Profile of Reading

Reading is the principal regional and commercial centre of the Thames Valley, a major retail and leisure destination, with a thriving night-time economy.

There has been a huge shift in the town’s economy, from its origins in ‘beer, biscuits and bulbs’ to a compact service economy which specialises in business and insurance services, and has some of the finest high-tech business parks in the South East, with many international companies such as Microsoft and Oracle choosing Reading as their home.

The town is a major transport interchange, continuing to benefit from its strategic location on the M4 corridor and proximity to Heathrow Airport and London. Reading is also home to the University of Reading and Reading College, with a large percentage of the local working population highly skilled.

However, prosperity has brought its own problems, with pressure on infrastructure, communities and the environment. The high cost of living and, in particular, the high cost of housing, have had a significant impact on local communities. Although Reading can undoubtedly demonstrate success and wealth, the town also contains wards amongst some of the most deprived in the country.

Map of Reading

Population and households

Currently 161,780 residents (ONS mid-year estimates 2019) and 65,410 households (DCLG Household projections 2016- based) live within the Reading borough boundary, while around 233,000 people live in Reading’s greater urban area (Local Transport Plan 2011-2026). The population is estimated to increase by 3.2% by 2043 (ONS population projections 2018-based).

Reading has a generally younger population, however, the proportion of older people is predicted to increase, with the proportion aged 60+ rising from 16.8% in 2019 to 23.1% by 2043 (ONS population projections 2018-based).

The number of households is predicted to rise to 69,119 by 2043.

Reading population pyramid mid-2019
Reading population pyramid mid-2019. Source: ONS mid-year estimates 2019

Population estimates and projections

Age2019% of total2043% of total

Sources: ONS mid-year estimates 2019, ONS population projections 2018-based

Household projections

  • Number of households in 2021 – 65,410
  • Number of households in 2043 – 69,119

Source: ONS household projections 2018-based

Household composition

Type of personReadingEngland
One person 30.6% 30.2%
With pensioner/s 14.9% 20.8%
Couple with no children 17.3% 17.6%
Couple with dependent children 19.3% 19.3%
Couple with non-dependent children 4.6% 6.1%
Lone parent 10.8% 10.6%
Full-time students 1.5% 0.6%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics


Reading has a very diverse population, with 35% now belonging to a Black and Minority Ethnic community, the third highest proportion in the South East after Slough and Oxford.

White British 66.9% 80.9%
Other White 7.9% 4.6%
Mixed 3.9% 2.2%
Indian 4.2% 2.6%
Pakistani 4.5% 2.1%
Other Asian 3.9% 2.3%
Black Caribbean 2.1% 1.1%
Black African 4.9% 1.8%
Black other 0.7% 0.5
Chinese 1% 0.7%
Other ethnic group 0.9% 1.%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics

Map showing percentage of BAME population in Reading
% BAME (not White British) by LSOA. Source: 2011 Census, ONS


Reading’s continued success has further increased demand for housing, resulting in higher than national average prices, with the median house price almost 3 times higher in 2020 than 2000 (ONS house price statistics for small areas, 1995 – 2020). Because of this, the property market has become increasingly inaccessible to those on low incomes, due to the shortage of affordable housing.

Housing tenureReadingEngland
Owner occupied 54.8% 63.3%
Shared ownership 1.8% 0.8%
Social rented 16.3% 17.7%
Private rented 26.1% 16.8%
Rent free 1.0% 1.3%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics

LocationMedian house priceMedian detached house priceMedian semi-detached house priceMedian terraced house priceMedian flats/maisonette price
Reading 300,000 529,000 386,000 290,000 235,000
England 246,000 350,000 267,000 195,000 218,000

Source: LG Inform Plus, 2020 Q2 (rolling)

Economy, employment and skills

Over the last 20 years, Reading has developed from an economy based on trading and manufacturing into a centre for leading edge information communication technology (ICT) companies and is now one of the largest insurance and business service centres in the country. Reading is now a major retail centre, with a significant evening economy.
Before COVID, unemployment was low, though this has now risen to slightly above the national average (Jan 21). Reading has a highly skilled workforce, however there is a disparity between the workforce and with the skills and earnings of Reading residents, with in-work poverty increasing in certain areas Reading’s occupation profile has changed since 2001 Census, with professional occupation types showing the most significant increase. Service occupations have increased and administrative occupations decreased.

