Ryan Shorthouse is the Founder and Director of Bright Blue, and co-author of Distant neighbours? Understanding and measuring social integration in England
Concern about a lack of social integration in the UK has been high for some time. In 2015, David Cameron even ordered a review into the state of social integration in the country. Published a year later, Dame Louise Casey’s Review into opportunity and integration concluded that successive governments have failed to ensure that social integration in the UK has kept up with the “unprecedented pace and scale of immigration”.
But what is social integration, and how can we strengthen it? That is the focus of Bright Blue’s latest report, published today.
We propose that neighbourhood trust should be at the heart of our understanding and measurement of social integration, since it is indicative of positive, meaningful and sustained interactions in a local area. Admittedly, neighbourhood trust is only capturing that between members of a community, not necessarily between people from different ethnic groups. In truth, then, neighbourhood trust would only be a good measure of social integration if that trust is high in an ethnically heterogeneous community.
Furthermore, since it is possible for people to trust their neighbours on the basis of them being in the same ethnic group, high levels of neighbourhood trust in ethnically diverse communities only indicate high levels of social integration when the local area is not residentially segregated. This is an important qualification that needs to be included when measuring levels of social integration.
We recommend that the Government, as well as local and combined authorities and public bodies, utilise this new measure of social integration. Specifically, the Government should produce a ten-yearly Social Integration Index, measuring levels of social integration across all different local authorities in the country. This Social Integration Index could consider incorporating other measures, such as levels of deprivation.
Bright Blue has had an initial attempt at this new Social Integration index, through independent statistical analysis the 2009-10 and 2010-11 Citizenship Survey, the 2011 Census and the 2015 Indices of Deprivation, as well as further analysis of the Index of Dissimilarity and the Index of Ethnic Diversity. Based on our proposed measure of social integration, we identified the four most socially integrated local authorities in England as those with relatively high levels of neighbourhood trust, relatively high levels of ethnic diversity and relatively low levels of residential segregation. These are the City of London; Cambridge; Richmond upon Thames, and Milton Keynes.
Our report proposes original policies to boost social integration in England. These are targeted at individuals, to better equip them to socially integrate, and institutions, to increase the opportunities for social integration. In particular, we focus on improving English language competence across all social groups, and reforming schools so they can support greater social mixing between young people.
First, on English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course. Overall funding for them has fallen by 56 per cent from 2009-10 to 2016-17, which has been accompanied by a decline in participation from 179,000 to 114,000 people in the same time period.
The Controlling Migration Fund is a £100 million bidding fund launched in 2016 by the government to assist local authorities which are impacted the most by recent immigration to ease pressures on their services. Plans for the Controlling Migration Fund beyond 2020 are supposed to be considered during the next Spending Review.
Considering the importance of English language skills for social integration in this country, we recommend in our report that the Government continues the Controlling Migration Fund beyond 2020 and dedicates a minimum and significant proportion of it for funding ESOL projects. This will give local authorities who are under the most pressure a guaranteed resource with which they could provide ESOL courses to meet higher levels of demand.
Second, on National Citizen Service, which is a government-sponsored voluntary initiative for 15-17 year olds where they engage with a range of extracurricular activities that include outdoor team-building exercises, independent living and social action projects. The scheme currently operates both a four-week and a one-week version during school holidays.
National Citizen Service appears to improve some indicators of social integration in its participants, including increasing levels of trust in others and making it more likely to describe their local area as a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together.
We recommend that the UK Government trials delivering at least one week of NCS to all Year 9 or Year 10 students in all state secondary schools in England during term time. If the trial is successful, the Government should introduce a legal duty for all state secondary schools in England to provide at least one week of NCS to either all Year 9 or Year 10 pupils, depending on which cohort is found to be responding best to the scheme. The optimal length of time of the NCS during term time, ranging from one week to one month, should also be discovered through the trial and introduced during national rollout.
Finally, on school linking programmes. This involves bringing together classrooms of children from demographically diverse schools with the aim of increasing social contact between groups who would otherwise not meet. This can involve a range of collaborative activities, including exchanging work, joint drama, arts and sports sessions, and even community projects for older pupils. School linking can have a positive impact on many aspects of pupils’ skills, attitudes, perceptions and behaviours, including broadening the social groups with whom pupils interact.
The Pupil Premium is additional funding for state-funded primary and secondary schools designed to help disadvantaged pupils, such as those receiving free school meals and looked-after children, perform better. It is awarded for every eligible pupil in school and schools have significant freedom in how to spend it. Making part of this funding conditional on participating in a school linking scheme could incentivise participation in such programmes. As independent schools are not eligible to receive Pupil Premium payments, their participation in school linking programme must be incentivised through a separate mechanism. We recommend making the charitable status of such schools contingent on participation in a school linking programme.
There is no simple, straightforward solution to strengthen social integration. The limitations of public policy have to be recognised and respected, especially in regards to people being free to develop the relationships they want. And, crucially, social integration is a two-way street. It is not enough to say migrants and their children must do more to integrate; native Brits must also make an effort to welcome and involve newcomers.