Why Tory pilots for improved integration feel like a microwave dinner

The government’s pilots for improved “integration” among immigrant communities in 5 English councils feel much like a microwave dinner – reheated and lacking fresh ingredients. As the government launches yet another “integration agenda” it’s worth examining how the Conservatives and their friends in the media who support them are in fact, hindering integration in a number of ways.

Government funding for teaching English as a second language (ESOL) has dropped from £203m a year in 2009/10 to just £90m in 2015/16. If it really was concerned about new arrivals speaking English, perhaps cutting funding for ESOL was not the best way of going about it.

When a friend recently complained that some immigrant communities do not integrate, I reminded him that bus drivers, taxi drivers and shop workers (jobs often taken by immigrants) cannot afford house prices where we both live in Richmond Upon Thames. The local Conservative run Council has failed time and again to stick to its target of 50% affordable housing when approving new developments. Until we stop hollowing out communities in this way, and support economic integration, things are unlikely to change.

Another area where the government and elements of the Conservative leaning press have been utterly hypocritical is when it comes to adhering to so-called “British values”. A key “British value” children are required to learn about is the rule of law. Had it not been for Gina Millar , Article 50 would have been triggered without recourse to Parliament.

Next on the list is “mutual respect”. The Telegraph’s headline of Tory MPs as “mutineers” could be described as anything but “mutually respectful.” The threats to Anna Soubry‘s own safety are a testament to the consequences of such shocking emotive headlines on individuals who are not able to think logically. Another Tory MP last year suggested checking refugees’ dental records to prove they were under 18.

And what about “individual liberty”? The Investigatory Powers Act introduced in the last Parliament has done more to undermine this concept than pretty much any other legislation in recent times. Requiring telcos to retain our past browsing history for up to a year was as Orwellian as it gets. Luckily it would appear that the EU has come to the rescue and ruled that such surveillance is illegal. “Interfering Brussels” helping to restore British values – an ironic state of affairs.

Finally my children are supposed to learn about tolerance for other faiths and beliefs. The employment of Katie Hopkins has been terminated by the Mail but her employer, by allowing her column inches for a long time, helped spread intolerance and hate.

The response to Trump re-tweeting Britain First by some Ministers like Sajjd Javid showed they were practicing what they preach. Yet Boris Johnson who  described Trump as a global brand felt unable to be as direct about Trump even though his job is that of representing our interests abroad.

I am trying my best to teach my kids these “British” values. Ascribing these as British always felt arrogant – as if only we were capable of supporting them. Asian families can in many ways be more caring for their elderly relatives than anyone as they may have a number of generations living under one roof.

It is just a shame that when I look around me every day I see a government and a Tory press which act in ways which are totally contrary to those values. It is time they stopped preaching about them and started putting them into practice.

* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. He is a Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding the local council and MPs to account.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 16th Mar '18 - 11:12am

    “bus drivers, taxi drivers and shop workers (jobs often taken by immigrants) cannot afford house prices where we both live in Richmond Upon Thames” True, but technology affects the issue/s. Sat Nav systems are at the heart of the dispute between taxi drivers who have the Knowledge and thereby qualified and others who rely on modern communications.

  • Nonconformistradical 16th Mar '18 - 11:45am

    @Richard Underhill

    I think you miss the point. This is not about competition between Uber drivers and traditional taxis.

    This is about being able to talk to and understand your GP or in A&E. This is about talking to the bank about your money. This is about understanding your tenancy agreement or whatever.

    In https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/mar/14/sajid-javid-770000-people-in-england-not-able-to-speak-english Sajid Javid points out that as a child aged 6 or 7 he had to accompany his mother to the doctor – to act as interpreter. This should not be happening.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 16th Mar '18 - 5:57pm

    Very good article Chris I learned something from reading it. The Asian community don’t have an issue with integration, it’s about being accepted as to who they are when they try to integrate. Believe me when I say this – this is where relationships Are limited. The great quality with the white English community (hope that is not racist) is their great ability to accept others. But this is done if I more or less conform to common ideals. However although a growing percentage of Asians are culturally British they also have a different perspective on life / beliefs. Surprisingly it’s here where there is friction and eventually parting of ways. An illiberal acceptance / lack of tolerance of EACH OTHER. Shame.

  • But surely if you insist on a certain level of English proficiency as being conditional on getting a visa and working in public facing professions then why do you need to maintain a high-level of ESOL funding?

    Personally, and probably like many others, I expect my GP to be able to talk English now, not in a few years time after they have been attending ESOL classes.

  • Peter Hirst 18th Mar '18 - 7:23pm

    Integration in a meaningful way is I suspect hard work and expensive. Is it worthwhile? I think yes. It is down to lots of apparently minor ways of doing things like making it easier for immigrants to assimilate. It is a culture and changing cultures takes time. Incidentally, most of my eating is via microwaves and I enjoy them, especially when using fresh ingredients.

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