Today's publication of the All Party Parliamentary Group's report on the Integration of Immigrants is a welcome call for action.
Since 2004, we have seen the largest single wave of in-migration that Britain has ever experienced, we have witnessed growing inequalities, rapid technological advancements driven by globalisation, and austerity measures which have undermined opportunities for social mixing and migrant integration. Yet, we have seen no proactive government policies to support the communities experiencing this extraordinary social change.
Instead, we have seen a distinct lack of leadership on immigration and integration. Rather than supporting immigrants and their receiving communities, government policy and rhetoric has often undermined integration efforts and pandered to tabloid headlines. The government's consistent failure to meet its own immigration targets, for example, has undermined public confidence in the ability to manage migration effectively and encouraged popular resentment against migrants.
In addition, poor and belated planning by central government and local authorities, as well as the post-2008 austerity measures, have created pinch points in schools and GP services which are under pressure. This has further stoked resentment in communities that are already divided by language. Meanwhile, some second- and third-generation migrants, as well as white boys in deprived areas, continue to face entrenched economic problems of their own. We have failed to address these and get to grips with industrial decline and technological advances that have scarred many communities.
Yet the problems in a place like Lambeth are very different from those in a place like Crewe, and that's why it has to be local authorities that take the lead in implementing integration policies. They need dedicated funds to do this and the government's £100 million Controlling Migration Fund promises to help ease the pressures on public services in those local authorities experiencing high levels of immigration. Yet this remains a reactive measure that deals with integration as an afterthought and not an upfront consideration in the planning of local services.
In contrast, other parts of Europe have been more proactive on migrant integration by providing state-sponsored support to facilitate the civic integration of immigrants. Austria, for example, has an Integration Fund and Integration Centres which offer immigrants language courses, help to access the labour market and support with their education. There is a lesson here for the UK: integration cannot be left to chance. It requires state intervention to give immigrants the opportunity to participate equally in the social, civic and economic life of this country. Reversing the recent cuts to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision and smoothing pathways to citizenship would be a start in this respect.
Brexit has been our wake-up call, revealing a country divided not just along the lines of nationality and race, but also of class, geography and age. Globalisation has not delivered for all and we need a comprehensive integration strategy from Government to tackle this. This plan needs to embody an inclusive, national narrative that defines integration as the responsibility of us all: a two way process which is the responsibility of both the 'host' society and the immigrant communities. It needs to define integration as the success of all groups, and not just a problem concerning 'Muslim women' or 'Black boys'. And it must adequately finance the practical aspects of integration, such as English language provision and adult learning and youth services, all of which have faced drastic cuts in recent years.
This will mean tackling some difficult questions: how do we integrate migrants in low-skilled work that entails long hours and poor working conditions? How can we encourage social mixing between different communities that may be more engaged with their social media feeds than with each other? And how do we make integration happen at a practical level when austerity has impoverished working-class communities of all backgrounds?
Difficult these issues may be, but tackling them is no longer an option but a necessity. The fabric of our communities and neighbourhoods depends on it.