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.

Start Quote

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 81.

    It is such an important question and I just wish I had some answers.

    A lot of people here cannot accept the different varieties of white people (class, religion, gender) let alone different races, cultures and religion. In particular the upper (and sadly) ruling classes are still from this single WASP demographic. Perhaps seeing more representation of ethnicities in power would be a good start?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Integration happens when people that come into the country HAVE to interract with the wider polulation. It takes years in some cases. People enter the country and have to adapt to it's culture. We have a situation where people can come here, join their own community, have documents translated into their own language and force their culture on others. Thus they don't need to integrate at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    What hypocrisy. 'Sir Robin' has already separated himself from other citizens by accepting a socially elevating knighthood - awarded by people who have separated themselves from society by claiming privilege, power wealth and entitlement through empty notions of 'birthright'. Now he dictates to ethnic groups, removing cultural signifiers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Immigrants need to display a desire to adopt the basic values and principals of this country. This does not mean that they forsake their own cultures, but if these clash with British norms, than perhaps Britain is not the place for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Again, the establishment has failed Britain and even the immigrants themselves by not providing adequate integration provision including overpopulating certain areas creating seperatist communitys.

    The establishment made it easy for non integration & instead concentrated on race/colour issues & culture & not the most important, communication.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Call me hardliner or whatever but It infuriates me that people come to this country to escape what they call persecution and then insist on trying to uphold and even promote the very cultures they have run away from. Sharia courts, sharia law, arranged marriages etc. Sorry but I don't like it and I never will

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Axe all benefits, payouts, free houses, free cars, free internet and all the other state handouts that immigrants get until they have worked and paid tax and national insurance in the UK for at least twelve months. They'd soon integrate - into their own societies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    48. johnboy99 - Mass immigration of younger people with families, who have more children that threaten to replace the native people is not at all the same as British retirees who go and live out their last days on the coast in Spain - who if they run out of money have to return home instead of being supported by the local's tax money. Those retirees have no long term demographic impact on the host

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    32. Mariner

    "I am pleased to say you are wrong. All major cities White is a majority. However you are taking it towards race"

    Who said anything about race??? Why did you automatically assume I am white???? Here is what wikipedia says about a number of white british in london:

    "According to the Office for National Statistics, based on the 2011 Census estimates ... 44.9 per cent White British"

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Integration will not occur while people seeking to retain their differing cultures; indeed that can be divisive.

    The very little that can be done is probably to ensure the culture you live by is not hoist upon of does not significantly impact on the cultures of others. This may mean accepting changes to your own culture.

    Any other solutions would probably be politically unacceptable to everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Queen Victoria's mother spoke little English, and Victoria herself was brought up speaking German until the age of three, even though she was born in England.

    It could be argued that, as the Duchess of Kent? Her mother was integrated into the British Royal family. But integrated into the population as a whole being largely a monoglot German? Would she pass the stringent standards of this HyS?...

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    "What should be done about ethnic integration?"

    Interesting headline but why not

    "Why don't immigrants integrate into British society, British values and British Customs, after all they've come to live here and it seems sometimes as if they want as a 'right' everything they like about Britain but reject anything they don't like and demand to keep any right or practice they bought with them?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Interesting that Peter Herbert states '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...', yet describes himself as the Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.


    I know that. I'm laughing at him everytime - Just like everyone else. Please don't ban him moderators. He's the best thing on this site at the moment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I like a mix of cultures, I grew up in Leicester and then moved to Birmingham and although I'm white I've generally lived in Asian areas, they're usually nicer than the white ones! They cleaned up Balsall Heath beautifully, used to be a red light district now it's full of green grocers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    People are human beings with the same needs. Separating them with borders, flags, religion, sexuality, colour and notions of style and cultural progression is false. Empathy is more important than forced integration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @37 Staal

    Can I ask a couple of questions:
    1) Who expects it to be?
    2) By When?
    3) Are you referring to Birmingham being majority non-white or majority non-British?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Me and a girl have very strong feelings for each other, however there is a serious problem within her families indian traditions that puts an awful amount of pressure on her to marry another gujarati, which is a broad term in itself.

    Either she hides it from them or they disown her. Is this really an integrated britain?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    What’s ethnic integration?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    39. Mariner 45. Max - It is a fallacy that race has no meaning. Race, language, religion (I am atheist anyway), culture are all valid and identifiable parts of my and everyone else's identity. You cannot decide for us that we must not value one specific part of it, which is what the modern liberals have tried to do. Our identity/heritage has value by itself and is worth preserving.


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