An action plan for social integration
Last week saw the arrival of the Government’s Integrated Communities Action Plan – the next step in the UK’s social integration policy journey.
The action plan provides another exciting opportunity for The Challenge to play a leading role in creating a more integrated society through our programmes and our work in five parts of the country that the Government has called ‘integration areas’.
The action plan has been published by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as a follow-up to its Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, which was announced last March with funding of £50m until 2020. Importantly, the action plan says that MHCLG will look to secure more funding after that date, ensuring this is a sustainable, long-term strategy.
At The Challenge, we’re pleased our vision to build a more integrated society is being recognised, with the action plan aligning closely with our Design Principles for Meaningful Mixing, which featured in our 2018 report All Together Now. The plan also draws on our work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration and emphasises the importance of the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme in forging stronger connections between people from different backgrounds.
Here we pick out some of the key themes from the action plan and explain how The Challenge will continue to help social integration flourish in modern Britain.
1. Social integration through meaningful mixing
There is a real emphasis on the importance of giving people of all backgrounds the opportunity to ‘meet, mix and build social connections with neighbours and the wider community’. With the Brexit debate having exacerbated tensions and divisions in society now, more than ever, we need to support meaningful mixing and enhance trust and understanding across different social groups.
The Challenge fully supports the action plan’s description of social integration as a ‘two-way street’. Too often, conversations about integration are focused on the need for new migrants or particular ethnic minority groups to integrate. The Challenge believes integration is something that involves everyone, meaning local residents ought to share the responsibility of welcoming newcomers to their community, which will empower them to play an active part in local life.
Social integration is not the same as assimilation; it is about people from different backgrounds interacting on an equal basis through shared activities and experiences. It’s not about some groups adapting to the lifestyle of others.
The Government’s view of social integration broadly follows ours in its strategy and action plan, with a particular emphasis on people coming together through common goals and equal interactions. This language echoes our Design Principles for Meaningful Mixing – principles first endorsed by the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy.
2. Enhancing social integration through NCS
In terms of meaningful action to boost social integration, we are pleased that MHCLG clearly recognises NCS as a proven way in which stronger bonds can be created between young people from different backgrounds.
The action plan aims to ‘develop localised plans to increase uptake of NCS programmes’ in the government’s five integration areas of Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall and Waltham Forest. It also sets the goal of specifying more clearly how NCS can achieve its ‘social mixing objectives and social cohesion outcomes’.
As our 2017-18 impact report found, 75% of young people who take part in NCS say the programme encourages people to respect the viewpoints and experiences of people from different backgrounds.
3. A locally-driven approach
The action plan lays out a number of commitments for the five integration areas, including making employment more accessible to society’s most isolated people and exploring ways that housing can promote social integration.
A team of experts in social integration from The Challenge have been running workshops with some of the integration areas local authorities. They’ve been delivered in two areas so far – Walsall and Bradford – and the team are due back in Bradford in early March to help assess another round of projects from the council’s local integration plan.
A major part of our work in these areas has been looking at ways to put our Meaningful Mixing design principles into practice. These give organisations of all kinds – be they public or private, in education or social care – the tools to foster socially mixed spaces, create active and intense mixing experiences, and build sustainable bonds between people of different backgrounds.
We’ve been getting really positive feedback on our work and are encouraging the Government to draw on our design principles when publishing its technical paper on measuring the success of social integration initiatives, which is due this spring.
4. All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration
Our work organising and supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration has also made an impact, with the plan clearly drawing on some of the recommendations from the APPG’s 2017 report Integration, not Demonisation and the issues being explored in the APPG’s current inquiry on the intergenerational connection.