  • Reading is the second highest performing ‘city’ in the country (Demos-PWC Growth Index 2012), and 4th highest in terms of both number of businesses and wages (Centre for Cities ‘Cities Outlook 2020’)
  • In terms of unemployment, the claimant count rate (proportion of working age population claiming JSA or Universal Credit) is currently 6.4% (Jan 21), compared with 5.1% for the South East and 6.2% nationally. This has increased from 2.7% in January 2020.
  • The average gross annual salary (NOMIS; Annual survey of hours and earnings (full time workers) for workers in Reading in 2020 was £32,878 for residents and £33,908 for workers, both higher than the national average but lower than the South East average for residents.
Occupation typeReading 2011England 2011
1. Managers, directors and senior officials 9% 11%
2. Professional occupations 25% 18%
3. Associate professional and technical occupations 14% 13%
4. Administrative and secretarial occupations 10% 12%
5. Skilled trades occupations 9% 11%
6. Caring, leisure and other service occupations 9% 9%
7. Sales and customer service occupations 9% 8%
8. Process, plant and machine operatives 5% 7%
9. Elementary occupations 11% 11%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics

Highest level of qualificationReading 2011England 2011
No qualifications 17% * 23%
Highest level of qualification: Level 1 qualifications 12% 13%
Highest level of qualification: Level 2 qualifications 12% 15%
Highest level of qualification: Apprenticeship 3% 4%
Highest level of qualification: Level 3 qualifications 13% 12%
Highest level of qualification: Level 4 qualifications and above 35% 27%
Highest level of qualification: Other qualifications 7% 6%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics

*%age of residents aged 16-74


Although the pace of change in Reading has been rapid, there is a clear mismatch between outstanding economic success and the level of benefits to local people, leaving a significant gap between Reading’s most and least prosperous neighbourhoods. Reading has, within a small geographic area, some of the most affluent and the most deprived neighbourhoods in the whole of the Thames Valley.

  • Reading is the 3rd most unequal ‘city’ in terms of wealth (Centre for Cities, Gini co-efficient 2017)
  • According to the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019, Reading as a whole is ranked the 141st (rank of average score) most deprived out of 317 local authorities in the country, compared with 142nd most deprived in 2015. There are 5 Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in Reading within the most deprived 10% nationally, compared with 2 in 2015. Super Output Areas (SOAs) are a set of geographical areas developed following the 2001 census. Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs) typically contain 4 to 6 OAs with a population of around 1500
  • Reading is below the national level with almost 1 in 7 children, or 15%, in relative poverty, with this level stable since 2016/17 ( DWP 2018/19)

Index of Multiple Deprivation 2019

Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015


In general terms, Reading tends to score better than the national average for most health measures, although this hides problems amongst particular communities.

  • One of the most significant health-related statistics is that life expectancy is 8 years lower for men and 7.2 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Reading than in the least deprived areas (Source: Public Health England Health 2016-18).
  • For further information see Reading’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA).
Proportion of population reporting good or very good health Proportion of population reporting limiting long-term illness
Reading 86% 13%
England 81% 18%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics


Crime and the fear of crime have become more significant issues as Reading’s evening economy has grown over recent years. However, Reading has a fairly average crime rate, when compared our most similar group of Community Safety Partnerships, ranking 10th out of the 15 CSPs.

  • 17,183 crimes were reported in 2019/20, a 4.8% increase on the previous year (ONS 2019/20)
  • Violent crime has increased by 16.1% from 18/19 to 19/20
  • Reading is currently above average for arson, theft from person and cycle theft; below average for burglary, theft from vehicle, vehicle interference and wounding.
  • The current priorities for Reading’s Community Safety Partnership are:
    • Domestic violence
    • Vulnerable communities (hate crime, preventing violent extremism and counter terrorism)
    • Other violence
    • Adult exploitation

 Transport and travel to work

Reading is a major population and employment centre within the South East, benefiting from close proximity to London and Heathrow, and with excellent links to national road and rail networks as well as to Heathrow Airport. Such connectivity is represented by Reading’s status as a regional transport hub, international gateway and a major transport interchange.

As with most other towns and cities in the UK, Reading experiences congestion on many of its main routes during the week, with the commercial success of the town adding to weekend congestion.

  • Reading has one of the UK’s busiest railway stations, catering for 17 million passengers a year, with a further 4 million interchanging passengers (Draft Local Transport Plan 2036).
  • Reading attracts a large number of trips from surrounding communities. In the AM peak period (07:00-10:00), 30,000 people arrive and 24,000 people leave the Reading area (Local Transport Plan 2011-2026).
Travel to work and car ownershipReadingSouth EastEngland
Travel to work by car   49.5% 65.1% 60.2%
Travel to work on foot/ by cycle 22.3% 14.8% 14.4%
Number of households with no car 28.3% 18.6% 25.8%

Source: 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics