Viewpoints: What should be done about integration?

A busy street in London with people of several different ethnicities

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A Newsnight documentary explores the efforts of the mayor of Newham to make his ethnically-diverse London borough "British". How should ethnic integration be fostered?

Sir Robin Wales says that if you live in Newham - the least white borough in whole of the UK - you need to be able to speak English and to integrate within the community.

As part of his strategy, he has taken away foreign language newspapers from libraries, refused to fund single "community" public events, removed translation services in the borough and put extra money into English lessons for immigrants.

The changes have been described both as the future of integration and as an attack on immigrants.

Naturalising Newham

The radical plan to boost integration

Earlier this summer a survey by the Challenge Network, a charity promoting social integration, suggested that people were more likely not to have a best friend at all than to have one from another ethnicity.

Does the UK need to foster ethnic integration? Should people from ethnic minorities be made to learn English and become "British"?

Below are a range of opinions on the issue.

Start Quote

Alice Sachrajda

Citizenship ceremonies and enforced English language requirements have their place”

End Quote
Alice Sachrajda, researcher at Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)

The UK political and policy debate on immigration has been dominated in recent years by the government's net migration target. The focus on this target tends to "crowd out" discussions about the impacts that newly arrived migrants have on local communities. On occasions when the impacts of migration are discussed, the focus tends to be on economic costs and benefits.

But social and cultural factors, and in particular the way new migrants integrate into communities, are an important driver of public opinion on immigration, as well as being crucial to migrants' experiences of the UK.

Migrants and the communities they live in have a shared interest in successful integration, but political and policy debates are not generating ideas about how this can be achieved in practice.

Alice Sachrajda

  • Researcher at Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)
  • Areas of expertise include public opinion and attitudes to migration, immigration policy in the UK, and integration and communities

Top-down approaches like citizenship ceremonies and enforced English language requirements have their place, but are not the sole answer to a comprehensive integration strategy. Instead, integration should be encouraged and fostered at the "everyday" level - in the workplace, in childcare and school settings, and in community settings, such as leisure centres and shopping centres.

This approach goes with the grain of how real people live their lives and is therefore much more likely to result in migrants succeeding and thriving in the UK, and local people responding more positively to migration into their areas.

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Peter Herbert

Very often you have to concentrate on the host community”

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Peter Herbert, chair of the Society of Black Lawyers

If you have segregation then clearly there is a need for integration. We do not have segregation in any shape or form in the UK, and therefore people can be encouraged to mix but they should not be forced to do so by government - local or national.

It should not be something that is part of an enforcement mechanism of any sort.

During the Bradford riots, it was predominantly the white communities that had become self-segregated, while the largely Muslim Pakistani community was actually very willing to come together in joint meetings.

The target is often the migrant or minority communities, and not the majority white communities.

The premise is that it is the problem of people whose language is not English, whose culture is different from the mainstream.

But in reality, very often you have to concentrate on the host community.

Peter Herbert

  • Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers
  • Human rights barrister with extensive work in diversity and community engagement

If you go to Canada and watch migrant communities being settled and integrated in Canada, it is the welcome of the host community that is prevalent and that is what makes the difference.

If you do not have that and instead have alienation, abuse on the street, and lack of employment opportunities - these are the things that drive communities apart.

Start Quote

Nissa Finney

Many of the claims that Britain is 'sleepwalking to segregation' are myths”

End Quote
Dr Nissa Finney, of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE)

There has been a shift in thinking about ethnic integration over the last decade or two - from concerns about ethnic discrimination and celebrations of multiculturalism, to the recent focus on the importance of "Britishness".

But we must not be hasty in assuming that identification with an ethnic group is problematic: many of the claims that Britain is "sleepwalking to segregation" are myths.

Dr Nissa Finney

  • Member of the Economic and Social Research Council's Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity
  • Hallsworth Fellow at the University of Manchester

And results from the latest census show, for example, that the country is becoming more mixed residentially and that ethnic minority groups are more likely to feel exclusively British than the White British.

However, nor should we be complacent that 'ethnic inequalities' have been addressed: they persist, including in employment.

Understanding why ethnic inequalities persist is the aim of the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE), based at the Universities of Manchester and Glasgow, and should be the focus of policy too.

Start Quote

Claire Fox

British society no longer has a clear sense of what [immigrants] should be integrating into”

End Quote
Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas

Over recent years, core multicultural policies have been very destructive. The way the state has intervened has been to constantly reaffirm ethnic identities. In order to prove they are multicultural they have gone out of their way to flatter and fall over different communities, which has been utterly patronising.

However, I do not think that the way to encourage people to feel at home in Britain is to make it an enforced state policy.

Historically, for example, lots of immigrants to Britain and America were not forced to learn English - but they believed in the British or American Dream. There was something to believe in.

My fear is that immigrants are being blamed for not integrating, whereas the problem is that British society no longer has a clear sense of what they should be integrating into, in terms of a clear sense of national identity. What is Britishness? What is it that we are asking people to sign up to?

