Viewpoints: What should be done about integration?

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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”

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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.

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Nissa Finney

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

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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.

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Claire Fox

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

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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”

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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.

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George Whale

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

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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.

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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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  • Comment number 481.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 480.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    It'll take a miracle to reverse the disgusting position we are currently in & that shall be getting worse for the foreseeable future. A guy on the One Show the other day corrected the presenter that he wasn't a Black Cab Driver, an iconic London symbol, but driver of multi-person transportation vehicle or some other drivel. Can't say that yet we reward Music of Black Origin. Save us Eminem PLEASE!

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    In an age of equality (at least that's the goal) why do we still have a organisation called "Society of Black Lawyers"?

  • Comment number 477.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    It’s odd, in 83 Labour actually had a manifesto promise to withdraw from the EU.

    Since that defeat it’s become a shibboleth that being anti EU is electoral suicide.

    Equally oddly the EU is based on free market libertarian principles, the free movement of labour being one of them; yet the ‘libertarian’ UKIP are opposed to it.

    Funny thing politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    Sick of being told the indigenous people have to integrate. NONSENSE. If you wish to join an existing community it is your responsibility to integrate. My family did so and we are doing fine. This is a society based on secular democracy and Christian values. No changes should be expected or offered. If this country is not to your liking, well, no one is forced to live here are they!

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    I find it staggering that the chair of the Society of Black Lawyers can't see the hypocrisy of stating that "We do not have segregation in any shape or form in the UK" when he chairs an organisation that differentiates on ethnic status.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    It's very naive to assume that everyone who comes to this country does so with the intention of integrating and contributing. While some do, many others are happy to take advantage of our tolerance and generous welfare state.

    Sweden and The Netherlands have paid a high price for their tolerance - cities such as Malmo and Rotterdam are fast becoming foreign enclaves.

    It will happen here soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    I have no objection to immigrants being encouraged to learn English; it is the key to long term success.

    Policies should be based on evidence, not ideologies.

    The coalition cut funding for ESOL; not the best policy if you want to encourage English speakers.

    If Newham’s policies produce results then follow its example, if not then look at what will work better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Before 1997 immigration was relatively well controlled, the numbers were low enough to allow immigrants to assimilate into British society. What New Labour did was bring chaos. Uncontrolled mass immigration with people from vastly different cultures to our own, the likes of which this island has never seen before. Immigration can be a good thing but only when it is properly controlled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Isn't it glaringly obvious what the vast majority on this Site think?Integration does not exist cos many who come here to change our way of life don't even bother to learn English.
    Seeing the comments on here gives me hope that political correctness and paranoia about being called "racist" for telling truth are becoming overtaken by commonsense; and that most Brits want their country back again !

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Ethnic & cultural diversity are the greatest asset to any community and as such should be supported & celebrated

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.


    "Religions cannot win against rationalism, by definition."

    Really Fuzzy - tell that to the Iranians. See how they dressed and lived before the revolution and now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Daily Mail readership out in force on this one, who woke them up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    Sad to say that the laudable post colonial notion of multi-culturalism has failed and it's time we acknowledged it. It's also time we acknowledged that no major ethnic group that has established cultural enclaves in the UK has actually benefitted the country or its indigenous people in any measurable way. Cultural norms and morals originating outside Europe shld be tolerated but not encouraged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    Integration? How about repatriation instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Article is: "What should be done about integration" ?
    Answer is simple: those who come here should integrate, learn English, stop wearing face-masks, support England when Pakistan tours our country,
    follow OUR laws & not run off to Sharia gurus.
    Next question :" What should be done about further immigration in order to stop more failed integration, which does not work cos they won't integrate"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    "I'd ban state-funded religious schools. Religion and state should be completely separate..."
    The main goal of Islamists is to convert infidels (non-Muslims) to Islam. What better way to create the favorable conditions necessary to make that goal easier than to turn people against the existing state faith in the target country. Looks like they've succeeded in doing that with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    459. Kitty
    If they come here, then they have to accept what Britain is. Not what they want it to be..but Britain, with it's own languages, cultures and identity.

    Welsh / Celtic / Gaelic and English are languages used in the British isles. So it's best to learn the local languages and customs.

    Whilst we're being absurd don't forget Cornish, Scots, Angloromani, Irish & Shelta.


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