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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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

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

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide