What is the UK?

The UK is considered to be a modern ethnically diverse society.  This section explores the various countries that make up the UK, its most important cities, languages spoken, and currency used.  It will also show how its population changed over time and how it has become a an equal and diverse society.


  1. Introduction
  2. What are the different countries that make up the UK?
  3. What are the nations of the UK?
  4. What are the cities of the UK?
  5. What is the currency of the UK?
  6. What are the Languages and dialects spoken in the UK?
  7. How the population of the UK has changed over time?
  8. Why is the UK an ethnically diverse society?
  9. Why is the UK an equal society?

What are the different countries that make up the UK?

The UK is made up of  England , Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (rest of Ireland is an independent country).

The official name of the country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Great Britain refers only to England, Scotland and Wales, not to Northern Ireland. The words ‘Britain’, ‘British Isles’ or ‘British’ are often used interchangeably referring to the people residing in the UK.

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are called ‘Crown dependencies’, with their own governments, and although closely linked with the UK, they are not part of it.

The British overseas territories such as St Helena and the Falkland Islands are also linked to the UK but are not a part of it.

The UK is governed by the parliament sitting in Westminster. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have parliaments or assemblies of their own, with devolved powers in defined areas.

What are the nations of the UK?

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

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

What are the cities of the UK?

The UK has a variety of cities across its territory and some of the most important include:

  1. London (capital of England and UK)
  2. Cardiff (capital of Wales)
  3. Edinburg (capital of Scotland)
  4. Belfast (capital of Northern Ireland)

Other big cities in England include Birmingham. Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester, Bradford, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Plymouth, Southampton and Norwich; in Scotland Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and in Wales Swansea and Newport.

What is the UK currency?

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

  1. coins: 1p, 2p, 5p, 1Op, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2
  2. notes: £5, £10, £20, £50.

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

What are the Languages and dialects spoken in the UK?

There are many variations in the English language in the different parts of the UK with a variety of accents and dialects.  There is also different languages spoken in :

  1. Wales, many people speak Welsh which is taught in schools and universities
  2. Scotland, Gaelic is spoken in some parts of the Highlands and Islands
  3. Northern Ireland some people speak Irish Gaelic

How the population of the UK has changed over time?

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

Population growth in the UK

Year Population
1600 Just over 4 million
1700 5 million
1801 8 million
1851 20 million
1901 40 million
1951 50 million
1998 57 million
2005 Just under 60 million
2010 Just over 62 million


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

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

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

Why is the UK an ethnically diverse society?

The UK today is a more diverse society than it was 100 years ago, in both ethnic and religious terms. Post-war immigration means that nearly 10% of the population has a parent or grandparent born outside the UK. The UK continues to be a multinational and multiracial society with a rich and varied culture.

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

There are people in the UK with ethnic origins from all over the world including people of European, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and American descent, as well as Asian, black and mixed descent.

Why is the UK an equal society?

Within the UK, it is a legal requirement that men and women should not be discriminated against because of their gender or because they are, or are not, married. They have equal rights to work, own property, marry and divorce. If they are married, both parents are equally responsible for their children.

Women in Britain today make up about half of the workforce. On average, girls leave school with better qualifications than boys. More women than men study at university.

Employment opportunities for women are much greater than they were in the past. Women work in all sectors of the economy, and there are now more women in high-level positions than ever before, including senior managers in traditionally male-dominated occupations. Alongside this, men now work in more varied jobs than they did in the past.

It is no longer expected that women should stay at home and not work. Women often continue to work after having children. In many families today, both partners work and both share responsibility for childcare and household chores.