What are some social problems in London

Great Britain

Great Britain is characterized by ethnic diversity and a socially divided society. In recent years the state has endeavored to integrate social problem groups and to guarantee basic services for the population.

Tower Bridge in London. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)


According to the OECD and the British National Statistics, the United Kingdom had a population of 60,587,300 in 2006. According to National Statistics, 83.8 percent of them lived in England, which makes up around 60 percent of the entire UK territory of 242,000 square kilometers. 4.9 percent lived in Wales, 8.4 percent in Scotland and 2.9 percent in Northern Ireland.

Great Britain is a multicultural country. There have been several spurts of immigration throughout the country's recent history. After the Second World War, immigrants from the former British colonial areas dominated. They came primarily for economic reasons, but also as a result of conflicts in their independent countries of origin. In the 1950s, the majority of the new residents came from the West Indies (especially from Jamaica). Immigration from the Indian subcontinent began at this time and has remained a constant factor to this day. 50 percent of the immigrants come from Asia. In 2006, 510,000 people immigrated to the UK. More than a third (139,000) came from the so-called New Commonwealth, i.e. from Africa, but above all from the Indian subcontinent: (102,000), 80,000 came from the old Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand South Africa is counted, 205,000 came from the 25 EU countries. In 2008 Great Britain tightened its immigration regulations to make forced marriages more difficult. The minimum entry age has been increased to 21 years, and brides are required to learn English before moving there.

Ethnic diversity

The early Commonwealth of Third World immigrants were welcomed to provide unpopular and manual labor during the relative heyday of the British economy in the 1960s. They found employment with the transport companies inside and outside London, with the railways, in the steel industry and in the health sector. Today the trend of immigration from the Third World has flattened out somewhat. Immigrants from the Caribbean and Asia mostly live in the inner cities of southern England, the West Midlands, South East Lancashire and North Yorkshire, where they each make up more than five percent of the workforce. In Greater London, around 20 percent of the population belong to an ethnic minority.

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London's small economy

[...] They iron shirts in piecework in stuffy backyard laundries. They drive overweight tourists through the city in bicycle rickshaws. They drag supermarket customers their weekend shopping. They sizzle french fries in greasy fish and chip kitchens. They force themselves into colorful Mickey Mouse costumes to hand out advertising slips in front of fast-food restaurants. They come for cleaning, dog walking and clearing out. Most of them have never had a vacation. An eight-hour day would be a luxury for them. They can only dream of government aid like Hartz IV.

The smallest economic unit is the human being. According to this motto, a thriving small economy has developed, without which London would not function. The British capital also attracts work-hungry immigrants from all over the world - 38 percent of Londoners were born abroad. Hardly any other European city is so international. This has primarily historical causes. In the seventies and eighties, many people from the former British colonies of the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean came to the Thames. It was the city of her dreams. And it has remained so to this day, despite hard work.
[...] In the motherland of capitalism, immigrants can hardly rely on aid from the state - this has largely been abolished since the time of the iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. "Hire and fire" depends on the current economic situation. The competition is so fierce that many even work for less than the statutory minimum wage of £ 5.52 an hour. Those who fall ill can only hope to find a good-natured doctor from the NHS public health system. [...]
Robin Mathi came to London from Jamaica five years ago. He did not have a visa and still does not have a work permit. But the 35-year-old doesn't care. He stayed with a cousin and got by with odd jobs. He cleans the sports car for a hedge fund manager. But he is also called as an emergency plumber. Then Mathi cleans blocked toilets and sinks. He even got himself a special tool for this, a meter-long twist drill.
A good investment, because there is hardly a Londoner who does not complain of such pressing budget problems. First, many ailing sewer pipes date back to Victorian times. Second, even the more recent designs are notoriously too small for fluffy toilet paper. The muscular Rasta man prefers to play with the strong upper arms that could also belong to a professional boxer, but on his bongo drums.
He set them up on this cold, wet December day in the draughty corridors of Tottenham Court Road underground station. His hands twirl back and forth between the drums. They are virtuoso rhythms, a mixture between reggae and hip-hop. A crowd has formed around Mathi. Most of them come from Christmas shopping. They clap and howl. Mathi's brightly colored bobble hat, which he put next to him, quickly fills up with coins. There are even a few five pound notes among them. The Jamaican dreams of one day playing in the famous jazz café in Camden Town. "I'm already saving on the stage clothes," says the bongo musician. [...]

