If you don’t speak our national language, it is you who suffers from being unable to communicate with your fellow citizens. If you don’t know our country’s history, it is you who is unable to understand how our country works today. If you cannot bond with your fellow citizens, it is you who cannot work effectively in teams, thereby impairing your employment prospects. Those prospects shrink further if your horizons are limited to a narrow geographical area close to where you live.
The biggest loser from your lack of integration is you, because you have chosen to limit your educational, employment, social, cultural, and even culinary possibilities. However, the rest of us also suffer from your lack of integration because the less you earn the less you contribute to our shared society.
Since integration is so important to our country, I was very pleased that in July 2015 the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary commissioned Louise Casey, to lead an enquiry into “opportunity and integration in some of our most isolated communities.”
The Casey Report
The 199-page report contains a wealth of data about Britain’s minority communities, looks at past reports on integration and also looks at comparative Western European experience.
Muslims feature heavily in the report, being mentioned 249 times, compared with only 22 for Hindus, 10 for Sikhs and 22 for Jews. That does not bother me. Most fundamentally, I care about the non-integration of Muslims because I am one myself, and it grieves me when other Muslims engage in behaviours that limit their life opportunities. (For the avoidance of doubt, I also care deeply about non-Muslims.)
As the report points out, residential concentration and reduced women’s labour force participation, inter alia, both affect Muslims far more than other minority communities.
There is however one key omission from the report. Perhaps because it relies heavily on surveys from other sources, none of the minority communities are disaggregated. Just as some Jews are well integrated and some are not, many Muslims are well integrated and very successful in society, while many others are not. Unless the reader is already aware of this bifurcation, he would be unlikely to pick it up from reading the report.
The final chapter contains 12 recommendations. While integration is a shared individual and governmental responsibility, I regard the recommendations as unobjectionable.
Responses from some Muslims
The Muslim Council of Britain issued what I regard as a holding response on the day of publication, but I cannot trace any later comments. Its original submission to the Casey Review makes some good points.
Conversely Sadia Habib’s piece looks as if it could have been written to confirm my existing prejudices about sociologists! The Guardian on the day of publication featured a number of quotes from Muslim organisations, most of them critical.
Non-integration is of course found in other groups, not just among Muslims. There are Christian sects whose adherents want nothing to do with the rest of society, and similarly some Jewish groups are intensely segregated.
However, because Muslims are now 4.8 per cent of the country, and 9.1 per cent of everyone under the age of nine (statistics from the 2011 census for England and Wales), the number of non-integrated Muslims is far more significant than for other faith communities. Casey points out that of the ten most religiously concentrated wards in the UK, nine are predominantly Muslim, while just one is predominantly Hindu.
Casey’s twelve recommendations are a good start. However, in my view there is much more that government can do.
Most state school educational segregation occurs as a result of people’s self-segregating residential patterns when combined with school place allocation policies that give overwhelming weight to residential proximity to the school. I would prohibit schools taking proximity into account when allocating places in the case of all pupils living within some specified distance from a school; say three miles (or if necessary a larger number) as the crow flies. Instead schools should, within that compass distance, be required to prioritise the duty to have a diverse pupil body.
When I was young, all TV in England was broadcast in English of course. That forced many people to absorb English just to watch TV. Today, the easy availability of foreign language satellite TV channels actively damages the English language skills of some members of ethnic minorities. Subject to any constraints from EU law, I would like to see all TV channels broadcasting to England in languages other than English pay an extra tax, to drive up subscription prices (or advertising rates); the tax revenues would help to pay for increased English language teaching.
The primary responsibility for integration of course rests with individuals themselves, since you are responsible for your own life. I will tackle that in a future piece.