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1. The country and the people. 1–1- The geography of the United Kingdom A) Definitions. Great Britain = England, Wales, Scotland (3 nations). UK = Great Britain + Northern Ireland (4 nations). The United Kingdom is a political entity . Great Britain is a geographical term.

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1. The country and the people

1–1- The geography of the United Kingdom

A) Definitions

Great Britain = England, Wales, Scotland (3 nations).

UK = Great Britain + Northern Ireland (4 nations).

  • The United Kingdom is a political entity .

  • Great Britain is a geographical term.

  • B) Town and country

  • Surface area : 244,000 sq. kms,

  • less than half that of France, for a similar population.

  • the country is urbanised: only about 15% live in the countryside.

  • The ten biggest urban areas contain a third of the British population :

  • • Greater London Urban Area

  • • West Midlands Urban Area (Birmingham)

  • • Greater Manchester Urban Area

  • • West Yorkshire Urban Area (Leeds/Bradford)

  • • Greater Glasgow

  • • Tyneside (Newcastle)

  • • Liverpool Urban Area

  • • Nottingham Urban Area

  • • Sheffield Urban Area

  • • Bristol Urban Area.

London Underground : « the tube »


Manchester town hall

Liverpool quay side

  • C) North and South

  • This division dates back to the industrial revolution: it started in the North, which was therefore more prosperous.

  • Between the two world wars, striking development of the South and of the Midlands which has been going on since. one of the most constant features of Britain’s post-war economic development : persistence of the ‘north-south’ divide due to the decline of traditional industries (manufacturing, coal mining, textiles, ship building) in the country’s central and northern regions.

The North

  • Incomes, job opportunities and even education expenditure have all remained substantially lower in these less prosperous regions of the country than in the South.

  • The result : now the North is much poorer than the South: unemployment is almost twice as high, death rates are higher, living conditions are not so good, etc.

  • The split between the two parts of the country accelerated with the Thatcher –Major years (1979-1997): the state stopped funding special zones that were deprived of investment.

  • The slower growth of the northern regions

  • Escalating house prices and overcrowding in the South East.

The South

1-2- The population

Britain ranks 18th in the world in terms of population size..

  • Since 1971 the population has increased by 4 million people, to slightly more than 60 million in 2006. (Over 63 million in 2011)

  • Growth has even been faster in more recent years.

  • death rates for both males and females are lower nowadays.

  • the birth rate has remained relatively stable.

  • Immigration is rising.

  • The population of the UK is ageing .

  • In 2007, there are for the first time more pensioners than young people under 16.

  • In 2007 there were 311 000 women and 106 000 men over 90 in the UK.

  • Causes

  • the move toward smaller families.

  • lower infant mortality (better food and health care)

  • lower mortality of old people.

  • This means greater demands on health, social services and social security arrangements.

  • The state pension age (currently 65 for men and 60 for women) will be increased between 2010 and 2020 to 65 for both sexes. There are proposals to raise it to 68 a few years later.


  • 30.5 million females compared with 29 million males (estimates for 2005) although more boys are born each year than girls.

  • This is due to :

  • Levels of net migration (more men migrate)

  • Higher male mortality (accidents, suicides, illnesses)

  • As a result:

  • By age 22 the numbers of men and women are very similar.

  • After 50, the difference between the sexes increases, as death rates are greater among men.

  • In 2005, there were over three times as many women as men aged 90 and over

  • Women represent about 45 % of the British workforce.

Employment rates in Britain by sex and age in 2008

  • Women are not promoted as easily as men.

  • Just 10% of directors of FTSE 100 companies are women, and only 24% of top jobs in the public and voluntary sector, according to the Equal Opportunities Commission (2009).

  • These numbers have risen somewhat, especially in the public sector, over the last twenty years

  • 21% of local government chief executives are women

  • 19,5% of Members of parliament are women.

  • The Equal Pay Act (1970) and Sex Discrimination Act (1975) mean that men and women are in theory equal before the law.

  • Since 2007, public sector employers are obliged by law to “promote gender equality”.

  • It is not enough to avoid discriminating, public sector employers must actively promote equality.

  • Despite trade union campaigns, private employers are not subject to this obligation.

But on average, women earn two thirds of men’s wages, mainly because they are concentrated in low-status, low-paid, and part-time jobs: retailing and clerical work, health care, cleaning, hairdressing, etc.

Fawcett society logo

  • C) Immigration

  • In the 19thcentury, immigrants mostly from Ireland.

  • In the early 20th century, Jews escaping persecution in Russia.

  • Caribbean immigrant workers in the 1950s and 1960s boom.

  • Immigration from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

  • .

  • More recently there have been increases in the number of asylum seekers trying to escape war as well as in the number of economic migrants, particularly from new EU States (Poland, Czech Republic…).

  • About 500 000 people born in Poland live in Britain.

