessions, when they are often accused of taking ‘our’ jobs. This is not unique to the UK. Government studies have shown that migrant workers tend to make a greater contribution to our GDP than they cost. A Home Office research study found that, in 1999/2000, first generation migrants in the UK contributed £31.2 billion in taxes and consumed £28.8 billion in benefits and public services – a net fiscal contribution of £2.5 billion.


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