THE BLOG

Integration - A Language Problem?

09/01/2017 11:47 GMT | Updated 09/01/2017 11:47 GMT

The Integration Report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration isn't just about compulsory English lessons or requiring that immigrants learn English before they come - after all, our tier-based visa system already requires that for immigrants outside the EU. It is critical of successive governments in their failure to address a perceived lack of social cohesion and that migration levels in different parts of the country need localized solutions and a properly funded integration strategy. It targets particularly recent Tory policy in its emphasis and then subsequent failure to limit immigration numbers, something that it blames for a perception that immigration is out of control - a perception that has been exploited by populists and the far right.

Where it does talk about English language it is in the context of a Belgian integration system - something it says would provide proper access to all levels of British society, including access to the job market where required, and contact with local community groups. It talks about how these programmes should be properly designed and funded, and how the present conflation of integration and 'anti-radicalisation' needs to be stopped. These are all laudable ideals and the fact is that many local English as a Second language (ESL) and integration programmes have collapsed since the government deliberately stopped the funding, and with the pressures of enforced austerity councils haven't had the money to continue them on their own. Changes to the way higher education is funded also ended a lot of outreach programmes that were being run by universities and community colleges.

(It should also be noted that the Belgian programme that the report refers to as a model has been widely criticized and even ridiculed, and it has been claimed to be of itself a source of discrimination and a barrier to integration.)

But these conclusions are not being reported and any criticism of the government is being removed to once again create the illusion that lack of integration is entirely the fault of entire migrant communities that have no knowledge of the English language, compounding the damage already done by the critically flawed Casey Report published in the last few weeks. The truth is that the points-based visa system requires English language knowledge as a condition of entry, and that the percentage of people who cannot speak English is extremely low: where ESL programmes still exist, they are over-subscribed.

The APPG report is also strangely flawed even in its opening premise. It is based on what should inform a 'post-Brexit' immigration policy, but nowhere does it define what it means by this. It makes no distinction between EU and non-EU migrants - even seeming to assume that post-Brexit there will be no EU migrants. The report defines its other terms of reference, limiting itself to economic migrants, but constantly confuses its defined 'immigrants' with temporary workers, students and refugees. It has an extremely limited evidence base but even goes so far as to admit that in most cases it ignored the testimony it was offered in consultation and interview sessions to come to its own conclusions. It talks about perceived pressure put on local community service provision whilst admitting that there is no proper way to quantify these impacts - whilst making no mention whatsoever of the effects of internal migration. It places the blame for low employment and social mobility in immigrant communities solely on their failure to integrate, making no mention (other than a passing reference to a two-way street) of the effects of discrimination, or what positive steps should be taken to integrate 'white British' communities.

It makes particular reference to my own home town of Halifax, saying that it is typical of northern mill towns with an 'entrenched ethnic division' quoting the local MP, Holly Lynch.

No doubt Ms. Lynch will be aware that the Gibbet Street area of Halifax has been the home of immigrant communities for over 150 years, from the Irish, the Poles and Ukrainians to the Pakistani and Kurdistani community today. (I'm also descended from French and Irish immigrants and my father was born in that part of town to an Irish mother.) It was also the location of the Halifax workhouse until its dissolution in 1930.

She will also be aware of the catholic and protestant sectarianism in Mixenden and Ovenden and the continuing deprivation and crime that exists there - as well as that Mixenden was the first place in Yorkshire to vote a BNP councillor into office. So Halifax is perhaps a very good example of entrenched community divisions, but this report goes nowhere near addressing how this might be corrected after over a century, and how these problems are now being compounded by the collapse of local industry and government austerity.

Just like the Casey report, this report is flawed in that it completely fails to address its own cultural bias, and rather than looking at the whole picture which includes deprivation, education levels, historical ethnic divisions, collapse of industry, austerity and the populist exploitation and creation of mass immigration myths, it points the finger of blame squarely and solely, once again, to migrants - and not just new immigrants, but long established migrant and minority communities.