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Why have the white British left London?
February 20, 2013 12:32 AM   Subscribe

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

Insightful analysis from Mark Easton, especially concerning the story of Dagenham and the effect of the Ford motor plant over the last few decades.
posted by iffley (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
White Flight: UK
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:04 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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.

Some had also benefited from redundancy pay-outs and pension deals offered by Ford.

So at the end of the decade, assest rich, flush with cash, and without a job, they moved out of London and retired abroad or to a country estate. Ford really screwed them over good.
posted by three blind mice at 1:04 AM on February 20, 2013


I can believe that the white population is about 45%, but I'm actually surprised that white British is still that large a section; I don't seem to meet that many unambiguously British people in London (not that I quiz people about their ethnicity). Very likely an effect of spending most of my time in the cosmopolitan centre.

The process is hardly new, anyway. When I lived in the East End in the late seventies there was a distinct sense that there was a Cockney evacuation going on - in fact one that was well on the way to completion. One of the locals had a framed poem on the wall called "To All Cockneys Leaving": it was a real social and cultural phenomenon.

In the East End, especially Whitechapel, you can of course relate it to a much longer history of a series of ethnic groups arriving, prospering, and getting out. That process goes back at least to the Huguenots in the seventeenth century and probably earlier; perhaps in the end, it was finally the natives' turn.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 AM on February 20, 2013


The movement of the white British is often characterised as white flight - the indigenous population forced out of their neighbourhoods by foreign migrants.

That's a... pretty disingenuous casting of white flight.
posted by Dysk at 1:38 AM on February 20, 2013 [33 favorites]


Radio4 investigated this today. It seems to be more about how affluent the white population in the suburban areas become and can afford a nice place in the country or by the sea and chose to make the move. Additionally in central london the trend is reversed as the property prices are very expensive, the white population is increasing. So its more about wealth than immigration.
posted by dprs75 at 1:46 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems to be more about how affluent the white population in the suburban areas become and can afford a nice place in the country or by the sea and chose to make the move.

This is what I'm seeing, definitely. Me, I could afford to move out of London, but I love London too much to do that. I have friends (white) who have done the whole move-to-suburbia-or-the-country thing, and every time I visit their undeniably larger and more impressive homes I feel like I've died and gone to some sort of semi-morphiated limbo for people who just can't take the pace any more.
posted by Decani at 1:58 AM on February 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


Good Jebus--the highest rated comments are all fucking awful. Sort by "lowest rated" and what do you get? Tolerance and acceptance. What the fuck humanity
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:10 AM on February 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


A comment from the article:
The fasting growing ethnic minority in the UK is the mixed race population. Whites are having children with ethnic minorities, they are represented as non-white in the census. This needs to be considered.
Any truth to this?

Also, I would not take it for granted that all of the hostility is among the older white residential population, although the "no place to be British" stuff does stink of it. Racial and inter-ethnic hostility frequently goes both ways, and I've seen neighborhoods in New York where a newly-outnumbered older resident population finds itself treated as invading aliens by a more recent wave of arrivals, complete with harassment against the older residents.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:13 AM on February 20, 2013


The process is hardly new, anyway. When I lived in the East End in the late seventies there was a distinct sense that there was a Cockney evacuation going on
Yeah. A lot of them moved north to Milton Keynes. Their children and grandchildren still have weird echoes of the East London accent ...
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:13 AM on February 20, 2013


This is interesting. My own experience is living in an area experiencing white middle class gentrification (Brixton), so there's that - and it appears to be causing at least as much agonising as white flight. But when I was looking to buy a house, and going round areas in zones 2/3 with significant white and non-white communities, lots of the houses I viewed were being sold by white homeowners who had rode the wave of successive housing booms and were looking to cash out by moving somewhere cheaper outside London.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:25 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I have friends (white) who have done the whole move-to-suburbia-or-the-country thing, and every time I visit their undeniably larger and more impressive homes I feel like I've died and gone to some sort of semi-morphiated limbo for people who just can't take the pace any more."

He lives in a house, a very big house in the country
Watching afternoon repeats and the food he eats in the country
He takes all manner of pills and piles up analyst bills in the country
Oh, it's like an animal farm, lots of rural charm in the country....

posted by markkraft at 3:00 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stewart Lee on moving to the countryside

(I was going to find a relevant bit to move the playhead to, but that first joke seems to underline some of the attitudes displayed by this 'news')
posted by The River Ivel at 3:21 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Important to note: "white British" does not mean "white", nor does it mean "British". Poles or Irishmen, for example, are white but not British, and not counted in this 45%. Black Britons, for example, are British but not white, and not counted in this 45%.

