Local solutions to social fragmentation

by Lisa Davis, Head of Policy and British Academy

12 Jan 2017

Debates about immigration have been a major issue in twenty first century politics. A reason for this is that immigration has created significate demographic change and this trend will continue.

Over the last two decades, total immigration to the UK has doubled, from around 300,000 people per year prior in 1997 to more than 600,000 in 2015. As the diversity of the nation has increased, another dynamic is also clear – people from some minority groups have become both more dispersed but in a minority of cases more concentrated and segregated.

Whilst many recognise the benefits of immigration and greater diversity, these demographic and cultural changes have also impacted on people’s sense of identity and belonging. Dame Louise Casey recently noted in her review into integration and opportunity in the UK, that the pace of change has led some people to feel a sense of confusion and estrangement from their communities.

At the same time, we have also witnessed growing inequalities, rapid technological change, and austerity. These trends are together creating tensions leading to greater fragmentation at a local and national level.  Yet, as a nation we have seen little government intervention that supports communities experiencing this extraordinary social change. If anything, current policies relating to immigration and austerity fuels polarisation.

Anthony Heath FBA gave evidence to the recent All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Inquiry into Integration of Immigrants. The report, which was launch on 5 January 2017 at the British Academy, calls for both national and local solutions. For example, the report notes the need for the government to develop a comprehensive national strategy for the economic, civic and social integration of immigrants. But national strategies alone won’t work.

In relation to local solutions, the APPG suggests that local authorities should have a new statutory duty to promote integration and they must be given the resources to respond to local needs.

At the British Academy, we believe policy is most meaningful at the local level, and this is the crucial way to solve issues relating to social integration. That is why are embarking on a project designed to find local intervention that work in promoting social cohesion. The project, "If you could do one thing..." Local actions to improve social integration, will examine successful integration projects from around the UK; drawing lessons from evidence about methods which are proven to improve integration and result in long term cohesion in our society.

We want to provide local authorises, practitioners and communities with the evidenced based tools to help deal with the extraordinary social change taking place within some areas across the UK.

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