Social integration report: more questions than answers

by Kimberly McIntosh, ROTA Policy Officer.

Chukka Umunna MP

Last week, the APPG on Social Integration led by Chukka Umunna MP, released its interim report, centred on 6 principles. Some of the recommendations are welcome, but it left us with more questions than answers. More clarity is needed on what the recommendations would look like in practice.

Welcome news

The inquiry suggested government create a national integration strategy, which can be tailored to be responsive to local needs. This strategy should acknowledge that integration is a ‘two-way’ street – everyone is responsible for creating a cohesive society, the white majority included. This is a welcome break from the Casey Review, which faced widespread criticism for its undue focus on the South Asian and Muslim community.

Equally, the strategy should outline how antidiscrimination and equalities legislation can be used to aid integration and assess migrants’ access to employment. This is vital – our work has shown that employment opportunities and robust antidiscrimination laws are the most effective integration measures.

Show me the money

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), was given a lot of attention in the report, as an important lever to aid integration. We wholeheartedly support increased funding for ESOL classes that are flexible and can fit around unsociable working hours. However, ESOL classes faced a real terms cut by the Skills Funding Agency last year. It seems unlikely that government would commit to funding compulsory ESOL for all new migrants via an Integration Impact Fund.

Similarly, it may not be viable for local authorities to have a duty to promote integration and draw up local integration plans. The repeated cuts and pressures on local authority budgets have been well documented, with many struggling to process the increase in hate crime. It is unclear how they would be able to deliver this strategy without increased funding.

Regional migration policy: a cause for concern

The proposed regionally-led migration approach is concerning. At face value it’s a good idea – giving local authorities control over migration could make them more responsive to local economic and social needs. In practice, the unintended consequences could be wide ranging. Without more detail, it leaves us with more questions than answers. Would a migrants’ visa be tied to one location only? Could they live in a neighbouring county and commute to work? Would they need permission to apply for a promotion in another part of the country? And aside from visa related bureaucracy, how would government ensure the system was not open to discriminatory abuse? The inquiry notes that areas with a low number of migrants tend to be more hostile towards migration, whilst the opposite is true of areas like London. It is likely a regional policy would encourage prejudice to triumph over logic, with immigration virtually banned in the areas that need it the most economically.

What’s missing?

Settled communities, both established ethnic minorities and the white majority, are barely mentioned in the report. Established ethnic minority communities still face significant inequalities in employment and education. It is essential that these groups are included in the proposed national integration strategy going forward. And if integration is really a two-way street, then the white majority should be given more space in the report too.