Andreas Oldag, "Capitalism at the bottom", in: Süddeutsche Zeitung of December 22, 2007



The UK government has a policy that emphasizes the integration of immigrants and their descendants and the fight against racism. At the same time, by consensus across party lines, immigration regulations and asylum legislation were tightened and citizenship law changed, which in 1948 had granted all Commonwealth citizens the unrestricted right of residence in Great Britain. The British Nationality Act of 1981 created three classes of nationality. Only British citizens residing in the UK in 1982 or children born abroad, one of whose parents is British citizens, are fully British citizens. Second-class Britons are citizens of the dependent territories such as Bermuda, Gibraltar or the British Caribbean Islands (the Falkland Islands are an exception, whose residents have full citizenship). You have no automatic right of entry into Great Britain. Third class British are those who live in former British colonies. Your status as a British Overseas Citizen does not confer any rights.

In the future, the immigration of workers with little knowledge and low wages is to be prevented as far as possible. Instead, the legislation provides for qualified and young applicants to enter the country by means of a points system. Immigrants must bring a million pounds of capital with them, or they must have a bachelor's degree and proficiency in English in order to earn the required 75 immigration points.

Strive for integration

Despite efforts to integrate immigrants into British society and despite the possibility for those affected to turn to a government commission in the event of discriminatory treatment in state and society (since 2007: Commission for Equality and Human Rights, CEHR), the The 1980s and 1990s repeatedly led to outbreaks of violence in large cities. Even if the reasons for such acts of violence, often emanating from ethnic minorities, were very different, they are just as much an indication of unsolved problems in the coexistence of people of different origins as the more than 1000 complaints received by the government commission. British society was also shaken up by the terrorist attacks in London in 2005 by British Muslims who grew up in the country, as well as polls according to which 81 percent of British Muslims see themselves primarily as Muslims and only secondarily as British.

The comparatively poorer starting position of colored immigrants in British society can be seen in their higher unemployment (around three times as high as that of the white majority), their on average lower schooling and the partial concentration of immigrants in run-down city quarters in which cheap communal districts Apartments are available. However, there are major differences between the various minority groups. The situation of the Bangladeshis is particularly difficult. Pakistanis, black Africans and immigrants from the Caribbean occupy an intermediate position, while the living situation of the Chinese and Indians differs far less from that of the white population. British Muslims are the most socially vulnerable group by religion.

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Paradoxical sense of security

Anyone visiting a friend at home in England for the first time should plan around 20 minutes to locate the house, even if they have a map with them. English people like to hide their house numbers behind ivy, write them in tiny small letters next to the doorbell or leave them out entirely. In response to the question of why the British make it so difficult for visitors, anthropologist Kate Fox offers the old adage "My home is my castle": You can't pull a drawbridge on a row house, but at least you can make it as difficult as possible Find a house, and thus protect privacy a little. In England, more than anywhere else, the home is viewed as a kind of extra-territorial space, an inviolable retreat for the individual, of which the broader public should ideally not even know where it is. [...]

