SOS Children, which runs nearly 200 sos schools in the developing world, organised this selection. Sponsoring children helps children in the developing world to learn too.
|United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
|Anthem: " God Save the Queen"
and largest city
|Recognised regional languages||
|Ethnic groups ( 2001a)||
|Government||Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
|-||Monarch||Queen Elizabeth II|
|-||Prime Minister||David Cameron MP|
|-||Deputy Prime Minister||Nick Clegg MP|
|-||Upper house||House of Lords|
|-||Lower house||House of Commons|
|-||Acts of Union 1707||1 May 1707|
|-||Acts of Union 1800||1 January 1801|
|-||Anglo-Irish Treaty||12 April 1922|
|-||Total||243,610 km2 ( 80th)
94,060 sq mi
|-||2011 census||63,181,775 ( 22nd)|
|-||Density||255.6/km2 ( 51st)
|GDP ( PPP)||2012 estimate|
|-||Total||$2.316 trillion ( 8th)|
|GDP (nominal)||2012 estimate|
|-||Total||$2.434 trillion ( 6th)|
very high · 26th
|Currency||Pound sterling (
|Time zone||GMT ( UTC+0)|
|-||Summer ( DST)||BST ( UTC+1)|
|Date format||dd/mm/yyyy (AD)|
|Drives on the||left|
|ISO 3166 code||GB|
|a.||See also the 2001 UK ethnic groups list.|
|A second coat of arms is used in Scotland.|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) and Britain, is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. The country includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and north, the North Sea in the east, the English Channel in the south and the Irish Sea in the west.
The form of government is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. The capital city is London. It consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The latter three have devolved administrations, each with varying powers, based in their capital cities, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast respectively. Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man are Crown dependencies and are not part of the UK. The United Kingdom has fourteen British Overseas Territories. These are remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface and was the largest empire in history. British influence can still be observed in the prevalence of language, culture and legal systems in many of its former colonies.
The UK is a developed country and has the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and eighth-largest economy by purchasing power parity. It was the world's first industrialised country and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The UK is still referred to as a great power and retains considerable economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence internationally. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and its military expenditure ranks fourth in the world.
The UK has been a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since its first session in 1946. It has been a member of the European Union and its predecessor the European Economic Community since 1973. It is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, the G7, the G8, the G20, NATO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization.
Etymology and terminology
The 1707 Acts of Union declared that England and Scotland were "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain" though the new state is also referred to in the Acts as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The term United Kingdom is found in informal use during the 18th century and the country was occasionally referred to as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain".
The name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" was adopted in 1927 by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act. It reflected the reality of the independence of the Irish Free State, and the partitioning of Ireland in 1922, which left Northern Ireland as the only part of the island of Ireland still within the UK.
Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales and (more controversially) Northern Ireland are also regarded as 'countries', though not sovereign states. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved self-government. The British Prime Minister's website has used the phrase "countries within a country" to describe the United Kingdom. With regard to Northern Ireland, the descriptive name used "can be controversial, with the choice often revealing one's political preferences." Terms used for Northern Ireland include "region" and "province".
The term Britain is often used as a short form for the United Kingdom. The term Great Britain strictly only refers to the main island which includes England, Scotland and Wales. However, some foreign usage, particularly in the United States, uses Great Britain as a loose synonym for the United Kingdom. GB and GBR are the standard country codes for the United Kingdom (see ISO 3166-2 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-3) and are consequently commonly used by international organisations to refer to the United Kingdom. Also, the United Kingdom's Olympic team competes under the name "Great Britain" or "Team GB".
The adjective British is commonly used to refer to matters relating to the United Kingdom. The term has no definite legal connotation, however, it is used in law to refer to UK citizenship and matters to do with nationality. British people use a number of different terms to describe their national identity and may identify themselves as being British; or as being English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Irish; or as being both.
In 2006, a new design of British passport was introduced. Its first page shows the long form name of the state in English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. In Welsh, the long form name of the state is "Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a Gogledd Iwerddon" with "Teyrnas Unedig" being used as a short form name on government websites. In Scottish Gaelic, the long form is "Rìoghachd Aonaichte na Breatainne Mòire is Èireann a Tuath" and the short form "Rìoghachd Aonaichte".
Settlement by anatomically modern humans of what was to become the United Kingdom occurred in waves beginning by about 30,000 years ago. By the end of the region's prehistoric period, the population is thought to have belonged, in the main, to a culture termed Insular Celtic, comprising Brythonic Britain and Gaelic Ireland. The Roman conquest, beginning in 43 AD, and the 400-year rule of southern Britain, was followed by an invasion by Germanic Anglo-Saxon settlers, reducing the Brythonic area mainly to what was to become Wales. Most of the region settled by the Anglo-Saxons became unified as the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Meanwhile, Gaelic-speakers in north west Britain (with connections to the north-east of Ireland and traditionally supposed to have migrated from there in the 5th century) united with the Picts to create the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century.
In 1066, the Normans invaded England and after its conquest, seized large parts of Wales, conquered much of Ireland and settled in Scotland bringing to each country feudalism on the Northern French model and Norman-French culture. The Norman elites greatly influenced, but eventually assimilated with, each of the local cultures. Subsequent medieval English kings completed the conquest of Wales and made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to annex Scotland. Thereafter, Scotland maintained its independence, albeit in near-constant conflict with England. The English monarchs, through inheritance of substantial territories in France and claims to the French crown, were also heavily involved in conflicts in France, most notably the Hundred Years War.
The early modern period saw religious conflict resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches in each country. Wales was fully incorporated into the Kingdom of England, and Ireland was constituted as a kingdom in personal union with the English crown. In what was to become Northern Ireland, the lands of the independent Catholic Gaelic nobility were confiscated and given to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland. In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland were united in a personal union when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London; each country nevertheless remained a separate political entity and retained its separate political institutions. In the mid-17th century, all three kingdoms were involved in a series of connected wars (including the English Civil War) which led to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the short-lived unitary republic of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. Although the monarchy was restored, it ensured (with the Glorious Revolution of 1688) that, unlike much of the rest of Europe, royal absolutism would not prevail. The British constitution would develop on the basis of constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary system. During this period, particularly in England, the development of naval power (and the interest in voyages of discovery) led to the acquisition and settlement of overseas colonies, particularly in North America.
Since the Acts of Union of 1707
The unified kingdom of Great Britain came into being on 1 May 1707, the result of Acts of Union being passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland to ratify the 1706 Treaty of Union and so unite the two kingdoms.
