THERE are few benefits of immigration for Britain if we have immigration without integration. Britain has a mixed record on integration: we have made much progress over the decades and it is widely understood that our future is as a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society, but we are also today a considerably more anxious and fragmented country than any of us would want. Paying more attention to integration is one of the keys to rebuilding public confidence in the positive contribution of immigration post-Brexit.
The new report of the APPG on Social integration is timely. We have never yet had a proper integration strategy. Opportunities to change that are opening up. Communities secretary Sajid Javid is due to provide the government’s response to last year’s Casey Review. Cityregion mayors, from Sadiq Khan in London to Andy Street in the West Midlands, are placing increased emphasis on a practical approach to integration.
The APPG report is right to highlight increasing English language provision as a foundation stone. A common language is a passport to full economic, social and political participation in our society. Without it, we cannot make friends across social divides, nor can parents engage fully in their children’s educational prospects. Post-election polling for British Future showed that 67 per cent of adults think that the Government should be providing more English language classes, an opinion that crosses all age, class and political divides. Employers can be asked to play a greater role, to help host classes accessible to migrants working long hours. Businesses who employ large numbers of migrants should have a strong interest in being seen to step up to make a contribution to the integration agenda as part of their case about the need for migration post-Brexit.
Increasing contact between people from different backgrounds matters too. It is hard for policy-makers to quickly break down established patterns of residential segregation, but planning powers can ensure enough attractive public space to promote social interaction. Schools have a big role to play. Nobody should go to school in Britain without meaningful contact across ethnicities, faiths and social classes.
APPG chair Chuka Umunna has voiced the concern that a toxic immigration debate can be a barrier to integration. There is no ducking the need to rethink immigration after Brexit, so it is essential to get the tone of the debate right – recognising both the pressures and gains of migration. That should mean more public engagement in the choices we now make about immigration and integration, rather than less.
British Future’s new research shows strong public support for student and skilled migration, along with scepticism about how governments have handled the recent pace of change. Most people see integration as a two-way street, where those coming in to our society need to learn the language and play by the roles – while we all have a responsibility to tackle discrimination and prejudice for a vision of integration to be realised. It is important to ensure that a successful integration debate needs to be about everybody – not about ‘them and us’ but the shared opportunities and responsibilities of our shared citizenship. If integration isn’t about everybody, it is not really an integration agenda at all.