Claire Fox

  • Director of the Institute of Ideas
  • Member of the European Cultural Parliament and on advisory board of the Economic Policy Centre

The successful aspect of people coming to Britain in the past was that you were not just coming to a [physical] place, but you were buying into the idea of what it meant to be British. And that's the bit that we are in crisis over now.

Forcing people to speak English is not going to solve that problem.

One of the ironies is that Britain is a free society, which feels slightly less free if you are saying, "in order to be free we have to force you [to conform]".

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Max Wind-Cowie

Schools' demographic mix should reflect the town or area and not just the neighbourhood”

End Quote

Max Wind-Cowie, of think tank Demos

Britain is an open and generally very tolerant country. However, sometimes behaviour does not reflect aspiration.

Even though most of us are happy living in diverse areas, decisions by individuals often lead to more separation than people want. A combination of white British people moving out of inner cities and new arrivals moving in has resulted in 45% of ethnic minority Brits living in wards where white British people are in a minority.

Trends such as this make natural integration more difficult. Schools, public services and shared spaces become less and less mixed.

Max Wind-Cowie

  • Runs Integration and National Identity programme at think tank Demos
  • Oversees research on immigration, ethnic cohesion and patriotism

To tackle this, schools' demographic mix should reflect the town or area and not just the neighbourhood. We should also extend schemes such as the National Citizen's Service which bring together people from different backgrounds to work on projects and build understanding through contact.

We also need to ensure that everyone living in the UK has access to our shared language - so that they can work, play and engage with fellow citizens. Government cannot be expected to pay. But it can cover the upfront costs in the form of a loan, to ensure new arrivals receive English language lessons, and then seek repayment once migrants are integrated into the workforce. Much like a student loan.

Start Quote

George Whale

We must... provide compulsory education to minorities in language, culture and customs”

End Quote
George Whale, of party Liberty GB

Failure of integration and Britain's resulting fragmentation into competing and mutually uncomprehending ethnic and religious tribes is a recipe for future civil war. Therefore integration is of the greatest importance.

To make the task manageable we must first control and reduce the numbers to be integrated. This, by halting immigration; by expelling all illegal immigrants; by expelling immigrants convicted of imprisonable offences or who threaten our freedom and democracy; by reviewing the status of those granted asylum since 1997; by severely limiting immigrants' access to welfare; and by encouraging non-integrators to return voluntarily to their places of origin.

Countries such as the US and Israel provide (admittedly imperfect) models for integration of diverse groups under freedom and democracy. In Britain, we must insist upon English as the universal language of public discourse, and provide compulsory education to minorities in language, culture and customs, to foster shared values and understandings.

George Whale

  • Nominating officer of Liberty GB, describing itself as a new patriotic political party
  • Research manager at Queen Mary University of London

Above all we must instil cultural and historical pride in young native Brits, so that minority citizens can see clearly what it means to be British and that is it worth aspiring to. Only the confident, uncompromising assertion of Western/British culture and values can give Britain hope of a peaceful future.

Start Quote

Craig Morley

One policy area where [fostering integration] is crucial is our education system”

End Quote
Craig Morley, CEO and co-founder of The Challenge Network

Whether we talk about ethnicity, age or income, the UK has an integration problem. It is one that has had a damaging effect on our ability to forge relationships with people who are different to us, and has exacerbated many existing problems in our society.

It may be argued that you cannot force people from different ethnic backgrounds to mix with each other, but you can create policies that actively promote integration, rather than foster social segregation.

One policy area where this is crucial is our education system, which plays a pivotal role in the formative years of a young person and often determines what their social networks will look like during adulthood.

Craig Morley

  • Chief Executive and co-founder of The Challenge Network
  • The Challenge Network is a social integration charity and provider of the National Citizen Service

Our schools need to become places where young people from all walks of life come together, rather than homogenous communities which concentrate young people from the same ethnic and income groups together.

More support must also be given to fast-growing institutions like National Citizen Service. Through it, charities like my own have connected thousands of people across all income, ethnicity and generational lines.

Start Quote

Helen Barnard

The key to fostering ethnic integration is addressing poverty and economic disadvantage”

End Quote
Helen Barnard, of Joseph Rowntree Foundation's poverty team

The key to fostering ethnic integration is addressing poverty and economic disadvantage in the UK. There is higher poverty among all ethnic minority groups than in the white British population. Many ethnic minority groups are more likely to be unemployed and, if they are in work, to have low-paid and insecure jobs.

Progression in work is vital if we are to tackle this. A report we will be publishing on 25 September shows how employers can help low paid workers from all ethnicities to progress. It recommends actions that employers can take right now to help ethnic minority employees, such as changing managers' performance objectives to include developing low paid staff and creating transparent career ladders that show clearly what skills, experience and training are needed to move up.

Helen Barnard

  • Member of Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Poverty team since 2005
  • Manages programmes of work including child poverty and ethnicity

It is also vital that employers monitor and benchmark not only recruitment but also progression, retention and development of ethnic minorities so we can monitor change.

