Sharing changing ground

‘Immigration’ may currently be dominating the debate as political players fall over themselves to show the voters how they tough they are on the matter, including, in the case of the Conservatives, embarking on a reckless path towards battles with the European Union that cannot be won. But amid the sound and fury it is ‘integration’ which has formed the subject of a slew of new reports coming out of the thinktank world.

Demos’ new study, Changing Places, focuses on the experience of ethnic change by the ethnic white majority in the country, particularly in England. It critiques the assumption that it believes exists that the white English should relinquish their ethnic identity in favour of a civic British identity while other groups retain an ethnic identity. In an effort to establish whether the phenomenon of ‘white flight’ really exists, its detailed paper examines the movement of ethnic groups to and from more or less diverse council wards. It reminds the reader what was viscerally evident at Clacton, that white British opposition to immigration is much lower in areas of higher immigration, but argues that patterns of white British departures from more diverse areas are not necessarily due to an underlying racism – those holding anti-immigration views are no more likely than pro-immigrant white people to leave diverse areas, though the former are more likely to say they would like to.

Instead, the tank says, where groups do congregate, this is better put down to the strength of already-existing friend and family networks, or the draw of particular types of amenity: ‘pubs and nature trails rather than ethnic markets or proximity to a mosque,’ Demos suggests. In terms of the policy, it is keen to promote ‘gentle diffusion’ of minorities across ‘a wider range of neighbourhoods’ but also to persuade cities to encourage white British residents to remain in areas which are in the process of diversifying. It suggests promoting ‘nudge’ policies such as ‘retaining pubs, churches and football grounds; flying the Union Jack and George Cross from public buildings; and continuing to celebrate Christmas, St George’s Day and other festivities associated with the majority.’

IPPR, meanwhile, explicitly set out proposals to assist Britons and newcomers to integrate by ‘living well together’. The report, Shared Ground, besides its accompanying graphic novel, provides a useful comparative primer to the approaches adopted by the Labour and coalition governments: ‘the Labour government sought to reassert British identity as inclusive, patriotic and forward-thinking’ with a practical agenda of ‘community cohesion’ and promoting good race relations. Among the apologies for immigration and the constant argument that Labour placed little emphasis on managing the impact of immigration on public services, it is timely to be reminded by the report that the coalition has scrapped the Migration Impacts Fund, ESOL support and the Refugee Integration and Employment Service. The MIF was funded directly from immigrant visa fees (which, it notes, continue to be charged), an example of reciprocity which, together with Labour’s clear policy of earned citizenship, inserted a ‘something-for-something’ element into the immigration and citizenship arena. It is a far cry from what the tank calls the coalition’s ‘clampdown culture’ of seeking to slash net migration and dispatching ‘go home’ vans to tour the streets of London. Just as concerning is how in 2012 the government quietly divested itself of responsibility for promoting integration, passing the role to local authorities while drastically cutting their funding.

Also worth a read is the new report of the Social Integration Commission, chaired by RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor. It sounds the alarm over the ‘poor degree of social integration’ in Britain, and calculates this lack of cohesion costs the country 0.5 per cent of GDP. This study also urges ‘positive steps to actively promote integration’ to head off the ‘fractured society’ it foresees. As the IPPR report recognises, ‘in a time of austerity it is unrealistic to expect central government to invest heavily in migrant integration’, but it is also true that in a time of such febrile, charged politics it seems just as unrealistic that a new government would allow itself to be seen to do so, whatever its political colour.

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