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]".

Start Quote

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 301.

    "Peter Herbert states 'If you have segregation then there is a need for integration. We do not have segregation in any shape or form in the UK..' yet describes himself as Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers. Discuss."

    Interesting, eh? Try starting up a 'Society of White Anything You Choose' and wait for the wailing & gnashing of teeth from the anti-racism/equalities lobbies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    BlueIsTheColour -I'm sick of our towns turning into foreign ghettos, I don't want a mosque in my town.

    Why don't you want a mosque? You don't have to attend. Change the word mosque for synagogue & your diatribe is starting to sound worryingly familiar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.


    I'd snap your hand off for a deal in which I live in abject poverty but there were no foreigners in England

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    integration what integration? all I see is areas of this country segregated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    There's an old saying that is as true today as it was before Tony Blair opened the UK borders to anyone who wanted settle here:-

    "When in Rome do as the Romans do"

    Need I say any more?

    P S, I was told recently that immigrants call the UK, "The land of free money."

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Integration is not an issue for most, there are just a few who want to change laws & customs because it does not suit them. We need to say 'If you don't like it, go live in a country that already does what you want' We have a great country, don't let them spoil it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    Racism? The only race I'm interested in the one I'm coming to an end of.... being a pensioner getting near the end of my race I just hope I die before I'm beheaded for not bowing to the East five time a day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    As a society is a single, homogenous culture the very concept of multiculturalism is absurd.

    We need ONE set of ideals, ONE set of moral codes, ONE unifying identity. Without these we're just a bunch of people living in vaguely the same area.

    If you want integration, and a functional society, then newcomers will have to adapt to the prevailing culture, not expect others to change for them

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Integration should be the process whereby those choosing to live here adopt the values important in Britain;cease to consider themselves Indian (or whatever) and start to consider that their loyalty is to Britain. It includes speaking English. It's not a question of how Britain changes to accommodate them. If immigrants don't like the UK, and want to change it, then they're in the wrong place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Lets face it people don't come here for British values they come here for the free house, healthcare, education and money (even for children that don't live here!) We are to soft !

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    As a white Brit, there is NOTHING more frustrating than trying to address a serious problem eg where serious financial or career issues are at stake, when the two other parties come from different backgrounds with different grammar & accents, and barely speak English, so cannot hope to understand each other.

    I shudder to think how the NHS manages, when so many people have no common language.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    1 No non essential/not needed immigration/assylum seekers.
    2 NO immigrant allowed without a £20000 bond returned on leaving.
    3 ANY crime committed automatically ejects immigrant and ALL family no return no appeal.
    4 Immigrants religious and cultural leanings to be confined to their homes
    5 immigrants MUST obtain visa in own country NO exceptions.
    6 NO immigration from countries we give aid to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    For me it isn't multiculturalism or lack of integration that is the problem it is poverty. When money is short and people are struggling for some reason they turn on each other and want to blame someone.

    Our national debt and austerity was not caused by migrants but bankers, corporate greed and political incompetence yet migrants are now increasingly a popular target.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    I think if everyone treated the country like they would their house everything would be much better. There wouldn't be any litter for starters. Also we wouldn't allow millions of strangers in, even if most of them are decent people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    One of the worst polices is faith schools, these should be banned, as they foster isolation and avoid integration.

    DR Nissan Finney, the reason we don't feel british is because we as white people are not allowed to follow, practice or enjoy our cultural heritage.

    the left and the bbc and other liberal do gooder's and the PC brigade have eradicated any white culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Multiculturism is exploited. We have not let the people in to our country for the correct reasons. Genuine asylum cannot be turned down, however most are here and have lowered wages, taken affordable housing and claimed benefits so the top rich 1% of our population can get a cheap tiling job in their bathroom is a disgrace to the other 99% of hard working Brits. We are far too self deprecating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    From what I have seen, immigrants tend to form their own communities and do not attempt to integrate. This is especially prevalent with Muslims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Why not accept the inevitable?
    Some people do not want to integrate..
    Pay the Air fare to send them home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    I've said it before but I'll say it again, its easy to be noble with other peoples lives. Many of the liberal left have been doing that most of my lifetime. Not just fron the native brit side either, e.g. the forced marriage/honour killing tolerance disgrace.

    If you dont want the culture, value and rule of law of western Eurpoe/ UK then dont live here, regardless of where you were born.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Listen everybody. The BBC has self-selected to be the official censor of free debate. Be advised that ANY comment challenging the Islamic way will be deleted. The BBC has unilaterally decided that free thought and expression about Our concerns about Islam is not allowed. This is more dangerous than extreme Islamic activism!


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