Tackling barriers to integration must be a priority for this government, writes Mark Lewis
In my article ‘Integration is essential post-Brexit’ I argued that in the past few months we have seen community cohesion deteriorate and I believed that the government must make community integration a priority. However, it has taken Chuka Umunna MP to step up to the plate to push the agenda on this issue, not the government.
The all-party parliamentary group on social integration was launched by Umunna yesterday, where they will focus on how to build the social ties which help people develop shared identities in modern Britain.
During the launch he argued that those of us championing the benefits of immigration and diversity need to recognise that rapid demographic change can put enormous pressure on local public services and threaten people’s sense of security and belonging. I agree with him. The government has failed in addressing the issue of integration of diverse societies by kicking the issue into the long grass, afraid of making the hard choices our nation needs.
As pointed out by Umunna the United Kingdom has gone from being an overwhelmingly white nation to one where 14 per cent of the population is made up of ethnic minority Britons. Many of our cities, towns and villages are now home to people of every colour and creed. By 2050, the proportion of British residents who are of an ethnic minority group will double.
We have seen not only seen these issues in the UK, in America with Donald Trump’s election and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, immigration has become a toxic tool to scare people with. Who could forget that dreadful poster that Nigel Farage used during the European Union referendum? Likewise the infamous moment Trump called mexicans rapists and murderers should serve as a wake up call to start taking immigration/integration seriously.
I am sure that many people up and down the country would agree with Umunna that in order to detoxify the debate, we need to own up the fact that immigration can undermine community cohesion but that it does not have to, and recognise that there is a middle way between shutting our borders and shutting our ears to people’s concerns.
I have written before about the need for government at all levels to introduce national policy and initiatives to encourage our citizens to engage and interact with one another.
Initiatives such as the following could be promoted to help with the situation:
- Schools should provide opportunities for pupils to interact with other children from different backgrounds.
- Local planning authorities should develop and preserve neighbourhoods which are not only diverse, but organised to enable residents from different backgrounds to mix with one another.
I concur with the arguments made by Umunna, there needs to be a concerted drive to break down barriers to integration. Umunna is right that we should provide much better support to help immigrants not only learn English and understand British values, but also meet and mix and build relationships with Britons from all backgrounds – integration, after all, is a two-way street.
I would still ague that positive interactions between Britons of differing background makes us as a people more positive and trusting towards others. This can result in greater community cohesion and subsequent tolerance of those who are different. When negative perceptions of one group are challenged through positive interactions, our general attitudes towards other groups are challenged. This is a test that we as a society must face head on, and may very well be a defining issue over the coming decade.
I would reiterate that integration must be a priority for this government, if it is not what we will see is an ‘us and them’ society and distrust in government, society and our neighbours increasing.
Mark Lewis is a Labour activist. He tweets at @charliebach
You can read the APPG report on social integration here
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