In the 18th century, cabinet government developed under Robert Walpole, in practice the first prime minister (1721-1742). A series of Jacobite Rebellions sought to remove the House of Hanover from the British throne and restore the House of Stuart. They were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which the Scottish Highlanders were brutally suppressed. The British colonies in North America that broke away from Britain in the American War of Independence became the USA. British imperial ambition turned elsewhere, particularly to India. During the 18th century, Britain was involved in the Atlantic slave trade. Britain transported an estimated 2 million slaves from Africa to the West Indies before banning the trade in 1807. The term 'United Kingdom' became official in 1801 when the parliaments of Britain and Ireland each passed an Act of Union, uniting the two kingdoms and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In the early 19th century, the British-led Industrial Revolution began to transform the country. It slowly led to a shift in political power away from the old landowning Tory elites to the new industrialists. The alliance of merchants and industrialists with the Whigs would lead to a new party, the Liberal Party (UK), with an ideology of free trade and laissez-faire. In 1832 they passed the Great Reform Act which began the transfer of political power from the aristocracy to the middle classes. In the countryside, enclosure of the land was driving small farmers out. Towns and cities began to swell with a new urban working class. Ordinary workers had no vote and created their own organisations in the form of trade unions. The Chartists campaigned for political reform without success.
After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), the UK emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830). Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica. By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Britain was described as the "workshop of the world". The British Empire was expanded to include India, large parts of Africa, and many other territories throughout the world. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain's dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam. Domestically, there was an increasing shift to free trade and laissez-faire policies and a gradual widening of the voting franchise. The country experienced a huge population increase during the century, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, causing significant social and economic stresses. After 1875, the UK's industrial monopoly was challenged by Germany and the USA. To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservative Party (UK) under Disraeli launched a period of imperialist expansion in Egypt, South Africa and elsewhere. Canada, Australia and New Zealand became self-governing dominions.
Social reform and home rule for Ireland were important domestic issues after 1900. The Labour Party (UK) emerged from an alliance of trade unions and small Socialist groups in 1900 and suffragettes campaigned for women's right to vote before 1914.
The UK fought with France, Russia and (after 1917) the US, against Germany and its allies in the First World War (1914–18). The UK armed forces were engaged across much of the British Empire and in several regions of Europe, particularly on the Western front. After the war, the UK received the League of Nations mandate over a number of former German and Ottoman colonies, and the British Empire had reached its greatest extent, covering a fifth of the world's land surface and a quarter of its population. However, the UK had suffered some two and a half million casualties and finished the war with a huge national debt. The rise of Irish Nationalism and disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921, and the Irish Free State became independent with Dominion status in 1922. Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. A wave of strikes in the mid-1920s culminated in the UK General Strike of 1926. The UK had still not recovered from the effects of the war when the Great Depression (1929–32) occurred. This led to considerable unemployment and hardship in the old industrial areas as well as political and social unrest in the 1930s. A coalition government was formed in 1931.
The UK entered World War II by declaring war on Germany in 1939. In 1940, Winston Churchill became prime minister and head of a coalition government. Despite the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the UK continued the fight alone against Germany. In 1940, the RAF defeated the German Luftwaffe in a struggle for control of the skies in the Battle of Britain. The UK nevertheless sustained heavy bombing during the Blitz. There were also eventual hard-fought victories in the Battle of the Atlantic, the North Africa campaign and Burma campaign. UK forces played an important role in the Normandy landings of 1944. After Germany's defeat, the UK was one of the Big Three powers that met to plan the post-war world and was an original signatory to the Declaration of the United Nations. The UK became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. However, the war left the UK severely weakened and depending financially on Marshall Aid and loans from the United States.
In the immediate post-war years, the Labour government initiated a radical programme of reforms, which had a significant impact on British society in the following decades. Major industries and public utilities were nationalised, a Welfare State was established, and a comprehensive publicly funded healthcare system, the National Health Service, was created. The rise of nationalism in the colonies coincided with Britain's now much-diminished economic position, so that a policy of decolonisation was unavoidable. Independence was granted to India and Pakistan in 1947. Over the next three decades, most colonies of the British Empire gained their independence. Many became members of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Although the UK was the third country to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal (with its first atomic bomb test in 1952), the new post-war limits of Britain's international role were illustrated by the Suez Crisis of 1956. The international spread of the English language ensured the continuing international influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture was also influential abroad. As a result of a shortage of workers in the 1950s, the UK government encouraged immigration from Commonwealth countries. In the following decades, the UK became a multi-ethnic society. Despite rising living standards in the late 1950s and 1960s, the UK's economic performance was not as successful as many of its competitors, such as West Germany and Japan. In 1973, the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC), and when the EEC became the European Union (EU) in 1992, it was one of the 12 founding members.
From the late 1960s Northern Ireland suffered communal and paramilitary violence (sometimes affecting other parts of the UK) conventionally known as the Troubles. It is usually considered to have ended with the Belfast "Good Friday" Agreement of 1998.
Following a period of widespread economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the Conservative Government of the 1980s initiated a radical policy of monetarism, deregulation, particularly of the financial sector (for example, Big Bang in 1986) and labour markets, the sale of state-owned companies ( privatisation), and the withdrawal of subsidies to others. This resulted in high unemployment and social unrest, but ultimately also economic growth, particularly in the services sector. From 1984, the economy was helped by the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues.
Around the end of the 20th century there were major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The statutory incorporation followed acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK is still a key global player diplomatically and militarily. It plays leading roles in the EU, UN and NATO. However, controversy surrounds some of Britain's overseas military deployments, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2013, the UK is striving to recover from a slump that followed the 2008 global financial crisis. A coalition government has introduced austerity measures which aim to tackle a large budget deficit.
The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi). The country occupies the major part of the British Isles archipelago and includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland and some smaller surrounding islands. It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with the south-east coast coming within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. As of 1993 10% of the UK was forested, 46% used for pastures and 25% used for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.
The United Kingdom lies between latitudes 49° to 61° N, and longitudes 9° W to 2° E. Northern Ireland shares a 360-kilometre (224 mi) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The coastline of Great Britain is 17,820 kilometres (11,073 mi) long. It is connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which at 50 kilometres (31 mi) (38 kilometres (24 mi) underwater) is the longest underwater tunnel in the world.
England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,395 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi). Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with mountainous terrain north-west of the Tees-Exe line; including the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District, the Pennines and limestone hills of the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (978 metres (3,209 ft)) in the Lake District. Its principal rivers are the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon, Exe and Mersey.
Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi) and including nearly eight hundred islands, predominantly west and north of the mainland; notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The topography of Scotland is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault—a geological rock fracture—which traverses Scotland from Arran in the west to Stonehaven in the east. The faultline separates two distinctively different regions; namely the Highlands to the north and west and the lowlands to the south and east. The more rugged Highland region contains the majority of Scotland's mountainous land, including Ben Nevis which at 1,343 metres (4,406 ft) is the highest point in the British Isles. Lowland areas, especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt, are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Edinburgh, its capital and political centre.
Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering 20,779 square kilometres (8,020 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and include Snowdon ( Welsh: Yr Wyddfa) which, at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft), is the highest peak in Wales. The 14, or possibly 15, Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales has over 1,200 kilometres (746 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.
Northern Ireland accounts for just 14,160 square kilometres (5,470 sq mi) and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh which, at 388 square kilometres (150 sq mi), is the largest lake in the British Isles by area. The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains at 852 metres (2,795 ft).
The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round. The temperature varies with the seasons seldom dropping below −11 °C (12 °F) or rising above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the south-west and bears frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean, although the eastern parts are mostly sheltered from this wind—as the majority of the rain falls over the western regions the eastern parts are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters; especially in the west where winters are wet and even more so over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south-east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Heavy snowfall can occur in winter and early spring on high ground, and occasionally settles to great depth away from the hills.
