Earlier this week the Office for National Statistics released the census data from 2011.
Since the last census in 2001, the population of Croydon has risen from 330,587 to 363,378.
Croydon Council has long argued that the 2001 census under-estimated our population and that as a result public services in Croydon haven’t been getting a fair share of the cake in terms of Government funding. I will be pressing the Government to start using the new data as soon as possible.
There has to be a question about whether this rate of population growth is sustainable. That’s why I support a reduction in net migration. But it is equally important that infrastructure improvements accompany any future population growth – the failure of the last Labour Government to ensure this was one of their biggest mistakes and put real pressure on public services.
It’s no surprise that the census shows significant changes in the demography of Croydon. In 2001, 63.7% of residents defined themselves as “White British”; that number is now 47.3%. “Black Caribbean” makes up the next largest group at 8.6% with the “Black African” community comprising the third largest group at 8.0%. This is followed by “British Indian” at 6.8%, “Mixed Race” at 6.6% and “Other White” at 6.3%.
Over 70% of the population were born in the UK and a further 17.3% have been resident in the UK for over 10 years.
This diversity is nothing to be scared of – indeed it can be a huge asset for Croydon. If we are going to win the global race we are engaged in, it is going to be by trading with emerging economic superpowers like India or China. Diaspora communities give us a big advantage.
But we do need to make sure that people integrate, that we have a strong, cohesive society. We have a pretty good record in that regard - research shows that Croydon residents are more likely to feel that people from different backgrounds get along with each other than residents in many other areas. But we shouldn’t pretend that everything is perfect - there are people who have settled here but never bothered to learn the language and hence can’t play a full part in our society and, even worse, extremists who seek to divide our community on grounds of race or faith.
Integration is a word that means different things to different people so I had better be clear what I mean. To my mind, integration is a two-way street. It’s partly about people who come here learning the language and way of life, but it is also about our attitude towards new arrivals - if we want people to integrate, we have to be welcoming. And it’s absolutely not about forcing people into choosing between British and being proud of their origins.
People from all around the world have chosen to make our town their home. We should be proud of that. And they are contributing to our town, setting up new businesses, helping to provide public services, enriching our cultural life. Some people are unsettled by the pace of change, worried about the pressure on public services. But if we slow down the rate of change, if we make sure sufficient infrastructure is provided, if we focus on building a stronger, more cohesive community, Croydon’s diversity can be the foundation of its future success.