An Irish cultural centre in London

A mosque in Bradford

A London synagogue

Where were the people who live in Britain born?

(2010 estimates)

United Kingdom54,215,000

Republic of Ireland 405,000

India 693,000

Poland 532 000

Pakistan 431,000

Germany 296,000

United States 200,000

Bangladesh 220,000

Nigeria 151 000

Jamaica 150,000

South Africa 236,000

Kenya 128,000

Australia 112,000

Italy 118,000

Newspapers for different communities in London

The UK population: by ethnic group, Census 2001

  • In the 2001 Census, 4.6 million people (8 % of the UK population) described themselves as belonging to a minority ethnic group.

  • The largest minority ethnic group was Indian (2 % of the UK population and 23 % of the minority ethnic population).

  • Pakistani, Mixed and Black Caribbean were the next largest groups, each making up around 1 % of the population.

  • The minority ethnic population of the UK is concentrated in the large urban centres, often in poorer areas.

  • White people make up 61% of the total population in London.

  • The second largest proportion of Black and Asian people is in the West Midlands (13%)

  • Black and Asian groups are on average much poorer and have a higher unemployment rate than White people.

  • Few high status jobs, lower salaries.

  • However, there is some progress especially in public sector employment.

  • Public sector organizations are obliged by law (since 2000) to promote racial equality.

  • This duty does not apply to private companies, although trade unions are campaigning for its extension.

  • Four Race Relations Acts (in 1965, 1968, 1976 and 2000)

  • The creation of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in 1976, replaced in 2006 by the equality and Human Rights Commission

  • The EmploymentEquality (religion or belief) regulationsmakereligious discrimination illegal and oblige employers to makereasonablefacilitiesavailable for believers (prayerrooms in workplaces, for example).

  • Political campaigns against racism : Rock against racism ( 1970s) Anti-Nazi league (1970s and 1990s) Love Music Hate Racism and Unite against Fascism (today)

  • Riots in inner cities in the mid 1990s and more recently in the spring 2001 and 2005 . Police and young Black people fighting each other.

  • The fascist British National Party won two seats in the European parliament in 2009.

  • In 2009 and 2010 groups like the English Defence League have organized demonstrations against muslims. They were often met by counter-demonstrations,


A poster from Bristol

  • The publication of the Macpherson Report (1999) on the murder of Stephen Lawrence by four young White thugs also showed that British institutions (particularly the police) were institutionally racist.

  • A particular brand of racism called ‘islamophobia’ is targeting Muslims. It started to develop at the very end of the 1980s, and has been reactivated since the terrorist attacks In the US (2001) and in London (2005).

In May 2006, the racist British National party got 54 local councillors elected – the highest number for several decades. In the 2010 elections, the party won only 26 council seats,

Anti-racist campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s

anti-racist campaigns today

End of part one


Work, leisure and social classes

Work in Britain by sector

Full-time workers (in 2009) 21.47 million

Part-time workers 7.53 million

In 2008-2009 more than 250,000 extra people who would like to be in full-time employment have found themselves working four days a week or fewer, according to the Office for National Statistics.

-companies are trying to cope with the downturn by reducing staff hours, rather than just making people redundant.

Socio-economic classification: by sex, 2005

Percentage of working age population

Source: Social Trends 36 (2006) Office of National Statistics


In Britain people work long hours

13% sometimeswork more than 48 hours a week.

On average a full-time employeeworks 44 hours a week – thisis more than in most countries in Europe.

On average an employeeworks 40.2 hours in 2009 (in France 38.4)

The maximum legalworkingdayisthirteenhours (in France ten).

Statutory minimum paid leave (in days), 2008 24 days ( France 25).

  • Unemployment

  • Until recently, unemployment figures were considerably lower than in other countries (about 5.5% in July 2008). Unemployment has been rising since 2008 and is now at 8,1% (June 2012), as against 9,6% in Metropolitan France.

  • Until 1999, there was no minimum wage. Today, there is a minimum wage (£6.19 an hour in 2012 = 7,67 euros ). In France it is 9.40 euros.

  • 2. Social classes

  • The class system is probably the most important division in modern Britain.

  • However, there is no general agreement on the concept of class:

  • Some social scientists, and some politicians, argue that the working-class is disappearing.

  • What is a social class ?

  • Does it depend on

  • How much money you earn?

  • How much power you have at work?

  • - What class you think you belong to ?

  • What leisure activities you participate in ?

  • What part of town you live in ?

  • Whether you have inherited wealth or not, and how much?

  • Whether you have stocks and shares or not, and how many?

  • What level of education you have?

  • Changing classes

  • The members of the upper-class in the past were the land-owning aristocrats; today industrialists and financiers are more powerful.

  • The working-class is made up of blue collar workers (manual workers) and white-collar workers.

  • There are many competing definitions for the middle class, which in general include questions of income, of control over work, and of wealth and inheritance.

