THE BLOG
26/02/2016 05:16 GMT | Updated 25/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Why It's Time for an Office for Citizenship and Integration in London

London is already an integration success story. Look at other capitals and you'll see that we all rub along better than most. But we can't just assume it will work out by itself. With a dynamic individual driving forward a proactive plan, London could do so much more, becoming a beacon for more successful integration across the whole of Britain and helping to develop a stronger, shared sense of what integration means and how it can work in practice.

London has a strong claim to be the greatest city in the world. That is why people from across Britain, and all over the world, have often made their way to the capital - calling themselves Londoners, as they become part of the city that they all call home.

Over a third of London's population was born outside of the UK and it is hard to imagine London without immigration. This era of high migration to Britain has been the source of much public anxiety, yet Londoners have remained more confident than most about the gains of migration. Maintaining that public confidence, however, will not happen all by itself.

The capital has a long history of being a city of religious freedom and ethnic tolerance. Yet when people from different cultures live side by side there is always the possibility of tension, especially if we do not have contact with our neighbours and a shared sense of pride in the identities we have in common too.

So we need a London that we can all share. We need to promote more contact and understanding between Londoners from different backgrounds. And we need to build a sense of citizenship that reaches and matters to Londoners born and raised in Britain as much as to this country's newest arrivals.

Whether Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan or another candidate is London's next choice for City Hall, the new Mayor will lead a city where the pace of change is fastest of all. In London, as across Britain, it will be increasingly important to be proactive about integration, to help make sure that we can all live harmoniously together.

That's why we are calling on the next Mayor to create an Office for Citizenship and Integration. A Deputy Mayor, answerable to the Mayor of London, who is responsible for making it work - pursuing a proactive and practical agenda on integration, as other world cities have done with notable success.

So, during the Mayoral campaign, as they seek to persuade Londoners, we want to encourage all of the candidates for Mayor to commit to this idea - and to set out their own vision and priorities for making integration work in the capital.

In a report published on Friday by independent integration thinktank British Future in partnership with London Citizens, we begin that debate by setting out some of the key priorities that we believe that the new Office for Citizenship and Integration could pursue, in setting a positive integration agenda for London:

  • The Deputy Mayor should encourage more migrants already living in London to take British Citizenship, with a target over the four-year term of 100,000 more registrations than the previous term.
  • The new office would promote greater involvement in civic life and contact between people from different backgrounds, including through voter registration and volunteering drives. As part of this, the Deputy Mayor could seek to encourage all young Londoners to register and use their first vote, as a step towards understanding of the value of common citizenship.
  • They would help ensure that more people speak English so they can be fully part of British life.
  • And they would mainstream citizenship and integration, ensuring that all GLA departments are doing their bit.

We believe this agenda can be pursued effectively at limited cost, with existing GLA resources supplemented by philanthropic partners in the city and charitable foundations. A new London Citizenship Fund could be created pulling private and public monies together, aiming to agree pledges that will total £1 million in private donations, with the expectation that they would be matched by the Mayor.

This is something for all Londoners, of all backgrounds. Integration should not be seen as a challenge only for migrants and minority groups. The new Deputy Mayor should champion a vision, relevant to London and well beyond it, of integration as a shared challenge for us all: about the value of our common citizenship and the responsibilities it places on us; and about ensuring the gains and pressures of migration are handled in a way that can be seen to be fair, both to those coming in and to those already here.

London is already an integration success story. Look at other capitals and you'll see that we all rub along better than most. But we can't just assume it will work out by itself. With a dynamic individual driving forward a proactive plan, London could do so much more, becoming a beacon for more successful integration across the whole of Britain and helping to develop a stronger, shared sense of what integration means and how it can work in practice.