Integration is not a one way process

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Runnymede Policy Officer, Kimberly Macintosh believes the Government has its priorities all wrong with it comes to integration for marginalised communities. 

On BBC 5 Live I was asked if ethnic minorities were doing enough to get on and fit in. But is anyone asking if he’s faithful to his end of the bargain? A contract only works if both parties sign it. And it’s not just the odd troll: the Home Office has recently threatened to deport black British citizens from the Caribbean in opposition to British laws on citizenship and our fabled sense of fair play. Are these the ‘British Values’ of tolerance, equality and cultural diversity the government is so keen to get ethnic minorities and migrants to commit to? 

When former 'Integration Tzar’ Dame Louise Casey recently said we need to “set date for everyone to speak English” she made it clear which side she felt had work to do. But if she’s serious about healing “rifts across Britain”, then why is she so focused on 0.3% of the population, many of them pensioners, that can’t speak English? There are nine times as many Bangladeshi children living in poverty as there are Bangladeshi people that can’t speak English. This – the over one million BME children living in poverty – should be government’s priority.

English language classes should be available for those who need them. But they need to be targeted at the right people and properly funded. Between 2008 and 2015, English as a Second Language (ESOL) funding from government fell by 50%. Waiting lists of over six-months are commonplace. Increased funding, childcare provision and community-based courses that can fit around part-time work would be a good start. We need genuine policy solutions not hyperbolic statements, false deadlines and patronising lectures.

In the Runnymede Trust’s new Integration Briefing, we show that surveys consistently find ethnic minorities feel strongly affiliated to Britain, and support tolerance, democracy, and equality – all features of the British Values agenda. Casey also called for more work on gender equality. Great news – but the Westminster harassment scandals, and Times Up and #MeToo movements showed us that no part of society is inoculated against sexism. The gender pay gap unveiled inequality in our institutions. Government will dedicate their policies to stamping out sexism and inequality everywhere – not least by overturning austerity policies that hit the poorest BME women hardest –  and not only focus on specific communities.

One of the biggest differences between BME people and White British people isn’t culture – its rates of voter registration. Black African people are four times less likely to be registered to vote. For every one case of voter fraud, over 10,000 BME people are not registered to vote. The Government should scrap its unnecessary Voter ID trials and use that money and time to make our democracy legitimate and representative. A voter registration drive that targets those on low-incomes, Commonwealth and Pakistani citizens and BME communities, is needed. The government’s much delayed Integration Strategy needs to address the real issues fracturing our country rather than obsessing over the values we already share, especially when Brexit leaves so little time for policymakers to do anything else. 

The top priority should be to make equality in the workplace a reality. We mustn’t forget the 10 percentage point gap between employment rates for BME groups and White British people. There over half a million (523,000) BME workers missing from the labour market – larger than the population of Manchester and Southampton combined. We’re glad government has shown leadership with its Race Disparity Audit and a commitment to look at inequality in the job market. This is where many of us spend most of our day. At work, we have to achieve goals collectively with people different from ourselves. If integration and social mixing is going to happen anywhere, it’s here.

And to achieve equality in the job market we’ll need to stamp out racism and discrimination. Racism isn’t just something people keep in their heads. It has real consequences in the workplace. Our research with NatCen found 44% of those surveyed believed that ‘some races are born harder working than others’. If you believe this – who would you hire for a job? It’s little surprise that a CV with an English-sounding name received three times as many interviews than the applicant with a Muslim-sounding one.

I have never questioned my place in British society until other people have. I’ll never forget a teacher telling me on a primary school trip that I was ‘Jamaican’ and not ‘British’ – even though I was born in Reading. We need a society that makes space for the reality of people’s differences without overstating them. If Government is serious about creating a cohesive society, we need a strategy that focuses on everyone’s rights, and everyone’s responsibility to make it work.

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