Reading The Casey Review into opportunity and integration made me reflect on an experience that occurred to me recently.
I was with an immigrant group two years ago to celebrate a particularly important event for that community. It was a large gathering and space was at a premium so I was able to see this group up close - possibly a little too close to be comfortable at times.
A number of things struck me: how isolated this group was from the majority of people in the country, living as they did in their own little enclave. Conversations were in their native tongue entirely, which is perhaps to be expected given the circumstances but few could speak any other language. The conversation was interspersed with sentimental reflections about their home country and mild complaints about their adopted home.
These observations were consistent with the findings in the Casey Review. The key difference however was that this celebration was in Spain and the community was British, meeting to celebrate the Queen's birthday. The behaviour of migrant and immigrant communities is much the same wherever they are from. There is a tendency to want to be with people whose culture you are familiar with and whose language you share.
It is easy to think that communities don't want to integrate and that is why they segregate themselves. That is often not the intention. It often starts with a slight preference for one place over another: 'Given the choice we think we would rather live here than there.' It starts as simply as that. However the problems arise once a community becomes too inward looking and has little contact with other communities.
This slight preference then develops into the more emotionally charged 'us' and 'them' condition. We view people like us more positively, see them as individuals and are more likely to help them. We view 'them' however as all the same and remember the negative things about them. We also feel more confident and comfortable within our in-groups and trust them more. With 'them' we feel anxiety, tension and discomfort. What starts as a mild preference for people who we deem to be similar to us can then develop into mutual suspicion, wariness and apprehension.
Casey's point about communities becoming segregated then is an important one. We can't stop people choosing where to live but we do need to find ways for them to have meaningful contact with one another, as this has consistently proven to be one of the best ways of reducing prejudice between groups. We can also work to improve the English language skills of people in these communities. If you can't speak the language of the majority then not only will peoples' opportunities be restricted but it will mean greater isolation and segregation.
In past censuses the statisticians have calculated an index of diversity. From 1981 to 1991 nothing much changed - communities were as segregated as they are now. A report into the disturbances in some northern towns in the early 2000s, carried out by Ted Cantle, made the point that segregated communities were leading parallel lives. It was Cantle who suggested having an oath of national allegiance for immigrants.
Suggestions like these tend to be quickly ridiculed and never get implemented. And yet having people from all communities recognising common goals and aims also helps to reduce the 'us' and 'them' effect. What is also clear that unless we have the courage to try some of these actions another report in a decade's time will reach the same conclusions that previous investigations have.