Each country of the United Kingdom has its own system of administrative and geographic demarcation, whose origins often pre-date the formation of the United Kingdom. Thus there is "no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom". Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but there has since been a constant evolution of role and function. Change did not occur in a uniform manner and the devolution of power over local government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland means that future changes are unlikely to be uniform either.
The organisation of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is the responsibility of the UK parliament and the Government of the United Kingdom, as England has no devolved parliament. The upper-tier subdivisions of England are the nine Government office regions or European Union government office regions. One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum. It was intended that other regions would also be given their own elected regional assemblies, but a proposed assembly in the North East region was rejected by a referendum in 2004. Below the regional tier, some parts of England have county councils and district councils and others have unitary authorities; while London consists of 32 London boroughs and the City of London. Councillors are elected by the first-past-the-post system in single-member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.
For local government purposes, Scotland is divided into 32 council areas, with wide variation in both size and population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are separate council areas, as is the Highland Council which includes a third of Scotland's area but only just over 200,000 people. Local councils are made up of elected councillors, of whom there are currently 1,222; they are paid a part-time salary. Elections are conducted by single transferable vote in multi-member wards that elect either three or four councillors. Each council elects a Provost, or Convenor, to chair meetings of the council and to act as a figurehead for the area. Councillors are subject to a code of conduct enforced by the Standards Commission for Scotland. The representative association of Scotland's local authorities is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).
Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities. These include the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport which are unitary authorities in their own right. Elections are held every four years under the first-past-the-post system. The most recent elections were held in May 2012, except for the Isle of Anglesey. The Welsh Local Government Association represents the interests of local authorities in Wales.
Local government in Northern Ireland has since 1973 been organised into 26 district councils, each elected by single transferable vote. Their powers are limited to services such as collecting waste, controlling dogs, and maintaining parks and cemeteries. On 13 March 2008 the executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils and replace the present system. The next local elections were postponed until 2011 to facilitate this.
The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen territories which do not form part of the United Kingdom itself: fourteen British Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies.
The fourteen British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. British claims in Antarctica are not universally recognised. Collectively Britain's overseas territories encompass an approximate land area of 667,018 square miles (1,727,570 km2) and a population of approximately 260,000 people. They are the remnants of the British Empire and several have specifically voted to remain British territories (Bermuda in 1995, Gibraltar in 2002 and the Falkland Islands in 2013).
The Crown Dependencies are British possessions of the Crown, as opposed to overseas territories of the UK. They comprise the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey in the English Channel and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Being independently administered jurisdictions they do not form part of the United Kingdom or of the European Union, although the UK government manages their foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf. The power to pass legislation affecting the islands ultimately rests with their own respective legislative assemblies, with the assent of the Crown (Privy Council or, in the case of the Isle of Man, in certain circumstances the Lieutenant-Governor). Since 2005 each Crown dependency has had a Chief Minister as its head of government.
The United Kingdom is a unitary state under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other independent Commonwealth countries. The monarch has "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn". The United Kingdom is one of only four countries in the world to have an uncodified constitution. The Constitution of the United Kingdom thus consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law and international treaties, together with constitutional conventions. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and "constitutional law" the UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the political power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.
The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world—a legacy of the British Empire. The parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Palace of Westminster has two houses; an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords. All bills passed are given Royal Assent before becoming law.
The position of prime minister, the UK's head of government, belongs to the member of parliament who can obtain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, usually the leader of the largest political party in that chamber. The prime minister chooses a cabinet and they are formally appointed by the monarch to form Her Majesty's Government. By convention, the Queen respects the prime minister's decisions of government.
The cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the Prime Minister's party in both legislative houses, and mostly from the House of Commons, to which they are responsible. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister and cabinet, all of whom are sworn into the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, and become Ministers of the Crown. The Rt. Hon. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, heads a coalition with the UK's third party, the Liberal Democrats. Cameron has been Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service since 11 May 2010. For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 650 constituencies with each electing a single member of parliament by simple plurality. General elections are called by the monarch when the prime minister so advises. The Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 require that a new election must be called no later than five years after the previous general election.
The UK's three major political parties are the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. During the 2010 general election these three parties won 622 out of 650 seats available in the House of Commons. Most of the remaining seats were won by parties that only contest elections in one part of the UK: the Scottish National Party (Scotland only); Plaid Cymru (Wales only); and the Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only, though Sinn Féin also contests elections in the Republic of Ireland). In accordance with party policy, no elected Sinn Féin member of parliament has ever attended the House of Commons to speak on behalf of their constituents because of the requirement to take an oath of allegiance to the monarch. The current five Sinn Féin MPs have, however, made use of offices and other facilities available at Westminster. For elections to the European Parliament the UK currently has 72 MEPs, elected in 12 multi-member constituencies.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own devolved government or executive, led by a First Minister (or, in the case of Northern Ireland, a diarchal First Minister and deputy First Minister), and a devolved unicameral legislature. However, England, the largest country of the United Kingdom, has no such devolved executive or legislature and is administered and legislated for directly by the UK government and parliament on all issues. This situation has given rise to the so-called West Lothian question which concerns the fact that MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can vote, sometimes decisively, on matters that only affect England.
The Scottish Government and Parliament have wide-ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically 'reserved' to the UK parliament, including education, healthcare, Scots law and local government. At the 2011 elections the SNP won re-election and achieved an overall majority in the Scottish parliament, with its leader, Alex Salmond, as First Minister of Scotland. In 2012, the UK and Scottish governments signed the Edinburgh Agreement setting out the terms for a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.
The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland. The Assembly is able to legislate on devolved matters through Acts of the Assembly, which require no prior consent from Westminster. The 2011 elections resulted in a minority Labour administration led by Carwyn Jones.
The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers similar to those already devolved to Scotland. The Executive is led by a diarchy representing unionist and nationalist members of the Assembly. Currently, Peter Robinson ( Democratic Unionist Party) and Martin McGuinness ( Sinn Féin) are First Minister and deputy First Minister respectively.
The UK does not have a codified constitution and constitutional matters are not among the powers devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Under the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty, the UK Parliament could, in theory, therefore, abolish the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly. Indeed, in 1972, the UK Parliament unilaterally prorogued the Parliament of Northern Ireland, setting a precedent relevant to contemporary devolved institutions. In practice, it would be highly unlikely that the UK Parliament would ever abolish devolution, given the political constraints created by referendum decisions. The political constraints placed upon the UK Parliament's power to interfere with devolution in Northern Ireland are even greater than in relation to Scotland and Wales, given that devolution in Northern Ireland rests upon an international agreement with the Government of Ireland.
Law and criminal justice
The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system, as Article 19 of the 1706 Treaty of Union provided for the continuation of Scotland's separate legal system. Today the UK has three distinct systems of law: English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. A new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into being in October 2009 to replace the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, including the same members as the Supreme Court, is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the British Overseas Territories, and the Crown Dependencies.
Both English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law principles. The essence of common law is that, subject to statute, the law is developed by judges in courts, applying statute, precedent and common sense to the facts before them to give explanatory judgements of the relevant legal principles, which are reported and binding in future similar cases ( stare decisis). The courts of England and Wales are headed by the Senior Courts of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice (for civil cases) and the Crown Court (for criminal cases). The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land for both criminal and civil appeal cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and any decision it makes is binding on every other court in the same jurisdiction, often having a persuasive effect in other jurisdictions.
Scots law is a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles. The chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law. Sheriff courts deal with most civil and criminal cases including conducting criminal trials with a jury, known as sheriff solemn court, or with a sheriff and no jury, known as sheriff summary Court. The Scots legal system is unique in having three possible verdicts for a criminal trial: " guilty", " not guilty" and " not proven". Both "not guilty" and "not proven" result in an acquittal with no possibility of retrial.
Crime in England and Wales increased in the period between 1981 and 1995, though since that peak there has been an overall fall of 48% in crime from 1995 to 2007/08, according to crime statistics. The prison population of England and Wales has almost doubled over the same period, to over 80,000, giving England and Wales the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe at 147 per 100,000. Her Majesty's Prison Service, which reports to the Ministry of Justice, manages most of the prisons within England and Wales. Crime in Scotland fell to its lowest recorded level for 32 years in 2009/10, falling by ten percent. At the same time Scotland's prison population, at over 8,000, is at record levels and well above design capacity. The Scottish Prison Service, which reports to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, manages Scotland's prisons. In 2006 a report by the Surveillance Studies Network found that the UK had the highest level of mass surveillance among industrialised western nations.
The UK is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of NATO, the Commonwealth of Nations, G7, G8, G20, the OECD, the WTO, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and is a member state of the European Union. The UK is said to have a " Special Relationship" with the United States and a close partnership with France—the " Entente cordiale"—and shares nuclear weapons technology with both countries. The UK is also closely linked with the Republic of Ireland; the two countries share a Common Travel Area. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, foreign investments, official development assistance and military engagements.
The armed forces of the UK are also sometimes known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces or the Armed Forces of the Crown. They consist of three professional service branches: the Naval Service (including the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary), the British Army, and the Royal Air Force. The forces are managed by the Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence. The Commander-in-Chief is the British monarch, Elizabeth II, to whom members of the forces swear an oath of allegiance.
According to various sources, including the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the Ministry of Defence, the United Kingdom has the fourth-highest military expenditure in the world. Total defence spending currently accounts for around 2.3 – 2.6% of total national GDP.
The Armed Forces are charged with protecting the UK and its overseas territories, promoting the UK's global security interests and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in NATO, including the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, as well as the Five Power Defence Arrangements, RIMPAC and other worldwide coalition operations. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained in Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya and Qatar.
The Royal Navy is a prominent blue-water navy, currently one of only three world wide, with the French Navy and the United States Navy being the other two. As well as being responsible for delivering the UK's Nuclear Deterrent via the UK Trident programme and four Vanguard class submarines, the Royal Navy operates a large operational fleet of ships, including an aircraft carrier, a helicopter carrier, landing platform docks, nuclear fleet submarines, guided missile destroyers, frigates, mine-countermeasure vessels and patrol vessels. In the near future two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will enter service in the Royal Navy. The United Kingdom Special Forces, such as the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, provide troops trained for quick, mobile, military responses in counter-terrorism, land, maritime and amphibious operations, often where secrecy or covert tactics are required.
Historically, the British armed forces played a key role in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power in the 19th century. British forces have seen action in a number of major wars, such as the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, World War I and World War II—as well as many colonial conflicts. Through its military strength, Britain has often been able to decisively influence world events. Since the end of the British Empire, the UK has nonetheless remained a major military power. The British military is among the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the world. Recent defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" will be undertaken as part of a coalition. Setting aside the intervention in Sierra Leone, recent UK military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Libya, have followed this approach. The last time the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982.
The UK has a partially regulated market economy. Based on market exchange rates the UK is today the sixth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France, having fallen behind France for the first time in over a decade in 2008. HM Treasury, led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is responsible for developing and executing the British government's public finance policy and economic policy. The Bank of England is the UK's central bank and is responsible for issuing the nation's currency, the pound sterling. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover their issue. Pound sterling is the world's third-largest reserve currency (after the U.S. Dollar and the Euro). Since 1997 the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.
The UK service sector makes up around 73% of GDP. London is one of the three "command centres" of the global economy (alongside New York City and Tokyo), is the world's largest financial centre alongside New York, and has the largest city GDP in Europe. Edinburgh is also one of the largest financial centres in Europe. Tourism is very important to the British economy and, with over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world and London has the most international visitors of any city in the world. The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.
The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on the textile industry, followed by other heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, and steelmaking. The empire was exploited as an overseas market for British products, allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. As other nations industrialised, coupled with economic decline after two world wars, the United Kingdom began to lose its competitive advantage and heavy industry declined, by degrees, throughout the 20th century. Manufacturing remains a significant part of the economy but accounted for only 16.7% of national output in 2003.
The automotive industry is a significant part of the UK manufacturing sector and employs over 800,000 people, with a turnover of some £52 billion, generating £26.6 billion of exports. The aerospace industry of the UK is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry depending upon the method of measurement and has an annual turnover of around £20 billion. The pharmaceutical industry plays an important role in the UK economy and the country has the third highest share of global pharmaceutical R&D expenditures (after the United States and Japan).
Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanised and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with less than 1.6% of the labour force (535,000 workers). Around two-thirds of production is devoted to livestock, one-third to arable crops. Farmers are subsidised by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. The UK retains a significant, though much reduced fishing industry. It is also rich in a number of natural resources including coal, petroleum, natural gas, tin, limestone, iron ore, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, lead, silica and an abundance of arable land.
In the final quarter of 2008 the UK economy officially entered recession for the first time since 1991. Unemployment increased from 5.2% in May 2008 to 7.6% in May 2009 and by January 2012 the unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds had risen from 11.9% to 22.5%, the highest since current records began in 1992. Total UK government debt rose from 44.4% of GDP in 2007 to 82.9% of GDP in 2011. In February 2013, the UK lost its top AAA credit rating for first time since 1978.
The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income. In 2007–2008 13.5 million people, or 22% of the population, lived below this line. This is a higher level of relative poverty than all but four other EU members. In the same year 4.0 million children, 31% of the total, lived in households below the poverty line after housing costs were taken into account. This is a decrease of 400,000 children since 1998–1999. The UK imports 40% of its food supplies.
