Integrated Britain?


On 15 March 2016 the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) held a panel discussion to discuss whether we should be doing more to support integration of different cultures in Britain, and how we can strike a balance between integration that celebrates our similarities while respecting  our differences.

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, Founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion

Ted Cantle is Founder of the Institute of Community Cohesion, the UK’s leading authority on community cohesion and intercultural relations (now the iCoCo Foundation). In 2001 he chaired the independent review of the riots in northern towns and was responsible for the Cantle Report which gave birth to the concept of ‘community cohesion’ and founding of the community cohesion programme.

Ted was formerly chief executive of Nottingham City Council and chair of the DTI Construction Task Force for local government. He was appointed CBE in 2004 and is a Deputy Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire. He is the author of books including ‘Interculturalism: The New Era of Cohesion and Diversity’ and, and is Visiting Professor at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University.

Top open the discussion, Ted identified two major trends in society: the first is the growth of areas that are more mixed, with every major city in the world, and cities across the UK, becoming ‘super diverse’. Diversity is the ‘new normal’ for many people. There is greater acceptance of difference in society – from ethnicity to gender, sexual orientation and faith. Yet the second trend is that, at the same time, areas that are segregated are growing. In England, segregation is most apparent in the North, with the South of the country least segregated. Areas that were dominated by minority groups have become more so, whilst areas with a majority of white British residents have become more diverse. Professor Cantle suggested that the reasons for this finding are disputed, and that it isn’t clear whether ‘white flight’ from cities has been motivated by racial reasons or economic factors.

Omar Salha, PhD Nohoudh Scholar in the Centre for Islamic Studies, SOAS

Omar Salha is a PhD Nohoudh Scholar at the Centre for Islamic Studies, and a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London. He was awarded the Nohoudh Scholarship for the study of ‘Integration of Muslims in British Society’. His research explores the study of soft-power, diplomacy, sport and integration. Other research interests include Middle Eastern Politics, International Relations, Islamic Moral Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution, Public Relations and inter-faith dialogue.

He is the Founder and Director of Ramadan Tent Project, an award winning community-led initiative fostering interfaith community cohesion. He is also a founding member of Football Beyond Borders, a UK charity which uses football to inspire young people to achieve their goals and tackle inequality and discrimination. Omar is an active social entrepreneur and has over 10 years of experience working community projects and initiatives. He is also a regular contributor to both international and national print and visual media.

Omar highlighted that people of all groups must consider their duty as citizens to the societies in which they find themselves. Positive examples can be found from his community initiatives, Ramadan Tent Project and Football Beyond Borders, which bring people together through volunteering, food and football.

Integration must be about recognising the commonalities, rather than the differences, between groups of people, understanding the common humanity and values that unite, rather than divide us.

Mark Rusling, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Waltham Forest

Mark is Cabinet Member for Children and Young People in Waltham Forest.  He also works as Head of Communications for The Challenge, the UK’s leading charity for building a more integrated society, having led the team that acted as the Secretariat to the Social Integration Commission.

Mark Rusling gave examples from Walthamstow to illustrate how everyday segregation manifests itself in communities, highlighting how residents from different ethnic groups use different shops, occupy different workplaces and send their children to different schools. Mark suggested however that it is social class, rather than race, which is the major fault line in British society today and that those from the same faith group may have more in common with others of a similar economic standing to them, than with those with whom they share a religious heritage. The Social Integration Commission has identified that the biggest gap in terms of integration/ segregation is actually between those from social classes A and E; this gap is greater than between any two ethnicities.

“We are in danger of sleepwalking into segregation’” Mark Rusling referencing Trevor Phillips OBE, former politican

Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future

Sunder Katwala is the director of British Future. He has previously worked as a journalist. He was general secretary of the Fabian Society thinktank from 2003 to 2011, and was previously a leading writer and internet editor at the Observer, a research director of the Foreign Policy Centre and commissioning editor for politics and economics at the publisher Macmillan.

There is no doubt, said Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, that society is changing and more quickly than in the past. He stressed the need to have ‘a conversation’ across society about the pace of change, allowing people to express views that they may feel anxious to, for fear of being labelled ‘racist’. He criticised policy-makers, economists and others who, when challenged about high levels of immigration, refer to figures detailing the economic benefits of highly-skilled migrants to the UK economy. The narrative about how ‘migrants are good for us’ is still a story about ‘them and us’, said Sunder. Instead the conversation needs to move towards focusing on ‘the new us’ and be couched in language that people can understand. ‘Cohesion’ and ‘integration’ means little to people. Instead of abstract ‘policy speak’, which is a way of evading what can be seen as difficult conversations, decision-makers need to listen to people’s concerns about how society is changing.

Further reading

The Migration ‘Balloon Effect’ and its Implications for Policy, RGSIBG policy team, March 2016

Are we ‘sleepwalking into segregation? Panellists discuss at ‘Integrated Britain?’ event, RGSIBG policy team, March 2016

Analysis: The migration conversation, Geographical magazine, May 2015

Manifestos: Migration, Geographical magazine, May 2015

Alien Views, Geographical magazine, August 2014

Image: Jon Rawlinson, Flickr


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Integration and cities