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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.