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Viewpoints: What should be done about integration?

  • 19 September 2013
  • From the section UK
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A busy street in London with people of several different ethnicities

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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]".

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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