Here are the actual figures from The Office of National Statistics for London:

White English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British 44.9%
White Irish 2.2%
White Gypsy/Traveller 0.1%
White Other 12.6% (this is the fastest-growing group in the census)

White Total 59.8%

Excel spreadsheet

So substantial immigration from new EU states characterised the last decade (the proverbial "Polish plumber") and white immigrants are the largest-growing segment of the "not white, not British" population. This may not be clear if you are unfamiliar with British demographics since the Second World War.

(Sadly "African Black" and "British Black" are lumped in together as the same category, so we can't tell from the census information how many Black Londoners are native British and how many are immigrants (e.g. Ugandans, Nigerians, Jamaicans etc.) You can tell an Irish White from a British White, but not an African Black from a British Black. If Scotland secedes, I wonder if there will be a "Scottish White" category?)
posted by alasdair at 3:22 AM on February 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


some sort of semi-morphiated limbo for people who just can't take the pace any more

If the Daily Mash could be any more on top of its game right now I'd be goddamn surprised I tell you what
posted by ominous_paws at 3:32 AM on February 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Mark Easton is a fantastic analytical journalist, and one of the best of the BBC's editors. Previous highlights:

Britain's mental picture of its landscape is far removed from the reality.

Blackpool is the place with the highest use of antidepressants in England - an astonishing 1,430 prescriptions signed for every thousand patients in the primary care trust.

For decades, people have complained about bored teenagers hanging around and causing trouble. If they are too busy online to hang around as much, maybe that explains why they are causing less trouble.

...not a single study has ever found any large group of people/households with any behaviours that could be ascribed to a culture or genetics of poverty.

How he feels about being used as clickbait for racists I can only imagine. The BBC should just turn their comment sections off as a national disgrace.
posted by cromagnon at 3:59 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot of them moved north to Milton Keynes. Their children and grandchildren still have weird echoes of the East London accent ...

There is evidence that children in MK are developing an accent that is independent of their parents origins. Williams and Kerswill at Lancaster uni have done a fair amount of work on 'dialect levelling' if you are interested and show MK to be one of the most significant places in terms of new dialect trends.
posted by biffa at 4:06 AM on February 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Good Jebus--the highest rated comments are all fucking awful. Sort by "lowest rated" and what do you get? Tolerance and acceptance. What the fuck humanity

Quite seriously, I think the racist groups (e.g. BNP) have mobilised to upvote the racist comments. I saw at least one BNP sockpuppet ("I thought I'd read up on this and I checked out the BNP website and they actually have some interesting and intelligent views on this" - that sort of thing).

I have to hope its an organised thing, because the thought that most Brits really agree with all that is too depressing to me.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:19 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good Jebus--the highest rated comments are all fucking awful. Sort by "lowest rated" and what do you get? Tolerance and acceptance. What the fuck humanity

Christ, those top-rated comments are a cesspool. Ugh.

The BBC should just turn their comment sections off as a national disgrace.

Indeed.
posted by klausness at 4:19 AM on February 20, 2013


eh, there's parts of Melbourne which are basically Asian. And this is in the CBD we're talking about. Of course, those parts of the city have been primarily Asian since the 19th Century. No one cares particularly. Why should they. In fact most people are pretty fine with it - yum cha and/or pho being easily accessible.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:20 AM on February 20, 2013


The number of white British people in the capital fell by 620,000

Worth mentioning that depending on how you count it that's out of a population of 8 or 12 million.
posted by Artw at 4:32 AM on February 20, 2013


Quite seriously, I think the racist groups (e.g. BNP) have mobilised to upvote the racist comments.

Don't rule it out. In Greece similar groups have 25-100 people upvoting comments in major newspapers.

White Other 12.6% (this is the fastest-growing group in the census)

I just noticed that they even capitalise Other. Je est un autre.
posted by ersatz at 4:46 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


the indigenous population forced out of their neighbourhoods by foreign migrants.

No, by economics.

There are parts of the UK such as Devon and Cornwall where those who are born and grow up there are forced to move - there are few jobs (or few non-seasonal jobs) and property prices are very high as a lot of available housing is bought as second homes or as holiday lets.

The same thing is happening to London. Property prices are rocketing (there has been a trend for wealthy foreigners to buy homes here but this is a red herring as these properties would only ever have been bought by the super-rich of any nationality) - it would take a couple renting in London 25 years to save the average £50k deposit needed for a place these days, and landlords know fine well that there is a whole generation of people (not socioeconomic class here - lower income families/people have always struggled to buy but there are people earning well above the average wage of £25k here who simply cannot afford to save enough) who are unlikely to be able to buy in their lifetimes, so those who want a family or just stability in their home life are looking outside of the capital for somewhere to buy. They'll need to pay £3k a year or so for their commuter ticket from a town 30 minutes or so away, but it means they'll get to decorate their kids' bedroom the way they like and not have to run the risk of having to move with two months' notice.


There have always been parts of big cities in the UK that have been 'foreign' - Manchester's Chinatown and Rusholme, Southall in London is a large Asian area, New Malden has been Korean and Kilburn Irish for a very long time, I can't speak for other cities as I haven't lived elsewhere but I know there has always been a large Scots Italian population in Glasgow, for example.
posted by mippy at 4:54 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Whites are having children with ethnic minorities, they are represented as non-white in the census. This needs to be considered."

I think they would be down as 'black other' or 'Asian other'. Last time I filled out a questionnaire at a medical clinic, I saw that they named prominent ethnic groups (eg. Black African, Asian - Bangladeshi, Chinese, White Irish) and if you didn't fit into those there was an 'other' box. I was surprised they didn't have one for 'White Polish' as that is a really large migrant population in my part of London and I would imagine they'd have to make provisions for interpreters if necessary.
posted by mippy at 4:59 AM on February 20, 2013


commuter ticket from a town 30 minutes or so away

Although on the lines I'm used to, 30 minutes travelling doesn't typically get you out of London.
posted by Segundus at 5:00 AM on February 20, 2013


I was thinking Reading > Paddington, as my SO currently lives in Reading and there are a lot of people there who commute in (it's INSANELY busy in the morning). My commute within London takes about as long as travelling in from Reading to work. We considered living there then realised that if we were both travelling into London daily, that would be £7k a year between us, and rents ain't that cheap there.

Henley is pretty popular too, though that's more because people would want to have large, pretty houses than to move there to save money.
posted by mippy at 5:03 AM on February 20, 2013


Trying to stereotype the countryside is as futile as stereotyping Londoners.

We moved out of London a year ago or so. We did it because London is noisy and polluted and overpriced. And thanks to a lack of planning policy, most neighbourhoods have this high-street sameness to them.

We didn't move to a big home in the country. We do live in the country but we share space in a Victorian factory with other people. Our place isn't much larger than our place in London but we pay a lot, lot less.

We moved to a small town with an extremely active community, with an active Green party mayor, where people fight against development and the Transition movement is very active. The farmers market here just won best farmers market in the country. We get our vegetables from a farm a mile away that we bought shares in. The Arts community is more active than many I've seen in London. Partly because of ex-Londoner artists, also because many people here work for Damien Hirst.

Just so you know, the country isn't what it used to be.
posted by vacapinta at 5:18 AM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


vacapinta, do you still need to commute in for work? I've often fantasized about living somewhere like Brighton or Eastbourne, but living on a commuter route works out expensive (and as Brighton's a pretty cool place and lots of people choose to live there and commute in to London, rents/house prices aren't significantly lower these days).
posted by mippy at 5:24 AM on February 20, 2013


Some other relevant other stats -

The value of the property in the 10 priciest London boroughs is now equal to that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined

People are being priced out, partly because of record numbers of people from Europe buying in London (who often then rent the properties out)

But at the same time the number of young people taking driving tests is falling - and since provision of public transport has become so sparse in many parts of the UK, their best option might be to move to London.
posted by DanCall at 5:37 AM on February 20, 2013


I read somewhere that posh Brits working in the City and awarding themselves a ten million bonus every time they fart were upset to discover that they still could not buy in Belgravia because they were totally outclassed by Russians who were wealthier by several orders of magnitude.

My brain is not quite able to compute how I feel about that idea.
posted by Segundus at 5:56 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The driving test stat may be more to do with the economic downturn - there are far more 17-25yr old people out of work these days and learning to drive is very expensive. Even then, you need to be able to afford to run a car, so many might not see the point of learning when they can't buy/access one.
posted by mippy at 5:59 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you don't have access to a car, it's also much more expensive to learn to drive - here in the UK, you can get in a car with only a provisional license (which you get for filling out a form and paying £50 or something), and drive about on public roads, so long as a person over 25 with more than 5 years driving experience is in the passenger seat, supervising. This means you basically only need to pay for the test, not any actual lessons from an instructor. If neither you nor your family have a car already, you've gotta pay an instructor an hourly fee for any and all time you want to spend in a vehicle, learning.
posted by Dysk at 6:09 AM on February 20, 2013


Just so you know, the country isn't what it used to be.


