How to make social glue
Perhaps the biggest challenge for developed nations like ours is how we live together. Today a committee of MPs from all parties warned government that without immediate action to defuse tensions over migration there could be violence on English streets.
Their report on Community Cohesion and Migration [pdf] concludes that rapid immigration is putting pressure on local public services and damaging community relations in some areas.
"Public concerns about the effect of migration cannot simply be dismissed as racist or xenophobic", they say, arguing that government sets up a contingency fund for local councils to draw on if they cannot cope with an unexpected influx of foreigners.
What struck me was the relationship they revealed between migrants and community tension - the conclusion being that there isn't one.
Recently the Department for Communities conducted a big survey which asked the question used to measure what they call social cohesion: "do you believe people from different backgrounds get on well together in your local area?"
The results can be downloaded so you can see what people said in your area - Community cohesion data [Excel file]:
Column C is the key one reflecting the proportion of the population which think people get on well. The national average is 79%
Now, what strikes me (and the committee) is that some places which have seen rapid recent migration score very badly - places like Boston in Lincolnshire where 25% of the population are now said to hail from Eastern Europe and only 38% of people thought people got on well.
And then there are other places which have seen even greater and equally rapid change but do better than average. Almost half the population in Brent in North London were born overseas and the area has seen among the highest number of overseas nationals applying for National Insurance numbers last year. Yet 81% of people gave community relations the thumbs up.
In Westminster and Camden in London which have also seen rapid and high volume immigration, cohesion scores are better than average.
The committee concludes this:
"There is no straightforward relationship between the number of migrants in an area and levels of cohesion. Some areas experience high inward migration yet have a good level of cohesion in comparison to the national average. Nevertheless, cohesion can be negatively affected by migration, particularly in areas where there is poverty and/or little previous experience of diversity."
It is perhaps this last point that rings most true. Brent has had long experience of diversity and a changing population. New arrivals are not a shock - they are traditional. But for communities like many in the Fens and East Anglia which score poorly in the social cohesion table, the sudden arrival of newcomers from overseas is a social shock.
That being said, other areas which score badly have seen waves of migration before. Places like Burnley, Pendle and Oldham have clearly got real challenges in improving community relations but it cannot be lack of experience in dealing with arrivals from overseas.
The Committee Report was told that in parts of Lancashire "there remain tensions between settled white and second and third generation Asian communities." Racially motivated crime, including assaults on both Asian and white people was a problem in the area, according to local police.
It was a different picture again in Barking and Dagenham where police told the MPs that the most significant level of reported hate crime in the area was of white-on-white crime between people of different nationalities, reflecting the arrival of workers from East and Central Europe.
The pace of change in the area was dramatic even before the arrival of EU migrants. The local council reports that "in 1991, only 6.8% of the borough's population was non-white and is now, it is estimated, approximately 25%".
Overall, community relations in England appear good with 79% of people saying that people get on, but there is clearly concern that without urgent action, matters could deteriorate in some places.
Today's report believes that it is perceived pressure over public services that fuels much of the tension and the MPs agree that rapid inward migration has put a strain on schools, translation services, social care, English language teaching and the NHS. "These pressures", they point out, "are currently left unfunded by Government because resource allocations are being made on the basis of flawed population data."
We have witnessed record levels of inward migration into the UK for a decade and it seems surprising that it has taken so long for Members of Parliament to get together and work out that such rapid change will lead to social pressures - pressures we ignore at our peril.