Science and technology
England and Scotland were leading centres of the Scientific Revolution from the 17th century and the United Kingdom led the Industrial Revolution from the 18th century, and has continued to produce scientists and engineers credited with important advances. Major theorists from the 17th and 18th centuries include Isaac Newton, whose laws of motion and illumination of gravity have been seen as a keystone of modern science, from the 19th century Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution by natural selection was fundamental to the development of modern biology, and James Clerk Maxwell, who formulated classical electromagnetic theory, and more recently Stephen Hawking, who has advanced major theories in the fields of cosmology, quantum gravity and the investigation of black holes. Major scientific discoveries from the 18th century include hydrogen by Henry Cavendish, from the 20th century penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and the structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others. Major engineering projects and applications by people from the UK in the 18th century include the steam locomotive, developed by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian, from the 19th century the electric motor by Michael Faraday, the incandescent light bulb by Joseph Swan, and the first practical telephone, patented by Alexander Graham Bell, and in the 20th century the world's first working television system by John Logie Baird and others, the jet engine by Frank Whittle, the basis of the modern computer by Alan Turing, and the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. Scientific research and development remains important in British universities, with many establishing science parks to facilitate production and co-operation with industry. Between 2004 and 2008 the UK produced 7% of the world's scientific research papers and had an 8% share of scientific citations, the third and second highest in the world (after the United States and China, and the United States, respectively). Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.
A radial road network totals 29,145 miles (46,904 km) of main roads, 2,173 miles (3,497 km) of motorways and 213,750 miles (344,000 km) of paved roads. In 2009 there were a total of 34 million licensed vehicles in Great Britain.
The UK has a railway network of 10,072 miles (16,116 km) in Great Britain and 189 miles (303 km) in Northern Ireland. Railways in Northern Ireland are operated by NI Railways, a subsidiary of state-owned Translink. In Great Britain, the British Rail network was privatised between 1994 and 1997. Network Rail owns and manages most of the fixed assets (tracks, signals etc.). About 20 privately owned Train Operating Companies (including state owned East Coast), operate passenger trains and carry over 18,000 passenger trains daily. There are also some 1,000 freight trains in daily operation. The UK government is to spend £30 billion on a new high-speed railway line, HS2, to be operational by 2025.
In the year from October 2009 to September 2010 UK airports handled a total of 211.4 million passengers. In that period the three largest airports were London Heathrow Airport (65.6 million passengers), Gatwick Airport (31.5 million passengers) and London Stansted Airport (18.9 million passengers). London Heathrow Airport, located 15 miles (24 km) west of the capital, has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world and is the hub for the UK flag carrier British Airways, as well as BMI and Virgin Atlantic.
In 2006 the UK was the world's ninth-largest consumer of energy and the 15th largest producer. The UK is home to a number of large energy companies, including two of the six oil and gas " supermajors" – BP and Royal Dutch Shell – and BG Group. In 2011, 40% of the UK's electricity was produced by gas, 30% by coal, 19% by nuclear power and 4.2% by wind, hydro, biofuels and wastes.
In 2009 the UK produced 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of oil and consumed 1.7 million bbl/d. Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of oil since 2005. As of 2010 the UK has around 3.1 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves, the largest of any EU member state. In 2009, 66.5% of the UK's oil supply was imported.
In 2009 the UK was the 13th largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer in the EU. Production is now in decline and the UK has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004. In 2009, half of British gas was supplied from imports and this is expected to increase to at least 75% by 2015, as domestic reserves are depleted.
Coal production played a key role in the UK economy in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the mid-1970s, 130 million tonnes of coal was being produced annually, not falling below 100 million tonnes until the early 1980s. During the 1980s and 1990s the industry was scaled back considerably. In 2011, the UK produced 18.3 million tonnes of coal. In 2005 it had proven recoverable coal reserves of 171 million tons. The UK Coal Authority has stated there is a potential to produce between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes of coal through underground coal gasification (UCG) or ' fraking', and that, based on current UK coal consumption, such reserves could last between 200 and 400 years. However, environmental and social concerns have been raised over chemicals getting into the water table and minor earthquakes damaging homes.
In the late 1990s, nuclear power plants contributed around 25% of total annual electricity generation in the UK, but this has gradually declined as old plants have been shut down and ageing-related problems affect plant availability. In 2012, the UK had 16 reactors normally generating about 19% of its electricity. All but one of the reactors will be retired by 2023. Unlike Germany and Japan, the UK intends to build a new generation of nuclear plants from about 2018.
A census is taken simultaneously in all parts of the UK every ten years. The Office for National Statistics is responsible for collecting data for England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency each being responsible for censuses in their respective countries. In the 2011 census the total population of the United Kingdom was 63,181,775. It is the third largest in the European Union, the fifth largest in the Commonwealth and the twenty-first largest in the world. 2010 was the third successive year in which natural change contributed more to population growth than net long-term international migration. Between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by an average annual rate of approximately 0.7 per cent. This compares to 0.3 per cent per year in the period 1991 to 2001 and 0.2 per cent in the decade 1981 to 1991. The 2011 census also confirmed that the proportion of the population aged 0–14 has nearly halved (31 per cent in 1911 compared to 18 in 2011) and the proportion of older people aged 65 and over has more than trebled (from 5 to 16 per cent). It has been estimated that the number of people aged 100 or over will rise steeply to reach over 626,000 by 2080.
England's population in 2011 was found to be 53 million. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 383 people resident per square kilometre in mid-2003, with a particular concentration in London and the south-east. The 2011 census put Scotland's population at 5.3 million, Wales at 3.06 million and Northern Ireland at 1.81 million. In percentage terms England has had the fastest growing population of any country of the UK in the period from 2001 to 2011, with an increase of 7.9%.
In 2009 the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.94 children per woman. While a rising birth rate is contributing to current population growth, it remains considerably below the 'baby boom' peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1964, below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63. In 2010, Scotland had the lowest TFR at only 1.75, followed by Wales at 1.98, England at 2.00, and Northern Ireland at 2.06. A government figure estimated that there are 3.6 million gays in Britain comprising 6 percent of the population.
| Largest urban areas of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom Mid-2010 Urban Area Estimates
|Rank||Urban area||Pop.||Principal settlement||Rank||Urban area||Pop.||Principal settlement|
Greater London Urban Area
|1||Greater London Urban Area||8,979,158||London||11||Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area||579,236||Belfast||
West Midlands Urban Area
|2||Greater Manchester Urban Area||2,362,849||Manchester||12||Edinburgh||491,360||Edinburgh|
|3||West Midlands Urban Area||2,362,065||Birmingham||13||Brighton/Worthing/Littlehampton||484,235||Brighton|
|4||West Yorkshire Urban Area||1,616,608||Leeds||14||Leicester Urban Area||467,516||Leicester|
|5||Greater Glasgow||1,195,200||Glasgow||15||Portsmouth Urban Area||463,911||Portsmouth|
|6||Tyneside||908,446||Newcastle||16||South East Dorset conurbation||395,020||Bournemouth|
|7||Liverpool Urban Area||805,578||Liverpool||17||Reading/Wokingham Urban Area||390,214||Reading|
|8||Nottingham Urban Area||714,353||Nottingham||18||Teesside||373,260||Middlesbrough|
|9||Sheffield Urban Area||678,577||Sheffield||19||The Potteries Urban Area||358,498||Stoke-on-Trent|
|10||Bristol Urban Area||626,086||Bristol||20||Cardiff Urban Area||355,585||Cardiff|
|Ethnic group||Population||% of total*|
|Other Asian (non-Chinese)||247,644||0.4%|
|* Percentage of total UK population, according to the 2001 Census|
Historically, indigenous British people were thought to be descended from the various ethnic groups that settled there before the 11th century: the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse and the Normans. Welsh people could be the oldest ethnic group in the UK. Recent genetic studies have shown that more than 50 percent of England's gene pool contains Germanic Y chromosomes, though other recent genetic analysis indicates that "about 75 per cent of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population had arrived in the British isles by about 6,200 years ago, at the start of the British Neolithic or Stone Age", and that the British broadly share a common ancestry with the Basque people.