I... just... what? No.

The countryside is everything it used to be AND MORE. You're getting confused between "countryside" and "towns". Towns are now getting more and more people unwilling to pay the London Tax - young people either unwilling to move to London because of cost, or who have moved back out of London for reasons of cost benefit analysis and/or family.

Owing to ill-health, I've been back at my folk's place in the countryside after many years of urban living, so my perception of the countryside might be biased. But it's just not changed in this small market area - the local towns are getting more funky, even having arts festivals and TEDx things - but the greying, elderly population of the countryside want nothing to do with that.
posted by The River Ivel at 6:10 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]



This is what I'm seeing, definitely. Me, I could afford to move out of London, but I love London too much to do that. I have friends (white) who have done the whole move-to-suburbia-or-the-country thing, and every time I visit their undeniably larger and more impressive homes I feel like I've died and gone to some sort of semi-morphiated limbo for people who just can't take the pace any more.


So, how exactly does living in the city require living at some "pace"?

I live in Medford, a distinctly urban suburb of Boston, and my pace of life is slow, on account of being an upper class Mefite. The people who drive the buses I ride, the people who make my lattes and cut my bagels, they might have to hustle. I don't. I'm close to enough late closing and all night businesses that I really don't have to have my shit together to live comfortably.

Meanwhile, the outer suburbanites I know, they're the ones who have to keep things at a pace, because everything they want to do involves planning and timing and a drive.
posted by ocschwar at 6:16 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


The River Ive: Well, yes, that was my point sort of.

There's this thing that Londoners do where you either live in London, or you live in one of those unpleasant other cities or...you live in the deep country with nothing but sheep to stare at all day. There are places in the UK that are much more pleasant, that have the best of all worlds in many ways.

It was done in a comment above where a dichotomy was set up: You either live in exciting London or in a huge boring house in nowheresville. Really, its not that simple.

Towns themselves are very diverse. Some are full of retirees and others are full of young people. The switch from town to countryside isn't so clear where I live. The main town is surrounded by small villages. Most are pretty sleepy but many are full of people who come in to participate in what the town has to offer.
posted by vacapinta at 6:20 AM on February 20, 2013


I can see where they're coming from, though - I grew up in a small town that was commutable from Manchester, and it was thirty miles and about three decades away from that city. It is probably one of the few places where working-class people could afford to buy in the UK now, but part of that is because there are very very few non-minimum wage jobs, and part of that is a lack of culture - it was a racist, anti-intellectual, grim place where there is little to do for teenagers and adults alike if they prefer not to go to terrible nightclubs and have sex in the toilets, or a fistfight with someone dressed exactly like them. Until recently, when a Frankie and Benny's opened, the choices for somewhere to go and eat were limited to greasy spoons, the cafe in Morrisons', takeaway pizza places and McDonald's, which was a pain when I visited my mum and wanted to take her out for lunch.

On the other hand, by a similar commuting distance you could live in Hebden Bridge, which is a beautiful place - small, friendly, a little bit hippie-ish, unpretentious, great fish and chips.

I haven't worked out where the nice places Out Of ThatLondon are - the smallness of Reading makes it a nice place to spend weekends, as going into town on a Saturday reminds me of being 16 and going to buy records after my Saturday job as it went dark (and due to where I grew up, I find it hard to rail against 'bland' chainstores as my town didn't and still doesn't have many of them) but it's also lacking in some ways. A decent cinema would be pretty nice.
posted by mippy at 6:40 AM on February 20, 2013


The [white] folks I know from the UK have talked about needing to leave London because it's so expensive and social policies are in place that make London more welcoming to global financial elites than ordinary people - London, like New York, is becoming more and more of an elite playground with a disenfranchised service staff. The people who they see as "replacing" them are the global wealthy - and since white people are, globally, a minority, it's no surprise than an influx of rich people would increase the percentage of people of color in London. I mean, the influx of rich people at the expense of workers is bad, but it's not bad because the rich people are not white.
posted by Frowner at 6:45 AM on February 20, 2013


and since white people are, globally, a minority, it's no surprise than an influx of rich people would increase the percentage of people of color in London.

