Data released this week shows that just over one third (34%) of people living in the borough of Lewisham at the time of the 2011 Census were not born in the UK (in Lambeth and in Southwark the figure was 39%, and 31% in Greenwich).
Many others were the children or grandchildren of migrants. In terms of ethnicity, people defining themselves as White British (or English/Welsh/Scottish/NI) are the largest group in Lewisham (42%). But the majority (58%) are from other ethnic groups, the most significant groups being Black African, Black Caribbean and White Other (which includes Western and Eastern European, as well as Americans, Australians etc.):
|Ethnicity in Lewisham, 2011 Census|
How can debates around immigration continue to treat the largest part of the capital's population as if they are some kind of social problem? Far from being a problem, migrants and their descendants are at the heart of London and make it a truly World City. This week I have had a Bulgarian colleague fix my computer, listened to an African parent sing the praises of the Polish support worker for her autistic son, and heard how a Brazilian teacher has helped transform a local nursery. In other words, a typical week in London - no problem.
'Integration' doesn't happen because governments command it, but because people mostly get on with each other and mix with each other as they go about their lives in the city. Work is one place where this happens, but some migrants are banned from working, and many others are unemployed. In addition the very social spaces where people from different backgrounds encounter each other - Children's Centres, libraries, youth clubs etc. - are continually threatened by cuts, as are English classes for adult learners. In this sense, the actions of the government are more of a barrier to integration than the behaviours of migrants and their neighbours.
[Incidentally the Census estimates that the population of greater London is 8.2 million - an increase since 2001 but still less than the estimated peak population of 8.6 million in 1939]