Charts: Birmingham has nearly as many atheists as Muslims

This is not a Minaret. Birmingham University. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, yes, we’ve all had a lot of fun mocking Fox News (“Fair and balanced”) for employing “terrorism expert” Steve Emerson, who claimed, with a straight face, that the English city of Birmingham was now a no-go area for anyone who wasn’t a Muslim. Which it quite obviously isn’t.

Emerson’s claim was self-evidently ridiculous, and he’s since apologised to the city for making them. (He’s yet to apologise to Britain’s 2.8m Muslims for basically assuming they’re all terrorists, however.) Nonetheless, it’s worth getting the stats on the record, to debunk this one properly.

In the 2011 census, the city of Birmingham had a population of just shy of 1.1m. Here, as a pie chart, is what those people had to say about their religious views.

At first glance, the Islamic population looks pretty big – but it’s not much bigger than the avowedly atheist population, and it’s less than half the size of the share calling itself “Christian”.

These are just the figures for those who live within the city of Birmingham council district, of course. Arguably, you’ll get a better sense of what the city feels like if you include its suburbs, and look at the entire West Midlands metropolitan county. So, if we take this “Greater Birmingham” as a whole, do things look any different?

As it happens, they do. Include Wolverhampton, the Black Country, Coventry and so forth, and you get a metropolis of 2.7m people – but one whose Islamic population as a proportion of the whole is actually even smaller.

That’s not to say the city isn’t a significant centre of British Islam: there are over 200,000 Muslims in the city, over 300,000 in the West Midlands as a whole, and the population is substantially more Islamic than the national average. (Bonus fact! The Balti, a popular type of curry, is believed to have originated in Birmingham.)

Nonetheless, when you rank the local authorities of England & Wales by their Muslim population, the city only just scrapes into the top 10, ranking 9th.

That’s all local authorities, of course: it’s no surprise that the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, the centre of the city’s Bangladeshi community, should have a higher Muslim population than an entire city.

But even if you do the same with major metropolitan areas – let’s say, those with populations of 300,000 or more – the Birmingham region doesn’t top the chart. Two other major English or Welsh cities are more Islamic than the West Midlands.

While we’re having such fun, here are the major cities again, this time ranked by their population’s enthusiasm for other major religions, and a total absence of it.

Birmingham, it’s safe to say, is safe from Sharia law for the moment – but if it turns out that there is a god, then Bristol is in real trouble.

Notes: We’ve excluded Scottish and Northern Irish councils from this analysis, purely because the Office for National Statistics treats England & Wales as a unit in its census analysis.

We’ve defined “major metropolitan areas” as metropolitan counties or council districts, whichever is the larger. Where we're excluding areas that may sometimes be counted as cities in their own right, we've added + to the city's name.


Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.