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Ethnic mix is ‘messy’ as Birmingham embraces superdiversity

Ethnic mix is ‘messy’ as Birmingham embraces superdiversity

🕔28.Oct 2014

The notion that Birmingham can be categorised simply by a split between dwindling white and fast-growing Asian communities is outdated according to new forecasts.

Research produced for the Kerslake Review into city council governance suggests that Birmingham has become a ‘superdiverse’ city and is experiencing significant growth in a mixed ethnicity population.

Focusing on what is described as ‘hidden communities’, the report by the Council’s Strategic Research Unit describes the city’s ethnic make-up as “messy” and says that a linear division between white, Asian and Black communities is no longer valid.

It points to an influx of residents from across Europe and Africa as well as Asia and highlights “inter-generational differences” in the way that diverse communities respond to cultural issues according to age.

In a strategic assessment addressing future challenges the report says: “Some argue that Birmingham has moved beyond being a diverse city and is now superdiverse. In the three years from 2007 people moved to Birmingham from 187 different countries.

“They came to live here as workers, marriage migrants, students and, to a lesser extent, asylum seekers.

“This has a positive impact. However, it also raises significant challenges for cohesion. Especially when newly arrived communities are often the most excluded.”

Ten per cent of Birmingham residents were born outside of the UK and arrived after 2001. Five per cent arrived in the past five years – a significantly higher proportion than the regional average.

Twelve per cent of undergraduates at Birmingham universities are from overseas and the figure rises to 37 per cent for post-graduates.

Almost 50,000 people living in Birmingham are unable to speak English, according to the 2011 census.

The study also reveals a sharp decline in resident satisfaction with Birmingham city council.

In June 2012, 80 per cent of respondents to a survey said they were satisfied with the council’s performance. The satisfaction rate had fallen to 67 per cent by March 2014.

Two of Birmingham’s white working class wards – Weoley and Kings Norton – registered the sharpest decline in satisfaction with the council.

However, the sharpest decline by households was registered by “active elderly people living in pleasant retirement locations” where approval for the council fell by 27 per cent.

The least satisfied areas were Nechells, Bordesley Green and Lozells & East Handsworth.

The study notes the contrast between inner city wards, where levels of social deprivation are among the highest in the country, and Birmingham city centre which is increasingly populated by young, highly qualified, professionals. More highly qualified people live in the B3 post code than in any area outside of London.

The review underlines the growing strength of Birmingham’s economy with new industries leading the way. Sectors at the forefront of post-recession recovery include transport technologies, business, financial and professional services, and digital media.

The largest growth is in higher skilled occupations such as corporate managers, professional and technical occupations. The largest decline is lower skilled occupations such as plant and machinery operatives and admin and secretarial roles.

But the steady flow of new jobs may be beyond the reach of many people who simply do not have the skills required for a high-tech age. Almost a third of 16-year-old school leavers were considered by their employer to be poorly or very poorly prepared for work and to be lacking in maturity with a poor attitude, according to a skills survey quoted in the study.

Unemployment in Birmingham stands at 7.5 per cent, twice the national average. Fifty-nine per cent of economically active adults are in work, compared to 72 per cent nationally. More than 17 per cent of Birmingham adults have no formal qualifications, against a UK average of 10 per cent.

The study reaches three main conclusions:

  • Birmingham is an ever more superdiverse city which has far reaching policy and service implications that will need to continue to adapt and evolve.
  • Ours is a very young city bringing demands for children’s wellbeing, young people’s skills and employment but also brings vibrancy and innovation.
  • Birmingham is an attractive city for business and commuters but can do more to integrate its strategy with neighbours in the city region.

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