Why have the white British left London?

Commuters on the Tube

Something quite remarkable happened in London in the first decade of the new millennium. The number of white British people in the capital fell by 620,000 - equivalent to the entire population of Glasgow moving out.

The consequence, as revealed by the latest census, is that white Brits are now in a minority in London, making up just 45% of its residents.

So where have they gone to - and why did they leave?

I've been analysing and mapping the census data, and what emerges is a much more positive story than some headlines would make you think.

The movement of the white British is often characterised as white flight - the indigenous population forced out of their neighbourhoods by foreign migrants. That may be part of the story, but I think the evidence suggests it is also about working class aspiration and economic success.

BBC's Mark Easton: It's a story of success

Trying to track internal migrants is never easy. Just because the population of one place has fallen and another has risen does not mean residents moved between them. But there are some clues as to where London's white British migrated to between the censuses of 2001 and 2011.

While the capital's white British population fell by 620,000, the white British population in the rest of England and Wales increased by 220,000. (The overall fall of 400,000 is explained by a low birth rate and emigration.)

These maps show the change to the white British population in local authorities in England and Wales between 2001 and 2011. (Click between the three headings to see how the white British population is seemingly shifting around the country.)

Ten largest decreases in white British population. Newham 37.5%,Ealing 23.8%, Waltham Forest 23.6%, Barking and Dagenham 30.6%, Slough 30.3%, Redbridge 29.8%, Harrow 28.5%, Brent 27.3%, Enfield 24.5%, Luton 24.4%
Ten largest decreases in white British population outside London. Wolverhampton 9.7%, Coventry -10.4%, Rushmoor -10.5%, Birmingham -11.1%, Watford -11.4%, Reading -11.8%, Leicester -12.3%, Oadby and Wigston -13.1%, Luton -24.4%, Slough -30.3%
Ten largest increases in white British population. South Derbyshire 13.7%, North Kesteven 13.0%, Uttlesford 11.8%, East Northamptonshire 10.9%, West Lindsey 10.7%, East Cambridgeshire 9.7%, Mid Suffolk 9.7%, South Norfolk 9.7%, Mid Devon 9.5%, Forest Heath 8.8%

London's dramatic loss of white British residents is represented by a splash of yellow and orange. Outside the capital, the dominant blues tell a story of an increasing white British population. In some places the rise is quite marked.

Areas with biggest increase

South Derbyshire


North Kesteven, Lincolnshire


Uttlesford, Essex


East Northamptonshire


West Lindsey, Lincolnshire


East Cambridgeshire


Mid Suffolk


South Norfolk


Mid Devon


Forest Heath, Suffolk


St Edmundsbury, Suffolk


Kettering, Northamptonshire


The dozen authorities with the highest percentage increase in the white British population are almost all found in eastern England. Only mid-Devon falls outside a horseshoe of largely rural authorities extending south and east from the Fens.

It would appear that, in the first decade of the 21st Century, the dream of escaping to the country became a reality for tens of thousands of urban white Britons. But did they leave willingly or were they forced to move?

To find out, I have been to Barking and Dagenham, a London borough which has seen a phenomenal change in its cultural make-up over the past decade or so. In 2001, the census records that more than 80% of residents were white British. By 2011, it was statistically in the minority - just 49% of people in the area described themselves as white and British.

The story of Barking and Dagenham is the story of the white working class EastEnders. In the 1920s and 30s, tens of thousands of families were moved out of the inner city slums and into the huge council estates which had been built in the borough.

The 27,000 houses on the Becontree estate were described as homes for heroes, often allocated to the families of World War I servicemen. Another wave of Cockney sparrows built their nests in the area, having been bombed out of the East End during the Blitz in WWII.

Becontree estate The Becontree estate in 1950

This was a real step up for many families. Their new homes had indoor toilets and often a small garden. When Ford opened its giant plant at Dagenham in 1931, tens of thousands of jobs provided income security in the midst of profound economic depression.

Although Barking and Dagenham's population declined slightly in the 1960s and 70s, the last years of the 20th Century saw it rise again. Many families took advantage of the right to buy their council house at 30% of its market value - at least two-thirds of the Becontree estate was sold to the private sector.

In 2000, the borough was among the very few places in Greater London where you could still buy a three-bedroom house for under £100,000. The capital's buoyant property market meant that anyone who got on the housing ladder would see their home become a valuable investment during the first 10 years of the new millennium.

