Map: Estonians in England and Wales – how many really are there?

In April 2013, Labour MP and shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant courted controversy when he slammed businesses in his South Wales constituency for “hiring Estonians and Latvians” instead of the local population. “It would be nice sometimes when you go into a British hotel if the receptionist was British,” was the remark that drew most criticism, suggesting to many that the opposition was just as confused on the issue of immigration as the government.

But, immigration policy aside, it made me curious as to just how many Estonians are there in the United Kingdom. Obviously there must be a reasonable number, I supposed, as otherwise how could the shadow minister for immigration and a former minister for Europe make such a claim about all these Estonians pushing out the locals?

A useful statistic is the amount of National Insurance numbers that are given out to foreign nationals – an NI number is essential if you wish to work legally in the UK, pay tax and claim any sort of state benefit. As you can see in the chart below, the largest amount of NI numbers given to Estonians was during the period immediately following its accession to the European Union.

In total, for the years 2002-2012, 17,851 National Insurance numbers were granted to Estonian nationals. This figure doesn’t tell us how many Estonians live in the UK at any given time, but does tell us that over the decade as a whole, over 17,000 Estonians worked or applied for work in the UK at some point.

Bizarrely, the UK Office for National Statistics does not publish a complete breakdown of the number of foreign nationals living in the country, only a breakdown of the top 60 nationalities and an estimate as to the number of people from each one. It’s a list on which Estonia does not feature.

The ONS has, however, published a detailed list of the number of people who indicated in the 2011 census that their “main language” was Estonian. The map below, produced using Google Fusion Tables, presents this data in interactive form for England and Wales (the data for Scotland and Northern Ireland wasn’t available when work commenced on the map).

There are various caveats, namely that despite completing the census is a legal requirement, not everybody does so. Similarly, the census is a snapshot of the country on the day on which people were asked to complete their census form. Those who were abroad on census day (I was in Vienna, for example) therefore are not included. You could be an Estonian national whose main language is Russian or, if you’re married to a UK citizen, English. Or you might be living in a shared house with some Germans and therefore your “main language” could still be English. There are numerous other scenarios – therefore these figures are to be used with caution.

According to the census, England and Wales was, on census day, home to 3,398 people who listed Estonian as their “main language”. Like most population figures, this is likely to be an underestimate but I’m not willing to predict by how much. I surveyed 15 Estonians I know who were living in the UK on census day, and 13 assured me they fulfilled their legal obligation (one admitted they hadn’t and the other couldn’t remember). Based on that most unscientific of polls, the census results should be fairly accurate. Or perhaps I just know more conscientious Estonians?

Nevertheless, the map does indicate which geographical regions are more likely to contain Estonian nationals than others. London, unsurprisingly, has the highest concentration of Estonians, namely in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hillingdon. Birmingham and Manchester similarly have boroughs with a sizeable (over 40 people) Estonian population, as do the university cities of Cambridge and Oxford. Leeds and neighbouring Bradford would, if combined, contain the highest concentration of Estonian native speakers in the country – Bradford is, after all, home to both an Estonian club and an Estonian school and attracted a large number of Estonians after World War Two. If you can highlight any other possible communities or interesting points, let us know in the comments.

Despite all that, the total number of Estonians is still a mystery and likely to remain so, as the government doesn’t publish the figures for people entering or exiting the UK. Nevertheless, I would regard any figure above 10,000 with some scepticism.

So what of Rhondda, the constituency of Chris Bryant MP? Rhondda itself forms part of the (larger) Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority, for which the census records nine Estonian speakers (and, for the record, six Latvians, also singled out by Bryant). Even if these figures only represented 10% of the actual number (itself an error that would make the census beyond useless), Estonians would still be outnumbered ten to one by those with an East Asian main language and four to one by those listing an African main language.

Why pick on the Estonians, then? Well, it’s easier politics to be xenophobic than racist – an accusation of xenophobia isn’t the same as an accusation of racism when it comes to newspaper headlines, unfortunately. Much easier to pick on those bloody Eastern Europeans, innit?

8 thoughts on “Map: Estonians in England and Wales – how many really are there?”

  1. Anna-Liisa Kadaksoo

    Well I’ve lived in Bristol for the last 4 years and have heard Estonian twice and I am aware of another Estonian in Bristol. I do not know any other Estonians in the region! Sometimes my friends or colleagues say that they’ve met an Estonian, but 90% of the time it actually turns out to be a Latvian or Lithuanian. Or they think Georgia, Romania and Estonia are the same (well they all end with -ia so must be the same!). I think they just classify all the “Eastern European” & ex Soviet countries as one…Anyway, would be lovely to meet some Estonians in Bristol, anyone?

    1. Wishful thinking. Geographically, it is and always was. I understand the desire for many Estonians to avoid eastern associations because of the Russia issue, but the fact remains that it is physically located both in eastern AND northern Europe, and culturally, no, Estonia is not 100% like Nordic countries, as much as many wish it was one. I am an Estonian citizen. My family came from Estonia for many centuries. My Grandparents had to flee during the Soviet occupation, but even my Great Grandfather, a man born in Tartu in 1903 who fought for his country in more ways than one during the first and second occupation, and who hated very much the Soviets, called Estonia, his homeland, an eastern European country. My Grandmother, his daughter, also did. So did his wife. So does my mother. We have always referred to it as somewhere which is between east and west, between east and north – culturally, not fully Nordic and not fully Baltic. Elements of Soviet rule have left lasting impressions and Russia’s proximity and the history there does indeed influence it genetically, culturally, even linguistically. A quarter of the population is ethnically Russian.

      So to pretend it’s not eastern European is just wishful thinking, I’m sorry. It’s not ENTIRELY – it is certainly more north-leaning, but even the CIA world fact book places it in eastern Europe, however it may be classified by other organizations.

  2. I think there are at least 8-10 Estonians in York. As for Mr Bryant, he may have been elected but that is no sign of intelligence.

  3. Unfortunately, the tag ‘Eastern Europe’ is commonly used to tag people from beyond what was the iron curtain. In Soviet times, the USSR was referred to as Russia and everyone in it were ‘Russians’. Russia is in Eastern Europe etc etc. i am sure it narks you, in the same way I get narked for being called English, being born and bred in Wales.

    This ignorance will take a generation to iron out and for us to catch up with Europe’s geography after Gorbachev.. Your country was airbrushed from our history books after 1945, probably through guilt. It takes a while for the generally ignorant to catch up and not a trait i am particularly proud of, but i know we are not the only country that has this problem
    The newspapers that dance along the thin line of xenophobia tend to use the term ‘Eastern European’ to put everyone in a box as a way to get around being labelled racist and spread doubt and mistrust among their paranoid blue-rinsed readership. And then you get UKIP living in their Bongo-Bongo world…

    Chris Bryant abused his parliamentary privilege. how many Estonians were there? What jobs were they? Why aren’t the locals taking the jobs? If they are being discriminated against, then name and shame. if they are underpaid jobs, do the same. Given the stat that the author has provided at the end of the article, does this mean there are only 9 jobs in the Rhondda? Isn’t that more of a concern? or is the MP talking out of his arse, yes I know which is the right answer. Jake’s comment below sums it up

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