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.

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A progressive alliance in the Richmond by-election can scupper hard Brexit

Labour and the Greens should step aside. 

There are moments to seize and moments to let go. The Richmond by-election, triggered by Zac Goldsmith's decision to quit over a third runway at Heathrow, could be a famous turning point in the politics of our nation. Or it could be another forgettable romp home for a reactionary incumbent.

This isn’t a decision for the Tories and their conscientious objector, Goldsmith, who is pretending he isn’t the Tory candidate when he really is. Nor is it a decision for the only challenger in the seat – the Liberal Democrats.

No, the history making decision lies with Labour and the Greens. They can’t get anywhere near Zac. But they can stop him. All they need to do is get out of the way. 

If the Lib Dems get a clear run, they could defeat Zac. He is Theresa May's preferred candidate and she wants the third runway at Heathrow. He is the candidate who was strongly Leave when his voters where overwhelming Remain. And while the Tories might be hypocrites, they aren’t stupid – they won't stand an official candidate and split their vote. But will Labour and the Greens?

The case to stand is that it offers an opportunity to talk nationally and build locally. I get that – but sometimes there are bigger prizes at stake. Much bigger. This is the moment to halt "hard" Brexit in its tracks, reduce the Tories' already slim majority and reject a politician who ran a racially divisive campaign for London mayor. It’s also the moment to show the power of a progressive alliance. 

Some on the left feel that any deal that gives the Lib Dems a free run just means a Tory-lite candidate. It doesn’t. The Lib Dems under Tim Farron are not the Lib Dems under Nick Clegg. On most issues in the House of Commons, they vote with Labour.

And this isn’t about what shade of centrism you might want. It is about triggering a radical, democratic earthquake, that ensures the Tories can never win again on 24 per cent of the potential vote and that our country, its politics and institutions are democratised for good.

A progressive alliance that starts in Richmond could roll like thunder across the whole country. The foundation is the call for proportional representation. The left have to get this, or face irrelevance. We can’t fix Britain on a broken and undemocratic state. We cant impose a 21st century socialism through a left Labour vanguard or a right Labour bureaucracy. The society we want has to be built with the people – the vast majority of them. Anyway, the days of left-wing majority governments have come and gone. We live in the complexity of multi-party politics. We must adapt to it or die. 

If the Labour leadership insists on standing a candidate, then the claims to a new kind of politics turn to dust. Its just the same old politics – which isn’t working for anyone but the Tories. 

It is not against party rules to not stand a candidate – it is to promote a candidate from another party. So the way is clear. And while such an arrangement can't just be imposed on local parties, our national leaders, in all the progressive parties, have a duty to lead and be brave. Some in Labour, like Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis and Jonathan Reynolds, are already being brave.

We can wake up the Friday after the Richmond Park by-election to Goldsmith's beaming smile. Or we can wake up smiling ourselves – knowing we did what it took to beat the Tories, and kickstart the democratic and political revolution this country so desperately needs.


Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.