The decade also saw the Ford plant contract and ultimately the company announced it was closing down. The economic engine of the borough was being switched off, leading many of the local people to think about their future. In the first 10 years of the new century, the number of full-time jobs in Barking and Dagenham fell by a quarter.

Water towers near Ford plant in Dagenham Ford is cutting jobs at its Dagenham factory

For many white British households, the 2000s had left them without a job but with a sizeable chunk of capital in their home. Some had also benefited from redundancy pay-outs and pension deals offered by Ford. It was a cue for the families who had left London's East End in the middle of the 20th Century to move on again at the start of the 21st.

A closer look at London reveals how many neighbourhoods in the outer boroughs have seen significant falls in the white British population - Newham, Brent, Haringey, Enfield, Ealing, Hounslow, Merton and Lewisham almost form a ring around the capital. Only the affluent boroughs of Richmond and Kingston along the river to the west prevent the completion of the orange doughnut.

Change in white British population in London between 2001 and 2011

Ten largest decreases in white British population. Newham 37.5%,Ealing 23.8%, Waltham Forest 23.6%, Barking and Dagenham 30.6%, Slough 30.3%, Redbridge 29.8%, Harrow 28.5%, Brent 27.3%, Enfield 24.5%, Luton 24.4%
Ten largest decreases in white British population outside London. Wolverhampton 9.7%, Coventry -10.4%, Rushmoor -10.5%, Birmingham -11.1%, Watford -11.4%, Reading -11.8%, Leicester -12.3%, Oadby and Wigston -13.1%, Luton -24.4%, Slough -30.3%

Inner London saw some places losing the white British population, but quite a number - coloured blue - bucked the trend and recorded an increase.

Even central boroughs that experienced a decline in white British may have seen an increase in the number of white residents. Kensington and Chelsea recorded 17,300 fewer white British residents but the category "white other" now makes up 28% of the local population. The immigrants here are rich white Europeans and Russians.

Start Quote

Tea rooms and restaurants have been replaced by takeaway chicken shops and halal supermarkets serving the new arrivals”

End Quote

It is a different story in Barking and Dagenham.

The people moving into the borough tend to be of black African heritage. I was introduced to Victor and Victoria, whose parents came to Britain from Ghana in the 50s. He works for London Transport and she is a nurse in the NHS - typical of the professional black families who've arrived from inner London to take advantage of available housing as the borough's white residents leave.

With a time-lapse camera, it would appear that London is pulsing as generations and ethnic groups move up and move out.

On Dagenham's main shopping street, I met a number of white locals who were planning to leave the borough. One male pensioner was hoping to relocate to Clacton - a seaside town on the Essex coast now nicknamed Little Dagenham. A local councillor told me how his parents had sold up and bought a large cottage with a quarter-acre of garden in Lincolnshire. Another woman says she had her eyes set on a little cottage in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend.

Leigh is a particular favourite. Many residents from Barking and Dagenham will have taken the train along the Thames Estuary towards Southend on a work excursion - the old beano to the seaside. Some still do, looking out of the window as the industrial landscape gives way to green fields and open wetlands teeming with birds.

Over the past decade or so, towns along the railway line between Fenchurch St and Shoeburyness have seen significant increases to the white British population. In Westcliff, part of Southend, I met a family who recently cashed in their three-bedroom house in Barking for a six-bedroom home by the sea. They keep bumping into old school friends, realising that they were joining a sizeable population of migrants from the borough.

Pub in Crewe with Polish sign Polish is the second most common language spoken in England

The years between the last two censuses have witnessed significant cultural change in London, particularly in the outer boroughs. Some white British may have moved because their neighbourhood has been culturally transformed, the tea rooms and restaurants replaced by takeaway chicken shops and halal supermarkets serving the new arrivals.

But there is also a story here of white working class families that escaped from the slums and bombed-out East End in the middle of the last century, found new opportunities in London's outer boroughs and then, in the past decade - often having prospered from the housing boom and the capital's economic growth - cashed in their assets and bought themselves that little cottage in the countryside or by the sea.

It is a story of aspiration. It is a story of success.

Update 16:05 GMT

Fords Dagenham inform me that a recent reorganisation means 3,500 people remain employed at the plant.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

Savile: 'How could this be allowed to happen?'

