ONS data reveals just 0.27% of people can't speak English

Scaremongering put in its place.

The ONS has released another batch of data from the 2011 census, with a particular focus on how we live and the languages we speak.

The headline statistic is that 92 per cent of "usual residents of England and Wales aged three years and over" spoke English as their main language (English or Welsh in Wales), and that just 137,511 in the two nations don't speak English at all. That's less than half a per cent, and a far cry from the million households which Jackie Ashley in December claimed spoke no English (that claim was later retracted).

The top five languages other than English and Welsh which were spoken as a main language are Polish, Panjabi, Urdu, Bengali, and Gujarati, between them spoken by just over 1.5 million people.

In Wales, the census asks if "English or Welsh" is the respondent's main language: as a result, it does not record how many people in Wales speak Welsh as their main language as opposed to English. It does, however, record that 562,000 people in Wales can speak Welsh; and it also records that 8,248 people in England speak Welsh as their main language. Given those figures, it seems likely that the second most frequent "main language" in England and Wales is Polish. For it to be otherwise, nearly every person in Wales who speaks Welsh would have to speak it as their first language.

The proportion of people speaking languages other than English (and Welsh) varies greatly across regions. In London, over a fifth of people gave something other than English as their main language, but in the North East, it was just 2.8 per cent. Of the people who don't speak English as their main language, however, the proportion who don't speak English at all remains relatively stable. Around 3 per cent of people who have a main language other than English don't speak English at all.

Redcar and Cleveland, in North Yorkshire, is the place with the highest proportion of people with English as a first language (99.3 per cent of people), but the Isles of Scilly are the place where you are least likely to meet anyone who can't speak English, because, according to the census, every single resident speaks it at least a bit.

Not every language is spoken, though. 22,000 people in the UK give a sign language as their main language, 15,000 of whom speak British Sign Language, BSL. The census specifies spoken English, so a deaf person who is able to read and write English perfectly but cannot speak it would be included in the 137,511 figure. The Census data does not break down how many of the 22,000 people with sign language as their main language fall into that category, but for obvious reasons, it is likely to be higher than the 3 per cent which is normal for spoken languages.

As an additional present to data addicts, the ONS has opened its Neighbourhood Statistics page, which lets you search for your postcode and see data down to ward level. I was intrigued to find that my ward of 1,700 people has a population density of 144 per hectare, and is almost exactly half and half terraced and flats. What will you find?

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.