Three quarters of the migrants in England and Wales live in cities

In Peterborough, more than half of residents are migrants. Image: Opportunity Peterborough.

According to new figures released last week by the ONS, net migration – which stands at +330,000 for the year ending March 2015 – is now at the highest level on record. This follows a trend of increasing migration to the UK that has been at play since the Second World War, and which has escalated from the 1990s onwards: just 0.6 per cent of all migrants currently living in England and Wales arrived between 1941 and 1950, while 50.3 per cent (3,776,469) arrived between 2001 and 2011.

The opening of UK borders to new EU countries, as well as worsening economic conditions in Southern Europe alongside the relative strength of the British economy, will have contributed to making the UK a more attractive place to seek work. And despite a fall back in migration levels between 2009 and 2011, today’s data suggests that the trend is on the up once more. But although a lot of emphasis has been placed on the level of migration, little thought is usually given to the geography of migration and the effect that migration is having on our cities.

15-08-27 Migrant arrivals by decade

Source: NOMIS (2015) Census 2011 data

1. Cities account for most of the migrant population

Migrants are more likely to live in cities and their surrounding hinterlands than the UK-born population. In fact, 77 per cent of the total migrant population in England and Wales live in cities, compared to 57 per cent of all residents. And if we include the rural hinterlands that surround cities, those figures rise to 95 and 90 per cent respectively.

Migration centre suburb hinterland

Source: NOMIS (2015) Census 2011 Data.

Overall, the majority of migrants live in the suburbs of cities – some 73 percent. This is unsurprising, since suburbs make up a significant part of the geographical area of cities. That said, this figure is significantly higher than the share of the total population of England and Wales living in suburbs – which is some 55 per cent. The difference is even starker when we look at city centres: while only 1.6 per cent of all residents in England and Wales live in a city centre, 4 per cent of migrants live in city centres.

 15-08-27 Migrants by city area

Source: NOMIS (2015) Census 2011 data.

2. More recent migrants tend to live in city centres

The more recently a migrant arrived in the UK, the more likely he or she is to live in a city centre. Of the migrants who arrived in the UK between 2010 and 2011, 9 per cent live in city centres. For those who arrived between 2007-2009, only 6 per cent live in city centres. And migrants arriving during the 2000s overall were six times more likely to live in city centres than those who arrived in the UK before 1941.

These trends are likely in part to reflect the different residential choices people make at different stages of their life. As we found through our recent report, Urban Demographics: Where people live and work, one in three city centre residents in England and Wales are aged 20-29, while residents in suburbs and hinterlands are much older. And as migrants arriving a long time ago will necessarily be older, the patterns of older migrants living in hinterlands and suburbs fits.

Recent migrants are, on average, likely to be younger than UK-born workers. The likelihood of more recently arriving migrants living in city centres could therefore reflect their age, or could also reflect a growing preference for city-centre living from migrants – and there is evidence that international students in particular have driven a growing preference for city centre living.

3. There's a large variation in the proportion of migrants living in different city centres

Migration London Large Medium Small

Source: NOMIS (2015) Census Data 2011.

The proportion of city centre residents who are migrants varies significantly between cities. In central London, for example, 45 per cent of residents are migrants, compared to a third of residents in the centre of large cities. Within large cities, there is less variation; Birmingham has the highest proportion migrants, at 40 per cent, while in Liverpool, which has the lowest proportion, this figure still stands at 27 per cent. Meanwhile, the figures for smaller cities differ considerably. In Peterborough, more than half of residents are migrants, while in Grimsby, also a small city, only 8 per cent are migrants.

This data illustrates how migrants make up a substantial proportion of the population of cities, and city centres in particular. Recent migrants are more likely to live in city centres, which reflects the preferences of age groups, but also the number of international students living in city centres.

Any changes to immigration policy, therefore, are likely to have a strong impact on cities, and city centres in particular. But this effect will vary between cities. In the city centres of London, other large cities, and some smaller cities such as Peterborough, where a high proportion of residents are migrants and much of their growth results from international migration, the effects are likely to be considerable. These places will need to take this into account when planning for growth in the face of a policy landscape on immigration that is changing fast.

Bethan Heslin-Davies is a Research Intern at the Centre for Cities. This piece was first posted on the think tank's blog.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.