The UK has a history of small-scale non-white immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest Black population in the country dating back to at least the 1730s, and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the 19th century. In 1950 there were probably fewer than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain, almost all born overseas.
Since 1945 substantial immigration from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia has been a legacy of ties forged by the British Empire. Migration from new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe since 2004 has resulted in growth in these population groups but, as of 2008, the trend is reversing and many of these migrants are returning home, leaving the size of these groups unknown. As of 2001, 92.1% of the population identified themselves as White, leaving 7.9% of the UK population identifying themselves as mixed race or of an ethnic minority.
Ethnic diversity varies significantly across the UK. 30.4% of London's population and 37.4% of Leicester's was estimated to be non-white as of June 2005, whereas less than 5% of the populations of North East England, Wales and the South West were from ethnic minorities according to the 2001 census. As of 2011, 26.5% of primary and 22.2% of secondary pupils at state schools in England are members of an ethnic minority.
In 2009, official estimates have shown that the non-white British population of England and Wales has increased by 38% from 6.6 million in 2001 to 9.1 million in 2009. The fastest growing group is the mixed-race population that doubled from 672,000 in 2001 to 986,600 in 2009. Also in the same period, a decrease of 36,000 white British people was recorded.
The UK's de facto official language is English. It is estimated that 95% of the UK's population are monolingual English speakers. 5.5% of the population are estimated to speak languages brought to the UK as a result of relatively recent immigration. South Asian languages, including Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati, are the largest grouping and are spoken by 2.7% of the UK population. According to the 2011 census, Polish has become the second largest language spoken in England and has 546,000 speakers.
Four Celtic languages are spoken in the UK: Welsh; Irish; Scottish Gaelic; and Cornish. The first three are recognised as regional or minority languages, subject to specific measures of protection and promotion under relevant European law. Cornish, although recognised, is not specifically protected. In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh, an increase from the 1991 Census (18%). In addition it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England. In the same census in Northern Ireland 167,487 people (10.4%) stated that they had "some knowledge of Irish" (see Irish language in Northern Ireland), almost exclusively in the nationalist (mainly Catholic) population. Over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under 2% of the population) had some Gaelic language ability, including 72% of those living in the Outer Hebrides. The number of schoolchildren being taught through Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish is increasing. Among emigrant-descended populations some Scottish Gaelic is still spoken in Canada (principally Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island), and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.
Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, has limited recognition alongside its regional variant, Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland, without specific commitments to protection and promotion.
It is compulsory for pupils to study a second language up to the age of 14 in England, and up to age 16 in Scotland. French and German are the two most commonly taught second languages in England and Scotland. In Wales, all pupils up to age 16 are taught Welsh as a second language, or taught in Welsh.
Forms of Christianity have dominated religious life in what is now the United Kingdom for over 1,400 years. Although a majority of citizens still identify with Christianity in many surveys, regular church attendance has fallen dramatically since the middle of the 20th century, while immigration and demographic change have contributed to the growth of other faiths, most notably Islam. This has led some commentators to variously describe the UK as a multi-faith, secularised, or post-Christian society.
In the 2001 census 71.6% of all respondents indicated that they were Christians, with the next largest faiths (by number of adherents) being Islam (2.8%), Hinduism (1.0%), Sikhism (0.6%), Judaism (0.5%), Buddhism (0.3%) and all other religions (0.3%). 15% of respondents stated that they had no religion, with a further 7% not stating a religious preference. A Tearfund survey in 2007 showed only one in ten Britons actually attend church weekly.
The Church of England is the established church in England. It retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is its Supreme Governor. In Scotland the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is recognised as the national church. It is not subject to state control, and the British monarch is an ordinary member, required to swear an oath to "maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government" upon his or her accession. The (Anglican) Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 and, as the (Anglican) Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1870 before the partition of Ireland, there is no established church in Northern Ireland. Although there are no UK-wide data in the 2001 census on adherence to individual Christian denominations, it has been estimated that 62% of Christians are Anglican, 13.5% Catholic, 6% Presbyterian, 3.4% Methodist with small numbers of other Protestant denominations such as Open Brethren, and Orthodox churches.
The United Kingdom has experienced successive waves of migration. The Great Famine in Ireland resulted in perhaps a million people migrating to the UK. Over 120,000 Polish veterans settled in Britain after World War II, unable to return home. After World War II, there was significant immigration from the colonies and newly independent former colonies, partly as a legacy of empire and partly driven by labour shortages. Many of these migrants came from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent.
One of the more recent trends in migration has been the arrival of workers from the new EU member states in Eastern Europe. In 2010, there were 7.0 million foreign-born residents in the UK, corresponding to 11.3% of the total population. Of these, 4.76 million (7.7%) were born outside the EU and 2.24 million (3.6%) were born in another EU Member State. The proportion of foreign-born people in the UK remains slightly below that of many other European countries. However, immigration is now contributing to a rising population with arrivals and UK-born children of migrants accounting for about half of the population increase between 1991 and 2001. Analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that a net total of 2.3 million migrants moved to the UK in the 15 years from 1991 to 2006. In 2008 it was predicted that migration would add 7 million to the UK population by 2031, though these figures are disputed. The ONS reported that net migration rose from 2009 to 2010 by 21 percent to 239,000. In 2011 the net increase was 251,000: immigration was 589,000, while the number of people emigrating (for more than 12 months) was 338,000.
195,046 foreign nationals became British citizens in 2010, compared to 54,902 in 1999. A record 241,192 people were granted permanent settlement rights in 2010, of whom 51 per cent were from Asia and 27 per cent from Africa. 25.5 per cent of babies born in England and Wales in 2011 were born to mothers born outside the UK, according to official statistics released in 2012.
Citizens of the European Union, including those of the UK, have the right to live and work in any EU member state. The UK applied temporary restrictions to citizens of Romania and Bulgaria which joined the EU in January 2007. Research conducted by the Migration Policy Institute for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that, between May 2004 and September 2009, 1.5 million workers migrated from the new EU member states to the UK, two-thirds of them Polish, but that many subsequently returned home, resulting in a net increase in the number of nationals of the new member states in the UK of some 700,000 over that period. The late-2000s recession in the UK reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK, with the migration becoming temporary and circular. In 2009, for the first time since enlargement, more nationals of the eight central and eastern European states that had joined the EU in 2004 left the UK than arrived. In 2011, citizens of the new EU member states made up 13% of the immigrants entering the country.
The UK government has introduced a points-based immigration system for immigration from outside the European Economic Area to replace former schemes, including the Scottish Government's Fresh Talent Initiative. In June 2010 the UK government introduced a temporary limit of 24,000 on immigration from outside the EU, aiming to discourage applications before a permanent cap was imposed in April 2011. The cap has caused tension within the coalition: business secretary Vince Cable has argued that it is harming British businesses.
