A NEW report on integration, recommending that immigrants must learn English before or immediately after arrival, and suggesting that a regional quota may be the way forward, is an improvement on “toxic” recent debate, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said last week.
He was speaking after the launch of the interim report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration, of which he is a member. The group’s report echoes Dame Louise Casey’s, published last month (9 December), and argues that too little attention has been paid to the integration of immigrants, so that people are living “parallel lives” in some areas. Demographic and cultural change has “threatened people’s sense of security”.
Dr Croft said that the group had managed to take a debate that had become “toxic” last year “to a deeper level, in a non-partisan . . . way”. Regional quotas were an “idea worth exploring”, he said: “Having the ability to set patterns for immigration would be a helpful and constructive thing.” An “imbalance” across the country had led to “very rapid waves of immigration” in some areas, which “can be counter to good social cohesion”.
The Australian High Commissioner, Alexander Downer, told the APPG that immigration policy-makers in his country were conscious of the “threshold of community comfort”. Public confidence in the Australian immigration system “comes from the feeling that government is in control of who is entering the country”, the APPG concluded.
This threshold was “important to take into consideration”, Dr Croft said. “What we need is a policy approach that is balanced, and one of the factors we need to take into account is the response of the receiving community.” This concerned not only economic factors, such as labour shortages, but social ones. “Some of that effect of rapid migration in communities can be mitigated by good-practice policies that promote cohesion, particularly the learning of language. Even so, there is a threshold, and we are wise to be aware of that.”
The report criticises the lack of a national integration strategy, and says that the Government must not leave the issue to local authorities. Setting immigration-reduction targets that had been repeatedly missed had “unnecessarily stoked public anxiety” and created the impression that the Government was not in control.
Responding to the report, the Rector of Boston, in Lincolnshire, the Revd Alyson Buxton, called for “intentional thought, action, and funding”.
“In my opinion, this is about how the sheer increase in population has influenced the shape of a community rather than the nationality of the people,” she said. “If 10,000 people from Kent, Cornwall, or Northumberland suddenly moved to Boston, the social and community implications may have been the same.”
She said that it was “vital” that people who wished to settle in a community learnt the language: “This should not be encouraged and promoted as if it is a sanction, but that it is needed for the flourishing of the individual, as well as for the benefit of the community.”
She advised against assuming that “true integration will come when British nationals and foreign nationals begin mutual community activities together and share each other’s lives. This approach assumes that these are two collectives of people with mutual purposes and values. True community integration is more complex. Eastern European communities have their own history of integration, for good or for bad, and, therefore, many are not ‘integrated’ amongst themselves.”
Both she and Dr Croft said that churches had a part to play. In the Boston Connected project, which is supported by the Church Urban Fund, St Botolph’s, Boston, offers free lunches every Tuesday, with a particular emphasis on inviting Eastern Europeans, to facilitate conversation and friendship.
“Community cohesion and integration begins when a person in a community, regardless of background, believes that the public space in a town is their own public space,” Ms Buxton said. “Members of the Eastern European community who visit St Botolph’s have said that they still feel like they are visitors.” The Church could bridge that gap, she said. The “sacred space of our buildings [is] to be truly the sacred space for all”.
Having been an immigrant in Europe, the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, said that he understood the importance of learning the language, but this must be resourced properly. The chief executive of Refugee Action, Stephen Hale, has said that funding for English classes has been more-than-halved since 2009.
It was “natural” that immigrants chose to live with people from their own culture, Dr Gibbs said. “I don’t think we need to see that as a negative thing.” This then gave people “confidence to reach out and build relationships”.
The Government needed to “get over the idea that faith is part of the problem”, he said. “Faith gives you resources to reach out to other people and understand what motivates them.” Churches were building relationships with followers of other faiths, he said, including parishes in his diocese whose populations were 70 per cent Muslim. Schools, where pupils made friends across the divides between faiths, could act as “hubs”, enabling these relationships to extend to whole families. Churches in Yorkshire were also involved in teaching English as a second language. They needed training on how to respond to a multicultural society — which was already under way in his area.
Churches are heavily involved in supporting new arrivals in Canada. The special adviser for government relations to the Anglican Church of Canada, the Revd Laurette A. Glasgow, said this week that a regional system “worked well” in her country, where a “highly decentralised” system of government was in place. She described how several dioceses were “sponsorship agreement-holders” and working in partnership with the Government to help integrate immigrants and refugees into their communities. This was about more than a financial contribution. “All sectors of society need to engage to make settlement and integration successful, and it is about time and talent as well as treasure.”
Motorway analogy. Integration was not a “two-way street”, Dame Louise Casey told the Communities and Local Government Select Committee this week. “I think that’s a sound-bite that people like to say,” she told MPs questioning her about last month’s report.
“I would say, if we stick with the road analogy, integration is like you have a bloody big motorway and you have a slip-road of people coming in from the outside,” she explained. “People in the middle in the motorway need to accommodate and be gentle and kind to people coming in from the outside lane, but we’re all in the same direction and we’re all heading the same direction. There is more give on one side and more take on the other, and that’s where we have successively made a mistake, which is where we’ve not been honest about that.”
She described meeting a group of immigrants from Eastern Europe and concluding that “Nobody told them to queue, nobody told them to be nice, all those sorts of things. We hadn’t been on it, and I think as part of the package that would be no bad thing.”