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The UK today

The UK today is a more diverse society than it was 100 years ago, in both ethnic and religious terms. Post-war immigration means that nearly 10% of the population has a parent or grandparent born outside the UK. The UK continues to be a multinational and multiracial society with a rich and varied culture. This section will tell you about the different parts of the UK and some of the important places. It will also explain some of the UK's traditions and customs and some of the popular activities that take place.

The nations of the UK

The UK is located in the north west of Europe. The longest distance on the mainland is from John O'Groats on the north coast of Scotland to Land's End in the south-west corner of England. It is about 870 miles (approximately 1,400 kilometres).

Most people live in towns and cities but much of Britain is still countryside. Many people continue to visit the countryside for holidays and for leisure activities such as walking, camping and fishing.

UK currency

The currency in the UK is the pound sterling (symbol £). There are 100 pence in a pound. The denominations (values) of currency are:

- coins: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2

- notes: £5, £10, £20, £50

Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own banknotes, which are valid everywhere in the UK. However, shops and businesses do not have to accept them.

Languages and dialects

There are many variations in language in the different parts of the UK. The English language has many accents and dialects. In Wales, many people speak Welsh - a completely different language from English - and it is taught in schools and universities. In Scotland, Gaelic (again, a different language) is spoken in some parts of the Highlands and islands, and in Northern Ireland some people speak Irish Gaelic.


The table below shows how the population of the UK has changed over time.

Population growth in the UK




Just over 4 million


5 million


8 million


20 million


40 million


50 million


57 million


Just under 60 million


Just over 62 million

Source: National Statistics

Population growth has been faster in more recent years. Migration into the UK and longer life expectancy have played a part in population growth.

The population is very unequally distributed over the four parts of the UK. England more or less consistently makes up 84% of the total population, Wales around 5%, Scotland just over 8%, and Northern Ireland less than 3%.

An ageing population

People in the UK are living longer than ever before. This is due to improved living standards and better health care. There are now a record number of people aged 85 and over. This has an impact on the cost of pensions and health care.

Ethnic diversity

The UK population is ethnically diverse and changing rapidly, especially in large cities such as London. It is not always easy to get an exact picture of the ethnic origin of all the population.

There are people in the UK with ethnic origins from all over the world. In surveys, the most common ethnic

description chosen is white, which includes people of European, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American descent. Other significant groups are those of Asian, black and mixed descent.

This text is taken from Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents, 3rd edition

Page 71

© Crown Copyright 2013


Task 1 - comprehension

Task 2 - importance sentences (1)

Life in the UK test - make sure you know

Before you take the Life in the UK test, check that you understand:

  • What languages, other than English, are spoken in particular parts of the UK
  • How the population of the UK has changed
  • That the UK is ethnically diverse
  • The currency of the UK



Think about another country you know well.

  • Is it ethnically and religiously diverse like the UK?
  • How many different languages do people speak there?
  • What is the currency?

Write in and let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

You can find out more about the Life in the UK test, and about applying for British Citizenship here: