Government integration policy is always a difficult balancing act. Do too little and you will be accused of ignoring one of the biggest, albeit least tangible, social problems facing the country. Do too much and you will be accused of denying individual choice and “assimilationism” by liberal-minded politicians and some ethnic minority leaders.
This latest green paper, a belated response to Louise Casey’s important integration report of December 2016, gets the balance about right and it is in a different league to the complacent 2012 strategy summed up by its “big integration lunch”.
Moreover, it does actually talk about integration. The temptation for governments and public authorities is to slide into the more comfortable default position of talking about discrimination, a different though sometimes related subject. That default means focusing relentlessly on white racism and tip-toeing around South Asian separatism, which is no longer an adequate way of framing the debate.
This green paper by and large avoids that temptation, though why on earth point out that the proportion of the population admitting to being very or a little prejudiced has never fallen below 25 per cent and yet omit the fact that only one per cent admit to being very prejudiced?
The green paper does not flinch from reporting the facts of growing educational and residential separation. About 60 per cent of visible minority pupils are in majority minority schools. In 2011 at the time of the last census 44 per cent of visible minority people lived in wards that were majority non-White British, up from just 28 per cent in 2001. The green paper points out that around 20 per cent of both Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have poor English language proficiency. And it reports that the British Integration Survey of 2016 found levels of social mixing, including in London, that are way below what you would expect if people were ethnicity-blind. If a well integrated society is one in which “everyone is a potential friend”, as the green paper puts it, then we have a long way to go.
It also draws the correct, commonsensical, conclusions from this as do the 65 per cent of British people who tell pollsters that integration is a big worry. The green paper puts it like this: “Residential segregation in itself need not be problematic. However, it can be a key factor driving segregation in schools. It can also hamper integration by creating communities in which there may be little need for people to learn English and limited opportunity or willingness to challenge cultural practices which hold people back, in particular women, from realising their full potential. Where people live in segregated areas, the opportunities for them to mix and form meaningful relationships with people from different groups are more limited, potentially leading to higher levels of mistrust and anxiety.”
So how will the government lean against these worrying trends? There is no new big idea here but lots of useful crunchy detail and for the first time a proper analytical focus on residential and school segregation.
At the political-legal level it comes quite close to proposing a duty on public authorities to promote integration/mixing, it should take the extra leap. On Muslim separatism it calls for registration of Sharia marriages and closer monitoring of private religious schools and home schooling. On language there appears to be no extra money available but some useful ideas about publicising the subsidised courses that already exist among those who could most benefit from them and better visibility for the “conversation clubs” which are an essential follow up to lessons.
The focus on five local authority areas marked by high levels of ethnic division is also sensible. The five areas—Blackburn, Bradford, Walsall, Peterborough, Waltham Forest (see more detail on the Integration Hub)—will receive extra attention and resources and will run integration experiments that if successful can be rolled out across the country.
The green paper also has a welcome section on data collection, which in itself focuses the mind on what are the most pressing issues, and spreading best practice. Regular collection and publication of data, both national and local, on ethnic mixing would be a giant step forward. (The recently launched Race Disparity Audit does not provide the relevant data, it is about differential outcomes for minorities. Our own Integration Hub provides data on both differential outcomes and integration.)
The paper says government is working on an “integration measurement framework” to include dozens of indicators such as school mix, English language provision and ethnic minority employment levels. The two most valuable things to monitor would be ethnic mix in schools and neighbourhoods. The former is already available in Department of Education data though it needs someone to dig it out and publicise it regularly. The latter can only really be gathered from the census. More thought needs to be given to how movements can be tracked between censuses, perhaps using the name based analysis developed by Richard Webber and Trevor Phillips. We also need a commitment to bring back the Citizenship Survey with its big ethnic minority component and extensive questions on attitudinal and integration related questions.
The green paper is so focussed on the close up that it misses some of the bigger picture. The big worry is that we are drifting towards a Britain divided between metropolitan centres with large, even majority, minority populations—London, Slough, Leicester, Luton, Birmingham—and those areas of the country that remain 90 per cent-plus White British—Sunderland, Carlisle, Plymouth—as well as smaller towns and the countryside. Could we follow down the US path of red state v blue state and the emergence of white identity politics?
Professor Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College fears so. “If we focus too much on a few hotspots we may miss the much bigger picture of ‘2 nations’, white v superdiverse, that is emerging and could be leading to US style balkanization.”
Leaning against those more pessimistic trends, we have the rapid growth of the minority middle class, we also see the steady growth of the mixed‑race population. And the proportion of White British people who say they have friends who are not white has risen to around 40 per cent. Nevertheless, more focus on retaining white people in super diverse areas, as Kaufmann proposes, is surely where thinking should go next.
Homophily, the tendency for people to cluster together with those who are most like them, is a powerful human instinct. A cohesive but ethnically diverse society must both allow for its expression and prevent it becoming too entrenched. As religious and other values become more divergent the sharing of everyday experiences, norms and ways of life becomes more important, and that will only happen if we mix together in at least some aspects of daily life.