CHUKA UMUNNA’S report on social integration is timely as there are many factors placing pressure on social cohesion.
Our demographics are changing, geographical settlement patterns by BME populations are changing, structural segregation and social mobility for many is stark and intransigent, and there is a rise in hate crime and immigration sentiment. We are having to work harder to resist the forces that are trying to tear a multi-national and multi-ethnic UK apart.
The Integration Not Demonisation social integration report focuses on four particular areas for policy development: the devolving of immigration policy, a comprehensive integration strategy, reforming the citizenship process and a renewed emphasis on learning the English language. Our experience since 2004 (enlargement of the EU and the subsequent increase in migration from EU countries) certainly suggests that some of these areas are important: for some time now there has been pressure to devolve immigration decisions to regional levels where the impact of immigration is felt the most.
Under Labour, we had a Migration Impact Fund to address the pressures on public services from immigration, but this was scrapped by the Tories in 2010. The recommendation to reintroduce an Integration Impact Fund to finance immigrant integration policies is therefore a much-needed policy to manage the impact of new migrants on settled communities (both BME and white). And post-Brexit, it is an important signal to emphasise the acceptance of new migrants as potential British citizens, and view migrant integration as a two-way process. And, of course, nobody will disagree that learning the English language is a crucial driver for integration success. On this broad basis, The Runnymede Trust welcome the report and view this as moving in the right direction.
But we are concerned that the report has not sufficiently focused on other key drivers of integration. Our own work on What works with integrating new migrants shows that labour market/employment participation is the most important driver of migrant integration success. This is because employment has several benefits; it enables financial security & self-sufficiency for a new migrant; it enables new migrants to further their native (English) language skills; it helps new migrants establish connections with other communities and it enables them to gain broader ‘cultural’ knowledge.
In other words, it has wider benefits beyond income generation. Other countries, such as Germany, recognise the importance of employment for integration success, and their integration policies reflect this evidenced-based learning. Our own integration policies – more ad hoc, piecemeal and discriminatory (demonising settled ethnic minority and Muslim communities) sadly lag well behind and do not acknowledge the importance of socio-economic status on integration success.
We are also concerned the report does not place sufficient emphasis on integration being a multi-dimensional process, where new migrants need to feel integrated in other key areas of life – political, social, economic as well as cultural. It’s not enough to stress that new migrants need to integrate more into the ‘British way of life’ unless we define what that is and how inclusive Britishness will be.