{content}

Life in UK

A general introduction to the UK, including the political system, what money is used and information about time zones and bank holidays

Photo showing Houses of Parliament in London

This information will help you will learn about:

Population, culture and religion

Around 66 million people live in the UK. 55 million people live in England, while around 5.4 million people live in Scotland, 3 million in Wales and 1.9 million in Northern Ireland.

The UK is ethnically diverse with a multi-cultural and multi-faith society. Some areas of the UK are more diverse than others, especially larger cities. In 2011, over 14% of the population identified themselves as being part of an ethnic group other than white. The largest religion in the UK is Christianity, with 33.2 million people (59% of the population). The second largest religion is Islam, with 2.7 million people (5% of the population). Around a quarter of the UK population practise no religion.

Cultural and religious differences, tolerance and fairness are important values. People are allowed to practise or celebrate their beliefs or identity, provided they respect the belief or identity of others and are not in conflict with UK laws.

You are free to practise your religion. You can find churches, mosques, synagogues or other places of worship in many towns and cities, though there are fewer in rural areas. Christianity is the official religion and festivals such as Christmas and Easter are widely celebrated.

People must respect each other’s views, religion and dress, even if it is different from what they are used to. It is illegal to treat people in a bad or different way because of where they come from, their gender, sexuality, religion, political views, age, disability or other characteristics.

Languages

The main language in the UK is English. The UK uses British spelling, which differs slightly to American English. There are many different regional accents across the UK.

Political system, law and monarchy

The UK is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. This means that the monarch is the head of state, but power rests in the democratically elected parliament.

The Prime Minister leads the government. The government is usually formed by the largest political party who are elected through free and fair elections.

The power to make laws rests in the two Houses of Parliament: The House of Commons and House of Lords. The House of Commons is made up of 650 representatives (Members of Parliament or MPs) from geographical constituencies, elected every five years by the general public. The House of Lords is made up of appointed members.

Local councils (also called local authorities) are elected by the local population and are responsible for local services such as social services, libraries and sports centres, rubbish collection, roads and other local issues.

The legal system is independent of the government and parliament.

The law is enforced by the police, who treat everyone fairly and ensure the safety of all citizens. If you are the victim of a crime or suspect a crime, you should contact the police immediately. The police are required to perform their duties in line with standards of professional behaviour for police officers. If you are not satisfied with the service you have received from the police, you can complain.

The UK has a royal family and Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of state since 1952, which makes her the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the UK.

Her son Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, is next in line to the throne, followed by Prince William, the son of Prince Charles. Prince William and his wife Catherine hold the title of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Money and banking

The currency in the UK is the Pound Sterling (£). £1 (one pound) = 100p (100 pennies, or pence). Cash is accepted in most places but increasingly people use debit/credit cards to pay for goods and services.

Time zone and daylight saving

The UK time zone is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) during winter months and GMT +1 (also called British Summer Time or BST) during the summer. In order to make the most of sunlight hours, the UK (along with the rest of Europe) moves its clocks forward by one hour in late March, and then moves them back in late October.

Weekends and bank holidays

The UK weekend falls on Saturday and Sunday, when most offices close. Banks and post offices are usually open Monday to Friday and on Saturday morning, but close on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. However, most shops and restaurants remain open on Saturday and for much of Sunday.

There are a number of public holidays throughout the year. Most businesses close, but shops, restaurants and leisure facilities usually remain open.

Summary

  • The UK is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy.
  • English is the main language in the UK.
  • The UK is multi-cultural and multi-faith. You must respect other people’s views and beliefs and abide by UK law.