Today's investigation into Jimmy Savile reveals how his criminal behaviour "was facilitated by ministers or civil servants".

Read full article

More on This Story


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 985.

    Much like many people I would love to express my true non-sugar coated opinion of what I actually think; but instead in the words of censorship, I will say this. Perhaps the real headlining should of been " Do Nesting grounds for BNP members and general fascists still exist?

  • Comment number 984.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 983.

    I too am ashamed that the capital and the country is filling up with immigrants many of whom are just scrounging on the benefits and have no wish to work. I will also be voting UKIP at the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 982.

    I honestly believe that people feel pressurised to leave London. I sometimes feel that I'm living in the Middle East where I live in W2, and I was born in London! All one seems to hear is Arabic, Polish, Romanian and various African dialects. It doesn't help that the various councils seem to give housing priority to various immigrants either, thus depriving Londoners of council housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 981.

    Fredlocks - Yeah it's really happening so far isn't it. Hopefully it will soon be like south central LA, South Africa or just about any African nation.

    Fill your boots and get back there, just don't forget to pack your glock!

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    The consequence ... is that white Brits are now in a minority in London, making up just 45% of its residents."

    304 Apologies ... but this statement only works if you assume that there are only two groups i.e. White British & everyone else.

    Not so - put the data into a pie chart, each segment representing a different ethnic group - this would show the % of the total for each group 45% is poss

  • rate this

    Comment number 979.

    Will M Easton also do a piece about the effect that the influx of people from that London has on other parts of Britain?

    Is that too hard to do because he hasn't got the simple matter of skin colour as a determinant?

  • rate this

    Comment number 978.

    This is a slightly touchy subject for me. My fiancee is Chinese and one day we would like to move back to the UK together. But looking at some of the openly hostile comments on here about immigrants I am having serious doubts about that. Why should I move back to my country when the very people I grew up with would treat my wife as some sort of second class citizen or worse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 977.


    Spot on!!!!
    Well said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 976.

    I was born and raised in East London, Tower Hamlets. I moved out a few years ago, not because I particularly wanted to but because it is a very Islamic area now. Some of the people are nice but many are very aggressive towards anyone different from them. There is also a Muslim Mayor in Tower Hamlets now and this has embedded a certain character which frankly was unpleasant and aggressive. Sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

    Seems that a lot of London people may have moved out due to immigration.. thats how it seems here. So if you do that, and move to a different region, then you are immigrants to that area... and you should thus do like all immigranmts should - integrate and accept the local customs and life.. domt try to change your new place to what you left behind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    #904 Ollybus
    "Everyone outside of sub-Saharan Africa came ultimately from what is now Tanzania about 200,000 years ago, ergo, every country should uncomplainingly accept mass immigration to any level whatsoever".

    Again, is there any limit to the blind stupidity of liberals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    England is a soft touch, we let anyone in and then give them every benefit under the son, then they all take up houses as they do not pay anything towards them, let all their friends back home know and they do the same, quickly turning nice areas into Ghettos. So people who are actually working move out due to people living there who do nothing but complain and hate our country

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    "Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;

    And universal Darkness buries All."

    Soon the food & energy riots will begin as medium-to-hyperinflation grips the ever so well integrated capital city

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    It is a reflection of London today. Immigration has taken over - FACT. Most hard working White people just dont like to feel in minority so are moving away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    917.PjW - "78% of the English gene pool is pre-Roman compared with 79% of the Welsh. Genetics - a great scientific advance!"

    Hi, not disputing what you say, but where did you find the stats/data? Sounds like exactly the sort of information the powers that be and the BBC would like to keep hidden, so they can perpetuate the 'mongrel nation' insult.

  • Comment number 969.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    So all the racists and haters have left London. What's not to like? It will make London one of the greatest cities on Earth if all those undesirables have left. I can't wait to go back there if that's the case. Hurrah for London!

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    I seem to remember a certain Mr Enoch Powell saying this would happen in his "Rivers of Blood speech

    "Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population" he was vilified and despisedm at the time, still is by many. But he was right

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    What a rubbish article. To say this only happened in the last 10 years is nonsense. I was working at the turn of the new millennium in the boroughs of Hounslow, Hackney and Islington. Already the white population had all but moved out. The immigrants were all on housing benefits .. I know because I was processing them and a lot of those were going to landlords who also happened to be immigrants.


Page 55 of 104



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.