An awful lot of the influx is not people of colour, but white people. Just white people who aren't British.
posted by Dysk at 6:56 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Decani said.
posted by ciderwoman at 7:20 AM on February 20, 2013


London is trying hard to attract non-white shoppers from rich countries - signs in Debenhams (a department store like Macys) say they take ChinaPay; there have always been many Middle-Eastern people over here shopping for Eid gifts in big stores and spending an awful lot of money, and now Nigerians are the new big spenders. In terms of property, though, the big bucks market is becoming dominated by Russians and American property developers like the Candys. Maybe Middle Eastern people too, but there's always been a lot of Arabic folk in London, particularly around the Edgware Road area, so it might not be a new thing.
posted by mippy at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2013


What isn't happening is ghettoisation, or where it is, it seems less pronounced than in the past. The area I live - Islington - is intensely mixed; my immediate locale has a lot of Turkish Cypriots, Caribbean and African, an increasing number of Chinese and WASP-ish Americans, and plenty of Indian, Pakistani, Thai... and probably others I mis-identify or just don't notice. Within a hundred yards are a mosque, a very fine rockabilly/biker pub, and a Seventh Day Adventist church.

Islington isn't typical, but then nothing in London is typical. Where I used to live had transitioned from poor working class white to Indian/Pakistani ("Voting is haram!" the stickers on the lamp-posts said at election time) and, last time I was there, I was offered drugs by a Russian on a bike and a blow job by a Polish hooker. (To think I voluntarily moved away.) I suppose the recent outbreak of hipsters in Shoreditch is a bit ghetto-y, but I don't think forced deportation to Seattle is the answer no matter what common sense dictates.

London is always in flux. It's restless and eats its young.
posted by Devonian at 7:27 AM on February 20, 2013


vacapinta, can I come live in your town? It sounds very nice.
posted by Kitteh at 7:45 AM on February 20, 2013


The same thing is happening to London. Property prices are rocketing (there has been a trend for wealthy foreigners to buy homes here but this is a red herring as these properties would only ever have been bought by the super-rich of any nationality)

I disagree. The wealthy that would have bought in Knightsbridge or Belgravia or Mayfair now live in Chelsea or Fulham or Dulwich or Hampstead and Maida Vale or Kensington or Notting Hill or Holland Park. In turn, the upper middle classes that would have bought there live in Battersea, or Clapham or West Hampstead or Queens Park or Muswell Hill or Bayswater or Chiswick. The people who used to be able to afford Clapham or Battersea or West Hampstead or Queens Park or Chiswick now live in Balham or Herne Hill or East Dulwich or Hackney or Kensal Rise or Brondesbury or Ealing. The people who used to be able to afford Balham now live in Brixton or Tooting, or Forest Hill, or Streatham or Camberwell or Peckham Rye or Deptford. I've missed out lots of places or the fringes thereof, but you get the picture.

Zone 2/3 borders, or off the tube, or south of the river, or places where there were elevated levels of crime or crap schools used to be complete no go areas for middle class people to buy. Now they aren't.

Rich Johnny Foreigners aren't the sole cause the creeping gentrification in London, which dates back at least to the 1960s, when the Baby Boomers created a huge rise in demand for property. But they are definitely part of the narrative, especially since 2008 as London house prices, which were thought to have bubbled on the back of cheap mortgages at eye watering multiples, have remained remarkably resilient to a long, painful UK recession.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:18 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why have the white British left London?"

Probably because London's burning with boredom now.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:48 AM on February 20, 2013


I think there are two things going on and I offer personal anecdotes for both. Older house-rich cash-poor people are moving out of London. My mother has just done this and now lives on the Kent coast. And simultaneously younger people can't afford to buy in the capital which explains why my sister now lives in a commuter town in Hertfordshire.

I think it's fine if London is less white British as long as it stays diverse and relatively less ghetto-ised.
posted by plonkee at 11:47 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


eh, there's parts of Melbourne which are basically Asian. And this is in the CBD we're talking about. Of course, those parts of the city have been primarily Asian since the 19th Century. No one cares particularly. Why should they. In fact most people are pretty fine with it - yum cha and/or pho being easily accessible.

The 19th-century one is the Chinatown, one of which many cities (particularly port cities in the British Empire) had. There's also a cluster of Vietnamese shops in Richmond, IIRC, and more recently, the influx of international students from south-east Asia has brought with it a lot of Asian-style establishments in the CBD (bubble tea shops, karaoke bars, &c.), along with tiny, expensive student apartments.
posted by acb at 12:42 PM on February 20, 2013


No one has mentioned schools yet. Speaking somewhat anecdotally, the very first thing that most people who are moving house and planning parenthood ask about is, "how are the schools?" Do any Londoners have opinions on this as a factor in people moving about?
posted by jfwlucy at 1:20 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


bombed out of the East End during the Blitz... tens of thousands of families were moved ... into the huge council estates ... Their new homes had indoor toilets ...

... facilitating the rise of the Mods and Teddies ...
posted by Twang at 2:07 PM on February 20, 2013


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