LONDON – A group of MPs today released a new report on the ‘integration of immigrants’.
The title of the report is instructive. As with the recent government-backed Casey review, which called on migrants to swear an oath of allegiance to Britain, discussions about integration in the UK tend to place the responsibility on the incomers rather than on the hosts.
The authors of this latest report are thoughtful about what local communities and central government can do to help migrants settle and integrate into the UK.
They also explicitly acknowledge that “integration is a two-way street, requiring the involvement of both newcomers and host communities.”
However, this is not the top line that most outlets have taken from it.
The Metro’s coverage today is typical. Headlined “Migrants ‘should be speaking English as soon as they arrive'” they report that MPs have called for migrants to be enrolled in “compulsory language classes” when they arrive.
Providing language classes for migrants is undoubtedly a good thing. However, it’s worth pointing out that according to the latest available census data, almost 90% of foreign nationals living in the UK already speak English “very well” so it’s not entirely clear what the purpose of forcing every single new incomer to take classes would achieve. It’s also worth pointing out that existing funding for English classes has been drastically cut over recent years. It’s unclear why the government would suddenly commit to greater funding now, particularly as they are also committed to dramatically reducing immigration.
Nevertheless, the language issue has become totemic for anti-immigration campaigners. When UKIP lost the Oldham by-election in 2015, against many predictions, their then leader Nigel Farage suggested that the result had been ‘bent’ by corrupt postal voting.
In multiple interviews, he insisted that mass immigration and the increase of ethnic minorities meant democracy had “died” in parts of Britain. In one interview he cited a report which suggested that there was a street in Oldham “where nobody spoke English, nobody had ever heard of Jeremy Corbyn, but they were all voting Labour.”
No such report existed. However, the idea that there are vast swathes of the UK which are now essentially ‘foreign’ is one that persists against all evidence. In 2015, then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told his supporters that “we have places in London and other places that are so radicalised that police are afraid for their own lives.” Then London mayor Boris Johnson rightly described the claims as “utter nonsense”, however, the idea that the UK and much of Europe have become ‘no-go areas’ for ‘natives’ remains a popular far-right trope.
The risk is that well-meaning reports, such as today’s, only play into this sense that immigration has made the UK a more divided and less cohesive place to live than ever before.
A dis-united kingdom?
Because the evidence suggests that while there are problems within some communities in some parts of the UK, Britain has overall been surprisingly successful at accommodating large numbers of incomers over recent years.
As the recent Casey report acknowledged, for the vast majority of people living in the UK, community cohesion is not seen as a problem.
According to Casey’s own figures: “In 2015-16, 89 per cent of people thought their community was cohesive, agreeing that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. This feeling of cohesiveness has risen slowly from 80 per cent in 2003.”
The report also found that 89% of people felt that they belonged “very or fairly strongly to Britain.”
Far from becoming an ever more divided nation, these figures suggest that Britain is actually overwhelmingly united.
The other problem with the current debate is that it places far too much emphasis on the responsibilities of immigrants and not enough on the responsibilities of everybody else. One largely-missed report last month found that white British people are significantly less likely to socialise with people from different racial backgrounds than any other group.
Once the demographics of where they live was taken into account, white Britons were less likely to mix with other racial groups than people from either black, Asian or mixed backgrounds.
It is vital that the government addresses problems of community cohesion, particularly during a period in which both concern about immigration and hate crimes against minority groups have increased.
However, the current debate risks painting a portrait of a deeply divided country, into which newcomers are refusing to integrate. The evidence we have so far suggests this portrait simply isn’t true.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Evidence from an impeccable source that today’s postal voting was bent.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 4, 2015
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