Emigration was an important feature of British society in the 19th century. Between 1815 and 1930 around 11.4 million people emigrated from Britain and 7.3 million from Ireland. Estimates show that by the end of the 20th century some 300 million people of British and Irish descent were permanently settled around the globe. Today, at least 5.5 million UK-born people live abroad, mainly in Australia, Spain, the United States and Canada.
Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter, with each country having a separate education system.
Whilst education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education, the day-to-day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of local authorities. Universally free of charge state education was introduced piecemeal between 1870 and 1944. Education is now mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). In 2011, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated 13-14 year old pupils in England and Wales 10th in the world for maths and 9th for science. The majority of children are educated in state-sector schools, a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability. Two of the top ten performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 were state-run grammar schools. Over half of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had attended state schools. Despite a fall in actual numbers the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%. In 2010, more than 45% of places at the University of Oxford and 40% at the University of Cambridge were taken by students from private schools, even though they educate just 7% of the population. The universities of England are among some of the top universities in the world; the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the University College London and Imperial College London are all ranked in the global top 10 in the 2010 QS World University Rankings, with Cambridge ranked first.
Education in Scotland is the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, with day-to-day administration and funding of state schools the responsibility of Local Authorities. Two non-departmental public bodies have key roles in Scottish education. The Scottish Qualifications Authority is responsible for the development, accreditation, assessment and certification of qualifications other than degrees which are delivered at secondary schools, post-secondary colleges of further education and other centres. The Learning and Teaching Scotland provides advice, resources and staff development to education professionals. Scotland first legislated for compulsory education in 1496. The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools is just over 4%, and it has been rising slowly in recent years. Scottish students who attend Scottish universities pay neither tuition fees nor graduate endowment charges, as fees were abolished in 2001 and the graduate endowment scheme was abolished in 2008.
The Welsh Government has responsibility for education in Wales. A significant number of Welsh students are taught either wholly or largely in the Welsh language; lessons in Welsh are compulsory for all until the age of 16. There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh-medium schools as part of the policy of creating a fully bilingual Wales.
Education in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Minister of Education and the Minister for Employment and Learning, although responsibility at a local level is administered by five education and library boards covering different geographical areas. The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) is the body responsible for advising the government on what should be taught in Northern Ireland's schools, monitoring standards and awarding qualifications.
Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter and each country has its own system of private and publicly funded health care, together with alternative, holistic and complementary treatments. Public healthcare is provided to all UK permanent residents and is free at the point of need, being paid for from general taxation. The World Health Organization, in 2000, ranked the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom as fifteenth best in Europe and eighteenth in the world.
Regulatory bodies are organised on a UK-wide basis such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and non-governmental-based, such as the Royal Colleges. However, political and operational responsibility for healthcare lies with four national executives; healthcare in England is the responsibility of the UK Government; healthcare in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive; healthcare in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Government; and healthcare in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. Each National Health Service has different policies and priorities, resulting in contrasts.
Since 1979 expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly to bring it closer to the European Union average. The UK spends around 8.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on healthcare, which is 0.5 percentage points below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and about one percentage point below the average of the European Union.
The culture of the United Kingdom has been influenced by many factors including: the nation's island status; its history as a western liberal democracy and a major power; as well as being a political union of four countries with each preserving elements of distinctive traditions, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies; including Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. The substantial cultural influence of the United Kingdom has led it to be described as a "cultural superpower."
'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Most British literature is in the English language. In 2005, some 206,000 books were published in the United Kingdom and in 2006 it was the largest publisher of books in the world.
The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time, and his contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson have also been held in continuous high esteem. More recently the playwrights Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.
Notable pre-modern and early-modern English writers include Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century), John Bunyan (17th century) and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) and Samuel Richardson were pioneers of the modern novel. In the 19th century there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, children's writer Lewis Carroll, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the realist George Eliot, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth. 20th century English writers include: science-fiction novelist H. G. Wells; the writers of children's classics Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne (the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh), Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton; the controversial D. H. Lawrence; modernist Virginia Woolf; the satirist Evelyn Waugh; the prophetic novelist George Orwell; the popular novelists W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene; the crime writer Agatha Christie (the best-selling novelist of all time); Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond); the poets T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes; and the fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling.
Scotland's contributions include the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes), romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott, children's writer J. M. Barrie, the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson and the celebrated poet Robert Burns. More recently the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, was UNESCO's first worldwide City of Literature.
Britain's oldest known poem, Y Gododdin, was composed in Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), most likely in the late 6th century. It was written in Cumbric or Old Welsh and contains the earliest known reference to King Arthur. From around the seventh century, the connection between Wales and the Old North was lost, and the focus of Welsh-language culture shifted to Wales, where Arthurian legend was further developed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Wales's most celebrated medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl 1320–1370), composed poetry on themes including nature, religion and especially love. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest European poets of his age. Until the late 19th century the majority of Welsh literature was in Welsh and much of the prose was religious in character. Daniel Owen is credited as the first Welsh-language novelist, publishing Rhys Lewis in 1885. The best-known of the Anglo-Welsh poets are both Thomases. Dylan Thomas became famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid-20th century. He is remembered for his poetry – his " Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." is one of the most quoted couplets of English language verse – and for his 'play for voices', Under Milk Wood. Influential Church in Wales 'poet-priest' and Welsh nationalist, R. S. Thomas, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. Leading Welsh novelists of the twentieth century include Richard Llewellyn and Kate Roberts.
Authors of other nationalities, particularly from Commonwealth countries, the Republic of Ireland and the United States, have lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.
Various styles of music are popular in the UK from the indigenous folk music of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to heavy metal. Notable composers of classical music from the United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it include William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W.S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is one of the foremost living composers and current Master of the Queen's Music. The UK is also home to world-renowned symphonic orchestras and choruses such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus. Notable conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Some of the notable film score composers include John Barry, Clint Mansell, Mike Oldfield, John Powell, Craig Armstrong, David Arnold, John Murphy, Monty Norman and Harry Gregson-Williams. George Frideric Handel, although born German, was a naturalised British citizen and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in the English language. Andrew Lloyd Webber has achieved enormous worldwide commercial success and is a prolific composer of musical theatre, works which have dominated London's West End for a number of years and have travelled to Broadway in New York.
The Beatles have international sales of over one billion units and are the biggest-selling and most influential band in the history of popular music. Other prominent British contributors to have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include; The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, the Bee Gees, and Elton John, all of whom have world wide record sales of 200 million or more. The Brit Awards are the BPI's annual music awards, and some of the British recipients of the Outstanding Contribution to Music award include; The Who, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and The Police. More recent UK music acts that have had international success include Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Muse, Spice Girls and Adele.
A number of UK cities are known for their music. Acts from Liverpool have had more UK chart number one hit singles per capita (54) than any other city worldwide. Glasgow's contribution to music was recognised in 2008 when it was named a UNESCO City of Music, one of only three cities in the world to have this honour.
