As the debate surrounding the Casey Review, and the report itself has shown, integration is a subject of some controversy, not least the definition of the term itself, historically contested by researchers, activists and among members of diverse communities.
As other blog posters here have highlighted, the focus embedded within the review is on particular minority ethnic communities, with concern about both residential and school segregation (among other policy areas) directed at largely Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. What this inevitably does is suggest that integration is ‘about’ those communities alone, and does little to dispel the view that there are some groups, rather than others, upon whom the burden to integrate is placed. It should instead be the case that a willingness for integration on all sides is necessary. But what is also clear is that the starting point for this discussion should be placed elsewhere
Our work at JRF centres around poverty, and its successful reduction. We believe that poverty is one of the largest barriers to integration across all groups and this should be at the heart of any intervention work around this issue.
Poverty creates tension among poorer communities. We know that in times of austerity and ensuing financial hardship across public services, access to increasingly scarce resources is restricted. Our research in Bradford in the wake of public discussion about community cohesion, noted the negative impact that increasing local deprivation had on community relationships in precisely those areas deemed to have been ‘sleepwalking to segregation’. Perceived competition for employment, services and support can exacerbate divisions among groups in poorer communities, along ethnic, religious and migration status lines which relates more to a lack of economic opportunities than the ethnic make-up of a locality.
The Casey Review rightly notes that economic progress is an indicator of successful integration, and socio-economic exclusion is a sign of failure. Poverty not only damages life chances, it also has a detrimental impact on communities.
But we also know that there is more poverty in every minority ethnic group in the UK than among the White British population and that the poverty many minority ethnic groups experience does not relate simply to poorer education levels or high rates of worklessness or economic inactivity. Instead as our ongoing work on this issue, and indeed our recent State of the Nation report suggests, in-work poverty is on the rise, with 55% of people in poverty living in a working family and workers from specific minority ethnic groups more likely to be employed in low wage sectors from which there are few progression opportunities.
It is also clear that racism and discrimination act as real barriers to success in the labour market. The recent Women and Select Committee Enquiry into Muslims and employment noted the ‘chilling effect’ that the fear of racism has on the willingness of Muslim women to travel across different areas to access work and our own research has shown that the lack of confidence some minority ethnic women in particular express with regards to travelling to access employment or services, relates to concerns about safety & fear of racial harassment
Segregation itself is not increasing but poverty and the communal tensions it generates, is. Segregation does not create unequal outcomes among groups, but poverty and racism does. We fear that the target for intervention will be misplaced if directed only at the development of increased social mix and sharing of British values. We do believe that work to reduce poverty, through boosting incomes, reducing the increasingly high costs that people in poverty are burdened with, reversing the cuts to funding for ESOL courses, addressing discrimination in the labour market and ensuring economic growth is truly inclusive, will enable more cohesive communities, free from poverty, to flourish.