Nick Clegg’s speech later today will remind us of how crucial an effective immigration policy is to Britain. One of the areas that has been the least developed by previous governments, as well as the Coalition government, is a clear integration policy. Far too often, integration policy has focused on the symbolic notions of identity and much less on the everyday experiences of individuals that might be able to capture better experiences of integration.
Although the UK’s experience of integration is generally positive, outcomes for different groups and in different places across the country are still very mixed. A new IPPR report published today also confirms this mixed picture particularly in relation to educational achievement, showing that while some children with migrant backgrounds are outperforming their British counterparts, others are still lagging behind.
Last year, the department for Communities and Local Government published a new migrant integration strategy. The strategy appears to indicate that central government has no active role to play in this area of policies. The document maps out an approach based on ‘localism’, educational reform, and getting people off welfare and into work. It lists “five key factors” such as responsibility, social mobility, which it argues contribute to integration. While these factors are no doubt important, the overall strategy is marked by a lack of on the part of central government to play any real leadership role on this issue.
If anything happens to encourage integration in the next two years it will depend on initiatives taken in local civic contexts. In some senses this is the right approach but would remain contingent on a strong national integration policy framework as well as resources that would support such initiatives.
An overarching integration government policy should start by addressing obstacles to integration such as language that directly affect the ability of individuals to participate fully in the communities where they live. Policy on integration should then be focused on the places where people mix in their everyday lives, such as early-years childcare schools and workplaces.
This is especially important given changing patterns of migration. As migration becomes increasingly diverse and more often temporary, people are constantly led to negotiate and renegotiate their own identities and their relationships with others. They do so, of course, largely within the everyday settings of normal life, not in theoretical debates about ‘values’ or ‘Britishness’. If we are to have a stable and well-integrated society in the face of population ‘churn’, we will need to have more and more everyday interactions which cut across boundaries.
* Myriam Cherti is Senior Research Fellow at IPPR