From  The  Economist -  May  2016

Faith and race

Integration nation


Are Britons of different backgrounds coming together or drifting further apart?

BENEATH a photograph of the queen, flanked by union flags, Britain's newest citizens pose for an overeager cameraman , in the registry office ofNewham council. In a short ceremony, officiated by a man who fled the Sri Lankan civil war in the 1980s, six Bangladeshis, two Indians, a Pakistani, an Afghan, a Pole and a Hungarian have just sworn allegiance to the crown, pledging to give their loyalty to Britain and to "uphold its democratic values". They all stand for the national anthem, a small child blows a loud raspberry, and their new life begins.

Source: University of Manchester

The ceremony is emblematic of the best of multi-ethnic Britain, of immigrants promising fealty to their new country and its values. Yet the mere fact that these ceremonies exist is symptomatic of deeper fears that the picture of a happily integrating country might not be so rosy after all. Citizenship tests were introduced in 2002 because of a realisation by the then Labour government that the laissez-faire approach to immigration and ethnocultural diversity had not necessarily led to the integration and social cohesion that had been expected. The tests and ceremonies were to start inculcating a sense of common values that had previously been lacking. Since then, however, a small band of critics has been warning that politicians still remain tar too complacent about the problems provoked by Britain's diverse society.

The most celebrated of these critics is Trevoe Phillips, a former head of Equality and Human Rights Commission, responsible for enforcing non-discrimination laws…..

Mr Phillips's main complaint is that in the name of multiculturalism, Britain has allowed some minority groups to drift so far away from the mainstream of the dominant majority that they now hold values and ambitions that are far away from Britain's liberal ideals. This reluctance to tackle the "dark side of the diverse society", he argues, has encouraged authorities to "shy away from confronting wicked acts for fear of having to address their ethnic or cultural component". He cites the example of the recent abuse of young white girls in Rotherham by men of mainly Pakistani origin, to which police turned a blind eye.

Indeed, notwithstanding the election of Sadiq Khan as the new mayor of London, it is Muslims, argues Mr Phillips, who seem to have diverged most. Polling that he commissioned for a television documentary showed that, although 86% of Muslims felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain, 32% refused to condemn people who would take part in violence against those who mock the prophet and only 52% thought that homosexuality should be legal. Consequently, Mr Phillips wants Britain to abandon organic integration in favour of a more muscular approach. His calls come as the government, in the Queen's Speech on May 18th, outlined plans to monitor internet use and new powers of intervention to disrupt extremists' activities and tackle radicalization of children.

Whether to take Mr Phillips's calls seriously depends on how far Britain is actually integrating on present trends. Here the evidence is mixed, and hotly contested. 

On the positive side, the number of people  claiming a mixed-race background doubled, to 1.2m, between 2001 and 2011. There has been a decline in racial prejudice. 

In terms of residence, the data indicate that every ethnic minority has become less ghettoised, and that the black Africans, who used to be among the most clustered, are spreading out the most quickly.

However, as Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck, University of London, points out, there is often a movement of minorities towards "superdiverse" areas, such as Newham, where white Britons remain the biggest ethnic group but now make up only 17% of the population. From 2001 to 2011, the proportion of ethnic minorities who live in wards where whites are in a minority rose from 25% to 41%. Indeed, the only exception to the pattern of decreasing segregation for most districts is the white British, although segregation remains relatively low for this group, too, as it is large and evenly spread throughout most districts. Yet overall, as Mr Kaufmann observes, minorities are entering white areas but whites are often avoiding minority areas, producing a growing number of zones where minorities are relatively isolated from whites.

Inter-marriage, a good marker of integration, remains low, although it is rising slowly. Afro-Caribbeans are inter-marrying, and that might have something to do with the fact they are an older immigrant group. Inter-marriage shifts identities more than anything, says Mr Kaufmann. 

In all, this points to two separate problems, a white shift to the suburbs, and the stubborn but isolated non-integration of mainly Pakistani-origin groups in the former mill towns of the north such as Bradford, Oldham and Burnley. Here, poverty and economic decline has led to the surly separation of a left-behind, resentful white working class and a Muslim minority.

Burnley, for example, remains divided into its Bangladeshi, Pakistani and white British districts, and there is little evidence of mixing. It was from Bradford that one man recently travelled to kill an Ahmadi Muslim, setting off alarms that the sectarian divisions of Pakistan have been allowed to spread unchecked into the Muslim community in Britain.

However, Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham, remains optimistic. He has pioneered a "nudge" approach to integration, rather than a muscular one. The council organizes hundreds of events to encourage people to mix in neighbourhoods, and free English language tuition is offered to anyone who wants it. It does not fund single-ethnic or single-religious activities of any sort, to discourage sectarianism. Even white Britons are returning to the borough, he claims. This may be to do with the relatively cheap housing there but, if true, would show that the likes of Mr Phillips don't have to despair quite yet. ■