The history of British visual art forms part of western art history. Major British artists include: the Romantics William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and J.M.W. Turner; the portrait painters Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lucian Freud; the landscape artists Thomas Gainsborough and L. S. Lowry; the pioneer of the Arts and Crafts Movement William Morris; the figurative painter Francis Bacon; the Pop artists Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney; the collaborative duo Gilbert and George; the abstract artist Howard Hodgkin; and the sculptors Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Henry Moore. During the late 1980s and 1990s the Saatchi Gallery in London helped to bring to public attention a group of multi-genre artists who would become known as the "Young British Artists": Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood and the Chapman Brothers are among the better-known members of this loosely affiliated movement.
The Royal Academy in London is a key organisation for the promotion of the visual arts in the United Kingdom. Major schools of art in the UK include: the six-school University of the Arts London, which includes the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; Goldsmiths, University of London; the Slade School of Fine Art (part of University College London); the Glasgow School of Art; the Royal College of Art; and The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (part of the University of Oxford). The Courtauld Institute of Art is a leading centre for the teaching of the history of art. Important art galleries in the United Kingdom include the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern (the most-visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors per year).
The United Kingdom has had a considerable influence on the history of the cinema. The British directors Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean are among the most critically acclaimed of all-time, with other important directors including Charlie Chaplin, Michael Powell, Carol Reed and Ridley Scott. Many British actors have achieved international fame and critical success, including: Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, Charlie Chaplin, Sean Connery, Vivien Leigh, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Peter Sellers and Kate Winslet. Some of the most commercially successful films of all time have been produced in the United Kingdom, including the two highest-grossing film franchises (Harry Potter and James Bond). Ealing Studios has a claim to being the oldest continuously working film studio in the world.
Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry has often been characterised by a debate about its identity and the level of American and European influence. Many British films are co-productions with American producers, often using both British and American actors, and British actors feature regularly in Hollywood films. Many successful Hollywood films have been based on British people, stories or events, including Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the 'English Cycle' of Disney animated films which include, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Robin Hood.
In 2009 British films grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7% globally and 17% in the United Kingdom. UK box-office takings totalled £944 million in 2009, with around 173 million admissions. The British Film Institute has produced a poll ranking of what it considers to be the 100 greatest British films of all time, the BFI Top 100 British films. The annual British Academy Film Awards, hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, are the British equivalent of the Oscars.
The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of 'British Empiricism', a branch of the philosophy of knowledge that states that only knowledge verified by experience is valid, and 'Scottish Philosophy', sometimes referred to as the ' Scottish School of Common Sense'. The most famous philosophers of British Empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume; while Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William Hamilton were major exponents of the Scottish "common sense" school. Two Britons are also notable for a theory of moral philosophy utilitarianism, first used by Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill in his short work Utilitarianism. Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the unions and countries that preceded it include Duns Scotus, John Lilburne, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sir Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and A.J. "Freddie" Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Major sports, including association football, rugby league, rugby union, rowing, boxing, badminton, cricket, tennis, darts and golf, originated or were substantially developed in the United Kingdom and the states that preceded it. In most international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland usually field a single team representing all of Ireland, with notable exceptions being association football and the Commonwealth Games. In sporting contexts, the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish teams are often referred to collectively as the Home Nations. There are some sports in which a single team represents the whole of United Kingdom, including the Olympics, where the UK is represented by the Great Britain team. The 1908, 1948 Olympic Games and 2012 were held in London, making it the first city to play host for a third time.
A 2003 poll found that football is the most popular sport in the United Kingdom. Each of the Home Nations has its own football association, national team and league system. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate countries in international competitions. A Great Britain Olympic football team was assembled for the first time to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations declined to participate, fearing that it would undermine their independent status – a fear confirmed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Cricket was invented in England. The England cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board, is the only national team in the UK with Test status. Team members are drawn from the main county sides, and include both English and Welsh players. Cricket is distinct from football and rugby where Wales and England field separate national teams, although Wales had fielded its own team in the past. Irish and Scottish players have played for England because neither Scotland nor Ireland have Test status and have only recently started to play in One Day Internationals. Scotland, England (and Wales), and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) have competed at the Cricket World Cup, with England reaching the finals on three occasions. There is a professional league championship in which clubs representing 17 English counties and 1 Welsh county compete.
Rugby league is a popular sport in some regions of the UK. It originated in Huddersfield and is generally played in Northern England. A single 'Great Britain Lions' team had competed in the Rugby League World Cup and Test match games, but this changed in 2008 when England, Scotland and Ireland competed as separate nations. Great Britain is still being retained as the full national team for Ashes tours against Australia, New Zealand and France. Super League is the highest level of professional rugby league in the UK and Europe. It consists of 11 teams from Northern England, 1 from London, 1 from Wales and 1 from France.
In rugby union, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy compete in the Six Nations Championship; the premier international tournament in the northern hemisphere. Sport governing bodies in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland organise and regulate the game separately. If any of the British teams or the Irish team beat the other three in a tournament, then it is awarded the Triple Crown.
Thoroughbred racing, which originated under Charles II of England as the "sport of kings", is popular throughout the UK with world-famous races including the Grand National, the Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival (including the Cheltenham Gold Cup). The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. The UK is closely associated with motorsport. Many teams and drivers in Formula One (F1) are based in the UK, and drivers from Britain have won more world titles than any other country. The UK hosted the very first F1 Grand Prix in 1950 at Silverstone, the current location of the British Grand Prix held each year in July. The country also hosts legs of the World Rally Championship and has its own touring car racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
Golf is the sixth most popular sport, by participation, in the UK. Although The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland is the sport's home course, the world's oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links' Old Golf Course.
Snooker is one of the UK's popular sporting exports, with the world championships held annually in Sheffield. The modern game of lawn tennis first originated in the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865. The Championships, Wimbledon are international tennis events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are regarded as the most prestigious event of the global tennis calendar. In Northern Ireland Gaelic football and hurling are popular team sports, both in terms of participation and spectating, and Irish expatriates in the UK and the US also play them. Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands.
The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag (also referred to as the Union Jack). It was created in 1606 by the superimposition of the Flag of England on the Flag of Scotland and updated in 1801 with the addition of Saint Patrick's Flag. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag, as Wales had been conquered and annexed to England prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. The possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out. The national anthem of the United Kingdom is " God Save the King", with "King" replaced with "Queen" in the lyrics whenever the monarch is a woman.
Britannia is a national personification of the United Kingdom, originating from Roman Britain. Britannia is symbolised as a young woman with brown or golden hair, wearing a Corinthian helmet and white robes. She holds Poseidon's three-pronged trident and a shield, bearing the Union Flag. Sometimes she is depicted as riding on the back of a lion. Since the height of the British Empire in the late 19th century, Britannia has often been associated with British maritime dominance, as in the patriotic song " Rule, Britannia!". Up until 2008, the lion symbol was depicted behind Britannia on the British fifty pence coin and on the back of the British ten pence coin. It is also used as a symbol on the non-ceremonial flag of the British Army. The bulldog is sometimes used as a symbol of the United Kingdom and has been associated with Winston Churchill's defiance of Nazi Germany.