Building a more socially integrated society

Andrew Harrop, Ryan Shorthouse

Think tanks from the right and left of politics spend a lot of their time arguing with each other. But there is plenty we agree on too, and the need for social mixing and a shared common life is something that people from across politics can sign up to.

Earlier this month, Dame Louise Casey’s review of integration and opportunity re-ignited the debate on social integration between different ethnic groups in Britain. It is right to start by saying there is much to celebrate. People with immigrant backgrounds are now part of every community in Britain; mixed-race relationships are commonplace and accepted; and a number of ethnic minority groups have better education and employment outcomes than the white British average.

But, as the Casey Review explored, there are still many challenges. Her focus was particularly on the isolation and disadvantage experienced by people living in places which have very high concentrations from a single ethnic minority background. Casey’s fear is that a minority of immigrants – she highlights certain Muslim women – are today unable to share in the British way of life, which so many other newcomers have both adapted to and helped to shape.

This is an important issue which politicians from all sides have worried about for decades. Such segregation reduces life chances and may sometimes create space for ideas and actions that threaten public safety. Casey’s report provides new insights although perhaps fewer answers than are truly needed.

Social integration is about more than race and religion, however. It means  bringing together people from all sorts of backgrounds: the old and young; straight and gay; rich and poor; disabled and nondisabled. This truly ‘One Nation’ agenda is crucial, as the evidence shows, to reducing prejudice and discrimination, and improving opportunities and quality of life. It is particularly important after the recent EU referendum which exposed and aggravated deep social divisions.

This collection of essays, bringing together leading opinion formers and decision makers from different political and professional backgrounds, is we hope the start – alongside the Casey Review – of a major debate on how to enhance social integration in the UK. Deep long- term currents shape our national way of life, but  it is amenable to policy too: from housing and planning, to education, criminal justice and initiatives for young people.

Politicians need to ask how their actions can reduce social segregation, increase understanding and foster more than passing contact between people from different backgrounds. This collection of essays contains some initial ideas. We know that stronger and more diverse social networks can generate significant benefits to both individuals and wider society. But this cannot simply be a question of citizenship oaths for a small minority of incomers. We must create an inclusive, modern citizenship for us all.

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