Many of the public’s concerns about immigration relate to what they see happening in their local communities, writes Jill Rutter. Action on the home front is just as important as what happens at our borders if we are to build consensus on immigration – so it is apposite that the new report of the APPG on Social Integration comes hot on the heels of the latest immigration statistics.
Despite the importance of integration, the UK’s record in this area is mixed. Opportunities are, however, now opening up that place integration much higher up the policy agenda. A Government response to the independent Casey Review of Integration, in the form of a strategy or green paper, is imminent and there is a commitment from the very top of politics to take this issue forward. At regional level, city authorities in London, Manchester and Birmingham have deputy mayors or cabinet posts with responsibility for integration.
Increasing the quality and quantity of English language provision must be a priority and is rightly highlighted in the APPG’s report. Post-election polling for British Future showed that 67% of adults think that the Government should be providing more English language classes, an opinion that crosses all age, class and political divides. Without a language in common we find it hard to make friends and build bridges across social divides. We need to find better ways of helping migrants who work long hours to improve their fluency in English, including for the many new migrants from Eastern Europe.
The new report also highlights the importance of increasing contact between people from different backgrounds. Many of us live segregated lives, in the places where we live, work or are educated. It is hard to break down established patterns of residential segregation, but we need to be much better at providing opportunities and spaces for people from different backgrounds to meet and mix. Planning powers should be used to make sure that new housing developments are of mixed tenure and there is enough attractive public space to promote social interaction. Volunteering projects can also help bridge social divides and have been part of successful integration efforts in the US.
British Future’s research shows that most people feel that schools are now places where integration takes place, and welcome the fact that children are mixing with others from different backgrounds in their classrooms. In pockets where this is not happening, action may be required. New faith schools can create divisions that need to be broken down. Where children are being taught in schools that are almost entirely made up of one social, ethnic or faith group, greater efforts will need to be made to ensure they get a chance to mix with children from different backgrounds. This is happening in some local authorities such as Bradford and there are already some excellent school-linking projects across the UK.
There are balances to be struck between integration programmes that focus on all residents and those that target specific groups or communities: refugees and asylum-seekers, for example, are among our most isolated social groups and their integration should be a priority, working with local communities. A successful strategy should also celebrate integration where it is successful while also tackling difficult issues such as extremism and hate crime.
Integration is about creating a country that we can all share, and where different sectors of society live well together. It involves fairness, connectedness and participation. Social contact enables bridges to be built between people of different backgrounds, values to be shared and differences to be negotiated. Integration, therefore, helps to manage tensions and anxieties brought about by social and demographic change.
Getting integration right is an essential part of building a new immigration consensus. It must involve all of us, or it not really integration at all. It is about creating a country that we can all share, and where different sectors of society live well together – breaking down the social divides between ‘them and us’ to form a new, inclusive ‘we’.
Jill Rutter is Director of Strategy at British Future. This is an edited extract from ‘Time to get it right: Finding consensus on Britain’s future immigration policy’, published next week by British Future