london’s face is changing in front of your eyes

During the Roman occupation of Britain, Londinium, as it was known, quickly became the capital of Rome’s Britannia province, and by the 2nd century AD, Londinium was a thriving trade centre.

After the Romans departure, Londinium was more or less abandoned in favour of Lundenwic, located a mile down the river. Lundenwic vulnerability to Viking attacks led to it being gradually moved back east to the old Londinium site to take advantage of the old Roman city walls.

From there, the town prospered and grew steady once more. As the British Empire expanded, so did London’s importance as one of the world’s major trading cities.

Industrialization led to increased urbanization that combined with London’s growing influence, led to some dramatic population increases. For much of the 19th and the early 20th century, London was the largest city in the world.

From the end of World War II to the 1980s, London had a gradual decline, as the city lost its status as the centre of Empire and one of the world’s largest trading cities. 

However, the 1980s saw a population boom, and growing prosperity combined with increased immigration has once again increased the population. The current 2021 projection puts the London population at 9,221,300. London is changing rapidly. But: 

  • How much do we know about this change?

  • Where do Londoners come from, and where do they go when they leave?

  • What are the most spoken languages?

  • Which areas are witnessing the largest influx?


London has long been an attractive place for people seeking opportunity from outside the UK.

National Insurance number registration data shows how the numbers and area have changed over time.

Registrations fell 16 per cent in the last year. Although from the EU increased 11 per cent in the last ten years since 2014 they fell by 15 per cent. In contrast, non-EU registrations, fallen by 45 per cent in the last decade, increased by 11 per cent in the last four years. Some areas of London have remained a hotspot for new arrivals over this entire period, others declined. Outer North and East London boroughs have seen the largest decline in NINs registrations – with the highest falls in Redbridge (-27.6), Harrow (-23.5) and Newham (-22.9). Lambeth and the City fell by only -1.9 and -4.1 respectively, the lowest falls recorded.

London’s languages

With an increasingly foreign-born population living in the capital, London’s kids are more likely to speak English as a second language at home. And in some areas, the change has been faster than others. The picture is different across the capital. Compared to a decade earlier, outer London boroughs show a more notable change in the proportion of primary school pupils with English as a second language, albeit often from a low base.

Though the gap has narrowed by secondary school, pupils with English as a second language often move slower at primary level. Language needs is a challenge to primary teaching, in particular given that many are undergoing funding cuts.

An increasing population

Population forecasts expect London’s population to keep growing fast well into the middle of the century.

It is experiencing massive changes, with actual population mix with new arrivals to form a patchwork of areas with falling, slowly increasing and quickly growing populations. The areas along the Thames and Lee Valley in East London have the highest estimate growth, and new developments are set to change whole areas. While no London borough is assumed to see residents fall over the next ten years, parts of Bromley, Hillingdon and Barnet are expected to have the slowest growth.

A moving population

London welcomes new people each year; it also has many departing. While 416,000 Londoners moved across London, 336,000 people left the capital in the last year, and only 230,000 people from the rest of the country made their home in London. 

An ageing population

While London will continue to be a young city, compared to the rest of the UK, it is growing older; the over 65 will be 1.2 million by 2024. This will have significant implications for services: healthcare and social care are at the top. Also, accessibility is an important issue, as only 27 per cent of London’s underground stations have step-free access.

While all districts are ageing (as measured by the change in the old-age dependency ratio), those to the North and West show the most significant increases. If the over 65 are just 9 per cent in Barking and Dagenham, in Harrow 15 per cent of residents are over 65. Although the city isn’t yet shrinking, its growth is dropping short of forecasts. 0.9 per cent lower, according to recent data, than anticipated.

London’s population is in flux, yet it is far from a city of transients. 70 per cent of residents lives here for at least a decade. London identity is as strong as it was 40 years ago.