Britain is in urgent need of a national conversation about citizenship, argues Thom Brooks
The integration of immigrants into British society is a key concern for the public. Two new reports by Dame Louise Casey last month and the APPG on Social Integration led by Chuka Umunna MP provide some welcome ideas to tackle this problem. Both recommend that migrants know English, embrace British values and that segregated communities need to come together. Neither goes far enough:
First, integration is not a one-way street. Immigrants have a responsibility to become a part of the wider community they wish to join. To succeed, they need the community’s support. There should be surgeries at local councils to provide advice to new residents. As a migrant from the United States, I did not know about the TV licence until I had a knock on the door from an enforcement officer – no one had told me about it. We cannot expect migrants to endorse values or local customs they know nothing about. More can be done to provide information and support to enable migrants to integrate. We should not create unnecessary barriers.
Second, integration is for citizens old and new. The reports by Casey and Umunna focus only on the integration of immigrants. We need a bolder vision that this. There are already isolated communities segregated from each other. As my recent research has found, integrating immigrants will not solve this problem without a wider strategy for connecting communities more broadly.
Third, English literacy is important for everyone. Both reports highlight the need for migrants to know English. Yet many live in areas with poor access to ESOL. We must address this post code lottery so those that need to learn English can get into a programme without unnecessary delays. English language skills help bring communities together and improve employability. Nearly 16 per cent of adults in England and Wales may be functionally illiterate. The benefits of access to English training should be offered to Britons too. Everyone should benefit – integration is not only for the few, but for the many.
Finally, we urgently need a national conversation about citizenship. Casey and Umunna recommend clearer pathways to citizenship for new migrants to encourage their full integration into British life. As a migrant who became a British citizen, I welcome this proposal. However, there should be more support available to support this transition such as using new citizens as voluntary ambassadors for new residents. It is also important this is not top-down, but from the ground-up. Integration is about creating a community and we must involve communities at every stage. Otherwise, we risk alienating further the people we want to bring together. Bolder thinking building off the recommendations by these reports on integration will help get this right.
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