A ‘United’ Kingdom?


A ‘United’ Kingdom? – Policy Forum 16 March 2017 

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR

What does the decision to leave the EU tell us about society in the UK today?

In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a seminal speech on her 12 objectives for the ‘Brexit’ negotiations. She called for a UK that was ‘more united’, and aspired to ‘build a stronger economy and a fairer society by embracing genuine economic and social reform’.

Whilst said to reflect a long-standing ‘Eurosceptic’ culture in the UK, analysis of the vote to leave the European Union also revealed significant differences in voting behaviour between different places and communities within society. Along with age, level of educational attainment and socio-economic groupings were two of the key factors correlated with a vote to ‘Leave’, with the majority of Leave voters interviewed by pollsters reporting that life in Britain today was worse than 30 years’ ago.

A major review into opportunity and integration (Casey Review, 2016) has concluded that some communities in the UK have been ‘left behind’ by social and economic progress.

At a time when some people perceive more threats than opportunities to their standard of living, how can we build a stronger and fairer society for a more ‘United’ Kingdom?

Nicholas Hellen, Social Affairs Editor at the Sunday Times and a panel of thought leaders from different sectors joined together to discuss these important questions:

  • What should ‘genuine economic and social reform’ look like?
  • How can this address inequalities and divisions in places and communities across the UK?
  • To what extent do responses need to be tailored to specific groups of people?
  • How can we develop people’s potential for addressing challenges in their own communities?

Background context



  • An audio recording of the evening’s discussion is now available:




  • Interviews will our panellists:

Professor Eric Kaufmann, Birckbeck, University of London


Cllr Cameron Geddes, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham


Ralph Scott, The Challenge


Nat Defriend, The Young Foundation


Chair: Nicholas Hellen, Social Affairs Editor, The Sunday Times

Nicholas Hellen has served as assistant editor  and social affairs editor at The Sunday Times since 2011 and was previously news editor of the paper from 2005. His articles played a key part in the creation of the Living Wage by revealing the way tax credits worth billions were subsiding the payrolls of major employers. He obtained the first national register of almost 100,000 properties owned offshore, leading to new taxes on non-dom ownership. He was the first to report on the existence of the “class” pay gap and  proof that wealth protected the “Tim Nice but Dim” members of the middle classes from downward social mobility. His articles also disclosed that after more than a century of progress,  the healthy life expectancy of people in the lowest socio-economic groups is no longer catching up with those at the top.


Cllr Cameron Geddes, Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Development, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

Cllr Geddes provides the strategic lead for social and economic development and wellbeing, including the monitoring of regeneration projects. He is responsible for developing and delivering short, medium and long term objectives, including targets in relation to:

Homelessness, Worklessness, Income and wage growth, Adult skills, Youth offending

Domestic violence, Business development and Demand for adult and children’s social care.

Dr Faiza Shaheen, Director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS)


Dr Faiza Shaheen joined CLASS as the Director in February 2016. Prior to this, Dr Shaheen was Head of Inequality and Sustainable Development at Save the Children UK, where she led on the development of a new global campaign on inequalities in child outcomes. She also worked as a Senior Researcher on economic inequality at the New Economics Foundation (NEF). She writes about social and economic issues, including inequality, austerity, immigration, youth unemployment and social mobility. Dr Shaheen is a regular contributor to debates on programmes such as Newsnight and Channel 4 News, and has worked with Channel 4 and the BBC to develop documentaries on inequality.

Ralph Scott, Research Manager at The Challenge 

Raralph_scott_web-1-1-140lph Scott leads on research at The Challenge, where he conducts original research and forges partnerships to develop the evidence base on social integration. The Challenge is the UK’s leading charity for building a more integrated society, where there is understanding and appreciation of each other’s differences – since 2009, more than 120,000 young people have taken part in The Challenge’s programmes. He was previously Head of the Citizenship programme at the think-tank Demos, where he led its work on populism, political participation, community, and young people’s development, including projects supported by the Department for Education and the Home Office. His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and the BBC, the Sunday Times, TES, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the LA Times and the Economist.

Professor Eric Kaufmann, Professor in Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London

Eric Kauferic-kaufmann_140mann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is author of Changing Places: mapping the white British response to ethnic change (Demos 2014), Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth (Profile 2010), The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (Harvard 2004) and two other books. He is co-editor, among others, of Political Demography (Oxford 2012) and editor of Rethinking Ethnicity: Majority Groups and Dominant Minorities (Routledge 2004). An editor of the journal Nations & Nationalism, he has written for Newsweek International, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. He is working on his next book, Whiteshift: Immigration, Populism and the Myth of Majority Decline (Penguin).

Nat Defriend, The Young Foundation

nat-defriend_fd_28_02_17-140Nat leads The Young Foundation’s work to tackle inequalities in communities across the UK. Following a career as a criminal justice practitioner and manager in London, he spent 8 years in senior leadership positions within central government leading national transformation programmes in the youth justice system. As the leader of the Young Foundation’s community-based programmes to tackle inequalities, Nat oversees the design and delivery of our approach to tackling urban inequalities, building strong coalitions of local partners, and ensuring that the voices of citizens, neighbourhoods and communities are heard by city leaders and policy makers.

Outside of his work with the Young Foundation Nat is vice chair of the trustees at London Youth, the umbrella organisation for youth work and youth clubs in London, and a director at Inspire Summer, an international language school for children aged between 9-17 years.

Explore past events in the 21st Century Challenges Policy Forum series.

Image credit: Crowd at MediaCityUK. Zarrion Walker, Flickr.