This is not just about employers though. Jobcentre Plus, Work Programme providers, local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships should also develop a specific focus on monitoring and supporting progression in work across ethnicities.

Listen to Catrin Nye's documentary about integration - Naturalising Newham - online now and at 17:00 BST on BBC Asian Network. See the film at 22:30 BST on Newsnight on BBC Two, both on Thursday 19 September 2013


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  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Its quite simple if you want to live in this country you speak our language obey our rules. The same as we are expected to do if we want to live elsewhere.

  • Comment number 60.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I live deep within the Scottish Gaidhealtachd. Only about 10% of the population speak the native language, Gaelic. English (a foreign language here) is everyones first language. In days gone by people would learn French as a second language, rather than English.

    My point? Times change. Britishness changes, ethnic mix changes, languages change and self identity changes.

    Get over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    It would appear that the sole purpose of coming here is to get a British passport to get as much out of the system as possible without actually being British or even attempting to learn the language. Just because a pig is born in a stable it does not make it a horse...

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Why should we be concerned, it is the responsibility of an immigrant to accept our culture and values whilst we try to assist by being neighbourly.

    There is no place here for forced marriages, genital mutilation, multi language forms from councils. Those who want to integrete into a society (any society) make an effort.

    Cut the PC rubbish and job quotas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.
    "As someone who immigrated here 13 years today and have 7 children
    From 7 different mothers and 5 different ethnic backgrounds"

    Wow, you've been busy! Hope you are supporting all these mothers and their children and not relying on me to do it. Mixed race kids are not "fashionable", just kids needing love and care, which might be spread very thinly in your case given so many progeny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    My mother is mixed (Half Chinese Half Italian)
    My Father is African American mixed with french (grandmother)

    My wife is English although her Great grandmother was Jamaican and her mother Scottish
    bred in Cornwall
    Her sister is married to an AFrican
    I speak 6 Languages and my wife 5

    Britain is fantastic what should be done?
    More mixed marriages PLEASE

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Integration should mean speaking the lingo, respect for the country that has allowed you residence and above all tolerance.

    So if you need something translating you supply the translator at your own cost, no more pamphlets in 500 languages and finally if you wish to turn this country into some sort of backward mediaeval outpost, you should find somehwere else to reside!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I'm always amazed by the degree to which western countries open themselves up to social experiments without assessing possible outcomes, in particular the stability of a society. We have seen this with unrestricted social networking, which has resulted in teenage suicides. Multiculturalism is another experiment with uncertain outcomes.

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.


    Please list the ethnicities of these fantasy women you have spawned. Also please explain how - on your £100,000 per year (as you commented yesterday) - you can afford to give your 7 children £50 per day (as you commented on the free lunch discussion). When 7x50x365 = £127750.

    Awaiting your reply with great anticipation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Don't bother, as soon as the moderator sees the words 'Muslim' or 'Islam' your comment will be deleted.

    Clear enough evidence that the Islamic community is influencing us in a negative manner by persuading the BBC that free speech, a core value in Western societies, can be stifled when a certain group doesn't want to hear the views of his/her fellow citizens expressing their dissent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @42 ronnieboy1

    Sorry if I misinterpreted your comment, when you lamented the state of Newham being 17% white British it sounded as if you were bringing race into it.

    For me the key number is British. I think we need to work harder on integration, the fact that super diverse London is 78% British according to 2011 census is to me proof that with hard work we can encourage proper integration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The issues at Newham are not dissimilar to those in some towns in Spain that have become over-run by expat Brits. Can't speak the lingo, only want British food and drink....
    It's not so much a cultural issue as an integration issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    33. laalNick - I did not say they are all criminals. I happily concede there are wonderful people from all over the world. But the fact is that group politics differ from individual relations. Our low birth rates and continuing immigration will see us become a minority in our own homelands. No amount of niceness from other groups is enough for me to be happy to see my own identity eradicated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Before worrying about whether XYZ should integrate with ABC or D, it would help if we defined and promoted what it is exactly to be British! I for one have no idea how I would define Britain and British culture. In little over a year approx 10% of this nation's population may vote for independence, is the British brand so tainted and debased that it is better to want away?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Race and ethnicity are irrelevant. Culture is what needs aligning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I'll try again.

    Most ethnic minorities have integrated without massive government involvement.

    Yet we have a portion of the Islamic community that just won't integrate. Is this a failure of government or the community? I think the latter.

    I don't think this section of society wants to integrate. The whole idea of political Islam is to spread Islam and give it footholds in other nations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    As someone who immigrated here 13 years today and have 7 children
    From 7 different mothers and 5 different ethnic backgrounds I hope
    My comment holds more credence than many here

    Mixed race children are fashionable, beautiful and the natural course
    Of a different Britain which will benefit from genes as best of both worlds


  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    #39 im not talking about race you stating a fact that 17% of newham is white british. I dont blame the immigrants I blame politicians that have allowed this.


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