The richest people in the UK

  • The Aristocracy

  • Until the industrial revolution, the aristocracy held power. They owned large land estates, with a title of nobility, and had a huge political influence.

  • Nowadays: the aristocracy no longer has direct political power, but they still have a lot of influence.

  • In 1911 and in 1958 the power of the aristocracy in the House of Lords was reduced. The House of Lords eliminated the voting rights of hereditary peers only in 1999.

  • The owning class

  • the richest 1% of the population own about a quarter of the wealth of country – (less than the two thirds they had in 1914.)

  • senior company directors.

  • in finance, in politics (mostly in the Conservative party),

  • in justice, diplomacy and among army officers.

  • The Royal family is still the symbol of this opulent class. They keep their wealth within families thanks to inheritance.

  • Usually, the sons and daughters of the upper classes attend the expensive, prestigious ‘public schools’ (which are private) like Harrow, Eton, or Rugby.

  • Then, if they’re clever enough, they go to Oxford or Cambridge.

  • Or find success through family, friends, networks

  • They may have favourite hobbies, which are not those of the rest of the population:

  • Fox-hunting, which they have tried to prevent being made illegal. Fox-hunting was banned in 2004.

  • Playing polo.

  • Going to Ascot for the races, etc.


Prince Charles playing polo

Gentlemen in the Royal Enclosure

The Queen at Royal Ascot Races

The upper class wedding

  • The working class

  • Traditionally, the working-class was defined by the fact that its members had manual jobs.

  • Over the past 30 or 40 years, manufacturing has lost a large number of workers, and now employs around 9% of the working population (under 3 million people).

  • Nowadays, the working-class also includes millions of office workers (white-collar workers), shop workers, workers in transport (bus and train drivers, train mechanics, etc.), as well a large number of people working in the services, in supermarkets, in hotels, in catering, in hospitals, for town councils etc.

  • Women are a majority in the working class.

  • Social services and poverty

  • Going to a doctor or a hospital is free in Britain, and has been since 1948, when the principle “free at the point of use” was established.

  • Governments since 1979

  • Have often cut social budgets (education, housing, health) as well as transforming social benefits (unemployment benefit, child benefit).

  • - For a few years at the beginning of the twenty first century, low unemployment allowed the government to spend more money on health and education than before.

  • In 2008, the European statistics say that a fifth of the British and a quarter of their children live below the European poverty line – among the highest rates in the European Union.

  • In 2010-11, 18% of children (2.3 million) lived in households classed as below the poverty line – a drop.

  • 2 million pensioners are poor, considerably more than in France

Pensioners demonstrate

  • The middle class

  • Nowadays, we often use the term “middle class”, not very scientifically, to include the members of the professions, the doctors, university lecturers, clerical workers, etc. – (non manual workers).

  • It’s so diversified that many of the members of the lower middle-class (e.g. clerks in a Post office or nurses in a hospital) are very close to the working-class.

  • Some members of the upper middle-class (e.g. a successful banker in the City of London) are very close to the upper class.

  • Life expectancy is several years longer if you are middle-class than if you are working class.

  • Access to education is not the same either – the number of working class children going to university has been falling, especially since the rise in tuition fees,

Housing in Britain today

More expensive housing

Housing for millionaires in Britain


The Confederation of British Industry organizes business owners

The FSB has 215,000 members in 230 branches.

  • – The British trade union movement

  • Between 1945 and 1979, Labour and Conservative governments alike included trade unionists in policy making as a matter of course.

  • In the 1970s major strikes

  • a miners’ strike in 1974 ; widespread strike action in the public sector in the winter of 1978-79.

TUC statistics, September 2011



1979-1997 Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major : difficult times for trade unionists

  • Since 1979, anti-union laws make it harder to strike (solidarity strikes illegal, many forms of picketing illegal, postal votes obligatory)

  • Throughout the 1980s, union membership declined rapidly : due to a combination of government hostility towards the unions and de-industrialisation.

  • The 1984-5 miners’ strike was a key defeat for the trade union movement.

  • A slow recovery may be seen after 1995.


  • 1997-2010 : the Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

  • Some reforms make union recognition easier.

  • If 40% of employees in a firm vote in favour, the employer must negotiate with the union

  • A minimum wage was introduced for the first time

  • BUT

  • The Labour government endorsed the concept of ‘labour flexibility’.

  • New Labour was keen to keep the unions at arm’s length.

Margaret Thatcher’s slogan had been « no more beer and sandwiches at number ten. »

Tony Blair’s slogan concerning the unions was « fairness but no favours ».

David Cameron warned union leaders

'Don't try taking me on'


2010-2011 Coalition government under David Cameron

2011 has seen some of the biggest public sector strikes for many years

On the 30th November 2011, there were millions of people on strike over pensions.

Another union banner

Trade unions deal with many different questions.

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