"Privacy International" is fighting on many fronts in Great Britain. The non-governmental organization that awards the "Big Brother Award" every year for the most massive violation of privacy is, among other things, vehemently against the introduction of an ID card in Great Britain. Until now, due to the war, there has only been a general requirement for identification on the island for a short time in the 1940s; today, the refusal to identify oneself is not an offense under British law. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Labor government has made repeated attempts to make biometric IDs mandatory for all Britons. The information contained therein is to be bundled in a central database. "Privacy International" can count on the support of most British people in the fight against this data collection. [...]
The identity card would make a crime that is widespread in Great Britain, but almost unknown in countries where an identity card is required, very difficult: the so-called "identity theft". Currently, the letterhead of an electricity or gas bill is sufficient as proof of identity, after which you can open accounts, become a member of the fitness club or register your child at school. In many cases, a bill carelessly thrown in the waste paper, for example, leads to the person concerned receiving a reminder a few weeks later, but please pay the outstanding charges for the new mobile phone that was registered by an identity thief using the bill stolen from the trash . And yet many Britons seem willing to accept this risk as long as it is guaranteed that their data is not recorded in a government archive. You could get lost. Here the downright schizophrenic relationship of the English to data protection becomes clear: Because not the fear of a possible "surveillance state" is primarily the reason for the rejection of the identification requirement. [...]
From a German point of view, this is particularly surprising, as the British have become the most-monitored people in the world without complaint in the past decade and a half: around five million surveillance cameras are now spread across the country. This means there is one camera for every twelve residents. Although the UK has only 0.2 percent of the world's habitable land mass, it is monitored by 20 percent of all closed circuit television or CCTV cameras. A Londoner doing business in the city center is filmed by an average of 300 different cameras a day. A cover, in view of which the controversial proposals to monitor German train stations more closely look downright cute. In Westminster alone, 160 cameras film everything that happens between Trafalgar Square and Oxford Street 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition, there are around 1000 cameras from the London public transport system and an unspecified number of cameras that record the license plate of every car passing through Westminster in order to collect the inner city toll. The CCTV control center in Piccadilly Circus is registered as a non-profit organization and funded by Westminster Council.
The non-profit nature of permanent surveillance is so generally accepted that "Privacy International" can hope for little public support when it denounces the "Orwellian" implications of this complete coverage with surveillance cameras. Because the fact is that surveys show that the more CCTV devices pervade their country, the more secure the British feel. "People see these cameras as a kind of kind father rather than Big Brother," says Peter Fry, director of the "CCTV User Group", an association of around 600 private and public organizations that use CCTV. The system acquired this reputation in 1993, when the murder of two-year-old Jamie Bulger in Liverpool could only be solved with the help of a shopping center camera. [...]
So the British continue to pull up the virtual drawbridge at home, while - unencumbered by experience with totalitarian systems in their own country - in public space they trust the bulwarks of technology almost blindly. As soon as they step out the front door, they voluntarily give up the absolute claim to that privacy that is their most valuable asset in their own four walls. The only plausible explanation for this paradoxical behavior appears to be the subjective certainty of the citizens that permanent surveillance guarantees public security, protects against terrorists as well as against graffiti sprayers. From a British point of view, the best of all worlds is divided into a secure, because completely inviolable, private sphere, and an equally secure, because the public is observed to the last corner.

Alexander Menden, "Life is freer under permanent surveillance", in: Süddeutsche Zeitung of December 4, 2007



Social differences

Britain still has a socially divided society. Even if the social distinguishing features between middle class and working class have lost more and more weight in the last few decades, they continue to have an effect in everyday life. According to polls, 70 percent of Britons believe that their fellow citizens use these classifications. The self-classification of the respondents shows that despite the social advancement of former members of the working class in British society, over the last few decades around a third of Britons see themselves as members of the middle class and two thirds as members of the working class. Only a very small part of the British consider themselves to be in the upper class.

Differences in language, education and attitude towards life are traditionally associated with social demarcation. Members of the middle class speak Queen's English, the high-level language without dialect coloring. They seek to have their children educated in prestigious private schools and in Oxford or Cambridge. Even today, the ideal of the gentleman is more than a historical memory. The distribution of income and wealth among the British population had become less unequal as a result of the tax policies of the Labor governments of the 1970s. Since the 1980s, the income gap between rich and poor has widened again. This trend continued into Tony Blair's reign.