UKREN blog

Friday 7 August 2015

Integration starts with social inclusion

Integration, particularly of recently arrived migrant communities, has long been a government aim. The term ‘integration’ does mean different things to different people. Some see integration as migrant communities taking on the majority population’s customs, values and ethics of behaviour, which when mixed with nationalism is probably closer to forced assimilation. Others, such as the European Commission, see integration as including all in the social structure of the country. The Lisbon treaty provides the legal basis for the EU to promote “the integration of third-country nationals residing legally in their territories”.

There have been claims that integration doesn’t work. Some take a slightly different and controversial tack, that multiculturalism has failed and leads to cultural segregation (Trevor Phillips’ view). What is a fact from census data is that Britain, in line with most other EU countries, has become a more ethnically-diverse place. Discussion of integration has tended to focus on figures: net migration targets, the cost and the economic benefit of migration. The target of integration policies has been migrant and minority communities, not the majority population.

I would like to argue that we need to focus on social factors and target all people. Let’s call it ‘social inclusion’. Craig Morley of The Challenge Network talks of our ability to forge relationships with people who are different to us. A controversial piece of research looked at how many people in our social circles outside of work are from different ethnic backgrounds to our own. At a presentation of the research, some race equality organisations were challenging the findings.

So here is my European example to add to the discussion.

Last weekend I was in Slovakia. Nothing new in that as I visit once a month and used to live there. I have also been fortunate to know and work with Roma people for many years. The place I stayed at was called Sumiac (pronounced Shumias), a village at the southern foot of the Low Tatra mountain range. My past observation has been that Roma are often segregated in Slovakia. Separate Roma settlements of often poor quality housing stock. Disproportionate placement of Roma children in special needs schools or Roma-only classes in mainstream schools. It is often the poorest Roma who are segregated, with no opportunity to escape from the poverty trap they are in. Educated and successful-in-their-work Roma (and there are quite a few) tend to be city-based and socially included. Back to Sumiac. What I observed was people of Roma and majority population being friends, socialising together, addressing each other equally. The village pub on Friday night had Roma and non-Roma chatting and drinking together. The pizza restaurant was run by Roma. In the supermarket the non-Roma cashier addressed the Roma woman paying for her goods in a friendly manner and by her first name. To some readers that may not appear to be much of a revelation. To me, who has known Slovakia for 15 years, it was a catalyst. That made me think. How did this apparent equality come about? 

My only answer to that question is social inclusion. With the emphasis on social and on all people. Is there anything from this example from another European country with a different historical context that is relevant to UK? I think there is. Integration starts with social inclusion. Help the ‘social’ to happen and ‘integration’ will follow.

Alan Anstead

UKREN Coordinator

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