The publication by the Office of National Statistics of the county of birth of the parents of babies born in England and Wales provides thought-provoking evidence of the way our capital city is changing. In 2015, a massive 58% of live births in London were to mothers who themselves were born outside the UK. For contrast, this compares to 11% of births in the North East region of England (the lowest proportion) and 27% for England and Wales as a whole.
The results vary considerably by local authority, with over three-quarters (76.5%) of births in Newham being to non-UK born women. Outside London the highest percentages are recorded in Slough (62%) and Luton (56.4%). Across England and Wales as a whole, the most common countries of birth for both non-UK born mothers and fathers were Poland, Pakistan and India.
Poland's accession to the EU appears the reason behind their top-three ranking: the number of live births to Polish-born mothers is over 12 times higher than when Poland joined the EU in 2004, and Poland accounts for more than half the population of all the countries that joined at that time.
Some caution should be exercised when interpreting these statistics: not all the parents concerned are recent immigrants or indeed immigrants at all if they themselves were born abroad to British parents. And neither is it a measure of ethnic minority growth since second generation immigrants, who themselves were born in the UK, are not reflected in this data when they become parents.
The data also shows that parents who themselves were born outside the UK are slightly older than UK-born parents: 20% of UK-born mothers were aged 35 and over, compared with 26% of mothers who were born outside the UK. This may be self-selecting, if for example women who have already had children are less likely to leave their country of origin, or might indicate that recent arrivals have to have more years of work under their belt to make the transition to the UK than the average UK parent.
But whatever the reason, there are profound policy implications that flow. First, it is fair to say that London's population is changing very fast - as is that of the other towns that top the league in terms of births to non-UK born parents. It follows logically that in these areas when this cohort starts primary school, it will be more normal for their classmates to have mothers that were born abroad than born in the UK. There are also stark divides between generations and between localities which need to be understood to ensure that services are designed effectively and that differences do not lead to tension. And most poignantly perhaps, what message does Theresa May give to the 42,000 or so babies born last year whose parents were themselves born in other EU countries?
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