What do you think of when you think of the UK?
For many people, a common image of the UK is likely to include the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Harrods, Manchester United, The Beatles, rain, fish and chips, Margaret Thatcher… But like any stereotype, this is a limited and perhaps out of date view of the UK. On these pages we want to present the enormous diversity of the UK, both in terms of the countries that make up the UK and in terms of its ethnic and religious diversity, and its profile in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
Projects and diversity
Partners of our projects come from all over the United Kingdom. Within our large-scale projects, for example Creative Cities, we organise events that take part in the different parts of the UK. In our promotional materials we always try to represent all of the UK.
First of all, what is the UK? And what is the difference between “the UK” and “Great Britain”?
The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The official name is actually the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Great Britain is the name given to England, Scotland, and Wales, while the British Isles is a geographical term which includes Great Britain, the whole of Ireland, and all the offshore islands.
All the information on these pages refers to the United Kingdom, which has a population of 61m (UN, 2008) and an area of 242,000 square kilometres.
Countries of the UK
There are four countries in the UK: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK and over 80% of its population (51m). Eight of the ten most populous cities in the UK are in England – Glasgow at number 3 and Edinburgh at number 7 are the exceptions. London is the largest city, with a population of over 7m, followed by Birmingham with a population of nearly 1m.
With a population of just over 5 million, Scotland has partial self-government within the United Kingdom as well as representation in the UK Parliament. The Scottish Government is responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs, and transport. It is led by a First Minister (currently Alex Salmond). There are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and there are 59 MPs (Members of Parliament) representing Scotland in the House of Commons in London. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament are both based in Edinburgh.
English is the official language of Scotland: Gaelic is spoken by less than 2% of the population. However Gaelic has in recent years experienced a renaissance. There are now many Gaelic units in primary schools, Gaelic Youth Clubs, many Gaelic television programmes, and Gaelic writing is flourishing.
The Scottish flag, called the Saltire, is a white diagonal cross on a blue background and it derives from the X shape of the cross on which Scotland's patron saint, St Andrew, was crucified.
Famous Scots include:
David Hume, Philosopher
Architect, designer and artist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Billy Connelly, comedian and actor
Evelyn Glennie, one of the world's most talented percussionists (despite being deaf since childhood)
Pop and rock stars: Annie Lennox, Franz Fredinand, Travis, and the Proclaimers
Scotland has many world-class universities, including the University of St Andrews, University of Edinburgh, University of Aberdeen, Heriot-Watt University, and the University of Strathclyde.
Like Scotland, Wales has partial self-government through the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government. There are 60 Assembly Members in the National Assembly representing their constituencies, and in addition, Wales is represented by 40 MPs in the House of Commons in London. The First Minister of Wales is Rhodri Morgan.
Wales has a population of about 3 million and about 20% of those are Welsh speakers. Since the introduction of the Welsh Language Act 1993, Welsh has equal status with English in the public sector in Wales.
Technically, Wales is a principality, ruled by a prince. Traditionally the Prince of Wales is the eldest son of the English monarch. The Flag of Wales incorporates a red dragon on a green and white background. While the flags of England and Scotland can clearly be seen in the Union flag, the National Flag of the United Kingdom, the Welsh flag is not represented. This is because when the first Union Flag was created in 1606, Wales was already united with England.
Famous Welsh men and women include:
Poets Dylan Thomas and RS Thomas
Singers Tom Jones and Katherine Jenkins
Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics, Catatonia
Prominent Welsh universities include: Cardiff University, Aberystwyth University, and Swansea University.
Northern Ireland is situated in the north east of the island of Ireland. Its population is just under 2 million and its capital is Belfast.
For many years it was the site of a bitter ethno-political conflict known as “the Troubles” between those claiming to represent Nationalists, who are predominantly Roman Catholic, and those claiming to represent Unionists, who are predominantly Protestant. Unionists want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, while nationalists wish it to be politically united with the rest of Ireland. In general, Unionists consider themselves British (or "Ulstermen") and Nationalists see themselves as Irish, though these identities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Since the signing of the "Good Friday Agreement" in 1998, the paramilitary groups involved in the Troubles have ceased their armed campaigns.
Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. There is a Northern Ireland Executive together with the 108 member Northern Ireland Assembly. In addition,
Northern Ireland elects 18 Members of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons; only 13 take their seats, however, as the 5 Sinn Fein MPs refuse to do so on principle.
Famous Northern Irish men and women include:
The poet Seamus Heaney
Actors Liam Neeson, Siobhán McKenna and Kenneth Branagh
Rock and pop stars U2, Van Morrison, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, The Cranberries
Queen's University, Belfast has a strong international reputation.
In 2007, the population of the UK was 61 million. 16 per cent of the population – almost 10m people - were aged 65 and over. By 2031, it is projected that the UK population will be 71.1 million, with 22 per cent of the population – more than 15m people – aged 65 and over, with nearly 2.9 million people aged 85 or more. As in other countries, the British government is seeking to address issues such as increased health care and pension costs and changing patterns of work.
The UK is also increasing in ethnic diversity. While the majority ethnic group is classified as ‘White British’, the proportion of individuals classified as ‘White’ decreased from 93 per cent in 2001 to 90 per cent in 2007. Ethnic diversity also differs geographically across the UK: Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not as ethnically diverse as England.
London is particularly diverse with about 35% of the population from non-White groups. The largest minority groups are Asian or Asian British (14%) and then Black or Black British (12%). Half of the 1.2 million pupils that attend schools in London are from minority ethnic groups. It is estimated that over 300 languages are spoken in London.
The UK’s diversity is a great asset, and part of the fabric of life, but it also brings challenges, and recently has given rise to discussion of issues around multiculturalism, immigration and national identity.
Around 19% of the population (about 11m people) have a long term illness or disability. Significant efforts have been made in the UK to enable people with physical disabilities to lead a fulfilling life in areas such as access to transport and to buildings. Issues of mental health have also received increased attention
In the 2001 Census, 77 per cent of the population identified with a religion, with 72 per cent Christian, 3 per cent (1.6m people) Muslim, 1 per cent Hindu and 1 per cent other religions. Of the remaining 23 per cent, 15 per cent identified with having no religion and the remaining 8 per cent did not respond to the question.
There are no comprehensive official statistics on sexual identity but currently it is estimated that the lesbian, gay men and bisexual population of then UK is between 5 and 7 per cent of the total population. Recent surveys have shown that Britain is a tolerant country with a widespread acceptance that prejudice has no place in civil society. However, in one survey, more than a third of adults said they’ve witnessed homophobic bullying in schools.
Office for National Statistics:
Equality and Human Rights Commission:
RADAR: The Disability Network: