“Toxic” debate around immigration in the UK is preventing newcomers from properly fitting in, according to a Labour MP.
Chuka Umunna, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on social integration, said the government needs to take urgent action to build a “more cohesive society”, with a regionally-led immigration system and compulsory English classes for immigrants who can’t speak the language.
A report commissioned by the group with input from experts and evidence from communities across the UK revealed many immigrants are living parallel lives to others, with anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia making it harder for them to become full members of British society.
The report also cites that 62% of second generation migrants feel the UK has become less tolerant since last year’s Brexit vote.
Umunna, one of the leading supporters of the Remain campaign, said: “The demonisation of immigrants, exacerbated by the poisonous tone of the debate during the EU referendum campaign and after, shames us all and is a huge obstacle to creating a socially integrated nation.
“We must act now to safeguard our diverse communities from the peddlers of hatred and division while addressing valid concerns about the impact of immigration on public services, some of which can contribute to local tensions.
“We must start by valuing the contribution of all ethnic and minority communities to the UK. Rather than being seen as security risks, immigrants should be viewed as Britons-in-waiting, keen to participate in their community. The best way to do this isn’t to leave newcomers and their communities to sink or swim, but to offer migrants more support to integrate into our society.”
The group of Parliamentarians want ministers to bring forward plans to introduce an ‘Integration Impact Fund’ to pay for integration schemes in immigration hotspots and give metro mayors and other regional bodies the power to propose their own immigration criteria in line with the local picture.
It also wants to see free English classes offered to all regardless of origin, background or gender - the cost of which could be paid back when the beneficiaries income reaches a certain level.
Liberal conservative think tank Bright Blue has backed the calls, arguing participation in English classes should be made a requirement for all immigrants who want to work or receive benefits.
Senior researcher James Dobson said: “A shared language is an essential tool for integration, and allows individuals to achieve their full potential in the UK. Bright Blue has also been calling for income-contingent loans for migrants allowing them to be able to afford course fees.
“However, there are many migrants already in the UK who are unable to speak English. For instance, the 2011 census found that 22% of Muslim women speak a little English or none at all. This prevents them from integrating and taking full advantage of what the UK has to offer.
“To remedy this, Bright Blue recommends that the government make it a requirement for all migrants in the UK - if they want to receive any working-aged benefits - to prove that they can speak English by having an approved qualification, or at least be working towards one.”