Social Integration: what we know so far

by Jamiesha Majevadia

31 Aug 2017

The British Academy has published the findings from a call for evidence on social integration. 

On 25 August 2017, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration launched the final report of its inquiry into the integration of immigrants. The report’s recommendations cover – in a nutshell - the devolution of immigration policy to the UK regions and nations, creating a national strategy for immigrant integration; changing the narrative around immigration to one of welcome and prospective citizenship; and equalising access to English language learning. 

This report is prescient, with the Department for Communities and Local Government set to announce an integration strategy, and much work going on behind the scenes to put into action the findings of Baroness McGregor-Smith’s report on race in the workplace.

“If you could do one thing…” The British Academy’s social integration project

The British Academy launched its project to look at local actions to improve social integration in the UK at the beginning of 2017, shortly after the Casey review.

“If you could do one thing…” Local actions to promote social integration aims to highlight good practice from around the country and to draw attention to innovative interventions and research. Through this project, the British Academy also hopes to tackle what can often be negative narratives around immigration, which tend to focus on large statistics and controversial issues such as over-staying visas or benefits claimants.

Our starting point was a major call for evidence, inviting contributions on questions relating to broad issues around integration, the integration of existing/settled communities, the integration of recently arrived migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, with a particular focus on young people.

45 evidence submissions led to more than 150 individual leads to community projects, local authority initiatives and voluntary organisations.

Six key findings

After reviewing the evidence and visiting many case study projects, British Academy researcher Dr Madeleine Mosse summarised the six most important factors for the integration of recently arrived migrants, especially young people:

1. Language Learning – 30 out of 45 submissions to our call for evidence raised English language learning as a “key” or “significant” barrier to integrating into the local community, both in relation to ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) funding and delivery.

One community project leader in Swindon told us: “In our experience, learning English is key to integration (obvious, but true!), because this represents the passport to education, employment, improved social relations etc.” – The Harbour Project, Swindon

2. Understanding how Systems and Processes Work – the projects we surveyed demonstrate that it is important for recently-arrived migrants to connect with key public services from schools to council tax, as well as understanding the basics such as car insurance.

3. Children & Young People – related to our first finding on English language ability, this also raises issues about tackling prejudice, how children’s integration can help their parents, safeguarding, as well as the gap in provision for young migrants aged 18-30.

One project in Birmingham, which ran for 10 years before having its funding cut said: “Our organisation gave one to one support and teaching in English, Maths, IT, life skills, exercise and wellbeing [to girls aged 14-16]. We helped them gain their confidence and encouraged them to interact with other students from different cultures and religions. Many of them were from countries with mono-cultures or had recently had civil wars. By working with these teenage girls we often helped their parents with child benefit applications, visa, housing, registering with GPs and job search” –The Women’s Help Centre, Birmingham

4. Building Trust in Local Communities and Overcoming Grievances – we found that working with existing communities can help prepare them for new neighbours, making them an active and integral part of the integration process.

“Syria Sir Gâr has held open meetings in areas where refugees are about to arrive. This allows members of the local community to ask about how the scheme works and to have their questions answered in a relatively informal setting…” –Carmarthenshire County Council

5. Women & Girls – the projects we surveyed which worked specifically with women and girls also raised more acute issues about isolation, empowerment and employability, as well as access to services such as healthcare and childcare.

6. Employment & Training – Our findings relate to: the translation of foreign qualifications, illegal and marginal employment, access to employment services and basic upskilling (ICT, CV workshops), reducing prejudice and increasing opportunity, as well as opening up existing opportunities for volunteering and internships to young migrants.

There are of course many connections between these themes. The full summary paper provides more details on the six themes, as well as other factors identified such as funding, faith-based initiatives, housing, knowing one’s rights, and using local knowledge and expertise to drive locally-based strategies.

What we’re doing next

Extremely valuable work is going on to integrate different migrant communities into their local area, some led by local authorities, and some by enterprising volunteers. The evidence has helped us to develop priorities and criteria for a collection of case studies, set to be published in November 2017. 

The case studies are produced with the generous support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

This report will be accompanied by an essay collection, with chapters by academic and practitioner experts. This collection will look at integration more broadly, including long-settled communities. Each essay will offer a clear, practical idea towards the integration of different communities at the local level, with the understanding that local authorities and locally-based charities have few resources, and are unlikely to gain greater funding and resource.

Thanks to Professor Anthony Heath CBE FBA, who chairs the Academy’s social integration project, for giving evidence in the APPG’s second parliamentary hearing towards its latest report.

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