Calls grow to disestablish Church of England as Christians become minority

Role of church in parliament and schools questioned as census shows 5.5m fewer holders of faith in England and Wales

Census results revealing that England is no longer a majority-Christian country have sparked calls for an end to the church’s role in parliament and schools, while Leicester and Birmingham became the first UK cities with “minority majorities”.

For the first time in a census, less than half of the population of England and Wales – 27.5 million people – described themselves as “Christian”, 5.5 million fewer than in 2011. It triggered calls for urgent reform of laws requiring Christian teaching and worship in schools and Church of England bishops to sit in the House of Lords.


Across England and Wales, the Muslim population grew from 2.7 million people in 2011 to 3.9 million in 2021. While 46.2% of people said they were Christian, 37.2% said they had no religion – equivalent to 22 million people. If current trends continue, more people will have no religion than Christianity within a decade.


Many of the biggest falls in Christianity were in parts of the north of England, where only a decade ago seven out of 10 people said they were Christian, but now only half do.

The Office for National Statistics 2021 census data on ethnicity, religion and language published on Tuesday also revealed that:

  • 59.1% of the people of Leicester and 51.4% of the people of Birmingham are now from ethnic minority groups.

  • 81.7% of the population of England and Wales is now white, including non-British, down from 86% in 2011.

  • The ethnic minority population increased from 14% in 2011 to 18.3%. Of these, 9.3% of the population is Asian British, up from 7.5%, 4% is Black, Black British, Black Welsh, Caribbean-African and African, up from 3.3%, and 5% are from mixed and other ethnicities.

  • Romanian is the fastest-rising language, with 472,000 people now describing the romance language as their main tongue. Polish is the most common main language aside from English or Welsh.

  • The fastest-rising religious identity is Shamanism.

The ONS census deputy director, Jon Wroth-Smith, said the figures showed “the increasingly multicultural society we live in”, but added that despite the rising ethnic diversity, “nine in 10 people across England and Wales still identify with a UK national identity, with nearly eight in 10 doing so in London”.


The 10-yearly census results heralded a new era of “super-diversity” in some places. Fourteen local authorities recorded more than half of their usual residents as identifying with an ethnic group other than white, with the highest proportion in the London boroughs of Newham, Brent and Redbridge.

Outside London, the highest non-white proportion was in Slough in Berkshire, followed by Leicester, Luton and Birmingham. One in 10 households in England and Wales now contain people of two or more ethnicities, and across England and Wales, the mixed-race population grew by half a million people to 1.7 million, though the rate of increase was slower than over the previous decade.


The plunging figures for Christianity come after King Charles took on the titles Defender of the Faith and supreme governor of the Church of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II. They look likely to pose a challenge to how he frames his monarchy, although he has already said he will serve people “whatever may be your background and beliefs”.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, indicated that the Church knows it faces a struggle to arrest the decline, saying it “throws down a challenge to us, not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth, but also to play our part in making Christ known”.

Lynne Cullens, the Bishop of Barking, insisted the church should not feel “defeated”. “We are like the Nike tick,” she said. “We have to go down before we go up. We will evolve into a church more attuned to the worshipping needs of the communities as they are today.”

But secularists and others now want an end to the Church of England’s position as an established church which requires King Charles to make an oath to preserve the Church of England, guarantees Church of England bishops and archbishops 26 seats in the House of Lords, and means state schools can be required to hold Christian worship.

Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College London, said the results make the argument for keeping Church of England leaders in the House of Lords “more difficult to justify” and “raises the issue of the disestablishment of the Church of England”.

“Some will argue that there should not be an established church which represents only a minority of the population,” he said. “Others will respond that the archbishops and bishops seek to represent all faiths, bringing a different perspective to the Lords and that the system works​.’”

The National Secular Society’s chief executive, Stephen Evans, said the current status quo was “absurd and unsustainable”, while Prof Linda Woodhead, head of the department of theology and religious studies at King’s College London, said: “The fact that Christianity is no longer the majority religion means policy is out of step with society.”

Dr Scot Peterson, scholar of religion and the state at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, said: “It’s been difficult to defend having an established church since the beginning of the 20th century, but it now becoming a figment of the imagination. The king being the head of the Church of England made sense in 1650, but not in 2022.”

The places with the highest proportion of people saying they had no religion were Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent and Rhondda Cynon Taf, all in south Wales, and Brighton and Hove and Norwich in England. They were among 11 areas where more than half the population are not religious, including Bristol, Hastings in East Sussex and Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, most of which had relatively low ethnic-minority populations.

The places with the lowest number of non-believers were Harrow, Redbridge and Slough, where close to two-thirds of the populations are from minority ethnic backgrounds.


Robert Booth, Pamela Duncan and Carmen Aguilar García

The GuardianTramp

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