The Casey Review into opportunity and integration in the UK is not easy reading for anyone who believes that the opportunities and chances afforded to a person throughout his or her life course should not be constrained by where they were born, to whom they were born to or by the ethno-religious and cultural grouping to which they belong.

The report brings into focus that the UK is not an equal nor meritocratic society; my own (somewhat partisan) reading is that the neo-liberal rhetoric of choice and individual decision-making fails to deal adequately with the structural determinants – such as unequal positioning within the employment or education ‘markets’ – that act to sift and sort people into different places, producing and reproducing the geographically varied socio-economic terrain upon which social inequalities are played out.

In this regard, a welcome feature of the review is the recognition that integration is not just about people from different faiths and cultures getting along better and interacting as peers and neighbours in their places of work or residence (desirable though that may be): integration is multi-dimensional – it relates to what Galster and Shevky (2017) theorise as the spatial opportunity structure, which is different for different people and, being so, creates the spatial foundations of inequality.

An example of this, identified in the report, is the intersection of ethnic and social segregation, a recognition of which questions the idea that different groups voluntarily choose to live apart but may well be constrained to do so. Harris et al. (2015) highlight the growing prevalence over the period 1991 to 2011 of especially the Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups into neighbourhoods with the highest levels of unemployment, long-term sickness or a disability, and also the highest levels of part-time working amongst those who do have a job.

In this respect, the report’s recommendations to reduce economic exclusion and inequality are laudable but light: for example, proposals to address language or other cultural barriers to employment must be a good thing but they do not do much to address deeper problems of underemployment, unstable employment, rising costs of living, the unaffordability of housing, and so forth. On such matters the report is rather quiet.

A few points of detail. The report notes that in 2001 there were 12 wards in 7 local authorities where more than 40 per cent of the population identified as Pakistani but by 2011 there were 24 in 11. This it cites as evidence that in some cases people from minority groups have become more concentrated and segregated (and it reports similar findings for the Indian group too). This is an example of where we need to be careful with how we interpret the data or, at least, recognise that different interpretations exist.

It is, in fact, possible that what is being revealed here is the reverse of what is being claimed with the groups appearing more concentrated in more places because actually the group has deconcentrated and spread out. What we would need to know to draw a firm conclusion is whether the levels of concentration in the 12 wards of 2001 have increased, decreased or stayed the same. The report also conveys the impression that schools are more ethnically segregated than neighbourhoods whereas my understanding is the reverse is true: primary schools tend to reflect the neighbourhoods within which they are situated whereas secondary schools are more diverse.

What is true is that school age populations are more residentially segregated than the population as a whole but that is largely inevitable: children live with their parents but as they grow-up they separate and spread-out. Finally, I am not persuaded that figures such as half of non-white pupils attend schools that are themselves majority non-white should necessarily be regarded as evidence of a problem: those schools could still be ethnically diverse and likely much more so than the schools that most white pupils attend.

Nevertheless, the evidence that ethnic segregation is decreasing should not be taken as a denial that it persists at all. Moreover, it would be an academic folly to keep on trotting out the figures and hope to empirically wish away the evident tensions and concerns that this report articulates clearly with a generally solid set of facts and figures behind it. The risk of a report like this is it will provoke knee-jerk reactions that do more harm than good or add to media distortions of particular people or parts of the UK. I hope neither is true and that instead the report will be a springboard to a more socially integrated and mutually tolerant society.

 

References

Galster, G. & Shevky, P., 2017. Spatial Foundations of Inequality: A Conceptual Model and Theoretical Framework. The Russell Sage Journal of the Social Sciences, 3(2), forthcoming.

Harris R., Johnston, R. & Manley, D., 2015. The changing interaction of ethnic and socio-economic segregation in England and Wales, 1991–2011. Ethnicities, doi: 10.1177/1468796815595820

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