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People, Language & Religion


The present-day English, Welsh, Scots and Irish are descended from a long succession of early peoples: Iberians, Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans, the last of whom invaded and conquered England in 1066-70.

Since 1945, international ties forged by the British Empire have contributed to substantial immigration, especially from Africa, Caribbean and South Asia. Since EU citizens are free to live and work in other EU member states, the accession of new to the EU of new member states from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004 has resulted in rising immigration from these countries.

In 1998, 81.5% of UK residents were English. The Scottish formed about 9.6% of the population; Irish made up 2.4%; Welsh accounted for 1.9%; Ulster for 1.8%; and West Indian, Indian, Pakistani, and various other groups comprised the remaining 2.8%. As of 2001, 7.9% of the UK population identified themselves as an ethnic minority. As of 2007, 22% of primary school children and 17.7% of children at secondary school were from ethnic minority families.


Spoken throughout the United Kingdom and, in 1992, by an estimated 456 million people throughout the world, English is second only to Mandarin Chinese in the number of speakers in the world. It is taught extensively as a second language and is used worldwide as a language of commerce, diplomacy and scientific discourse. In northwestern Wales, Welsh, a form of Brythonic Celtic, is the first language of most of the inhabitants.

Approximately 26% of those living in Wales speak Welsh (up from 19% in 1991). Some 60,000 or so persons in western Scotland speak the Scottish form of Gaelic (down from 80,000 in 1991), and a few families in Northern Ireland speak Irish Gaelic. On the Isle of Man, the Manx variety of Celtic is used in official pronouncements; in the Channel Islands some persons still speak a Norman-French dialect. French remains the language of Jersey for official ceremonies.

Immigrant languages constitute for up to 10% of the UK's population, French is spoken by 2.3% of the country's population, 1.0% of Britons speak Polish reflecting the recent mass migration to the UK. 0.9% of the UK's population speak German and 0.8% Spanish. The majority of other foreign languages spoken in the UK originate from Europe, Asia and Africa. A large percentage of the immigrants to the UK come from Anglophone countries (such as Nigeria, Jamaica, Hong Kong and the Philippines), which is why there is not a great deal of diversity between some of the country's ethnic minority communities.


There is complete religious freedom in the United Kingdom. All churches and religious societies may own property and conduct schools. While the United Kingdom has a long tradition of Christianity and a link between church and state still remains in England, in practice the UK is a predominantly secular society with only 38% proclaiming a belief in a God.

Established churches are the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The former is uniquely related to the crown in that the sovereign must be a member and, on accession, promise to uphold the faith; it is also linked with the state through the House of Lords, where the archbishops of Canterbury and York have seats. The archbishop of Canterbury is primate of all England. In 2002, about 45% of the English population belonged to the Church of England.

The established Church of Scotland has a Presbyterian form of government: all ministers are of equal status and each of the congregations is locally governed by its minister and elected elders. In 2002, Presbyterian membership was estimated about 4% of the total population.

Other Protestant churches include the unestablished Anglican churches in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; the Presbyterians (about 4% of the population), the Methodists (about 2% of the population); the Baptist Church; and the United Reformed Church (the product of the 1973 merger of the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches to which not all churches acceded). A total of about 2% of the population are Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, members of the Church of Christ, Christian Scientists, or Unitarians.

The Roman Catholic Church in the United Kingdom has some 9 million adherents, or about 10% of the population. The Anglo-Jewish community, with an estimated 300,000 members, is the second-largest group of Jews in Western Europe. There are also sizable communities of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists.

Many immigrants have established community religious centres in the United Kingdom. Christian groups include Greek, Russian, Polish, Serb-Orthodox, Estonian and Latvian Orthodox, and the Armenian Church; Lutheran churches from various parts of Europe are also represented.





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