Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The ‘White Flight’ debate shows how little we understand integration in the UK

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Liberal Conspiracy, 12/03/2013

The debate about the 600,000 white Brits who left London in the last decade shows how broken our thinking on integration is. The debate has been dominated by right-wing commentators in despair and left-wing commentators in denial. It is time for some new thinking.

The right-wing commentators have been predictable. For them, this ‘white flight’ is proof that multiculturalism is a terrible idea, immigration is all bad and the only answer is to close the borders. Even for someone who accepts the analysis, this is idealist nonsense.


Reducing immigration will never stop this country being diverse or becoming more so; my daughter is 3, a third of her peers are non-white. We are a multi-racial country – we need to deal with it, not deny it.

The left-wing comment is even more dispiriting. Commentators have competed to explain the exodus away. They tell us this has nothing to do with ethnicity. That it’s a story of ‘white families made good’: they’ve got some money and they’re heading to the seaside.

This makes sense – if you ignore all facts. How can a phenomenon that only applies to white people moving more white areas possibly be not about ethnicity.

It is time for those who care about living in a diverse, united country to speak up. For too long we have allowed our voices to be dominated by a right-wing that has nothing but a counsel of despair and a left that has no eyes to see what is happening. We need to start by admitting four self-evident truths.

One: We have a segregation problem. The OECD judges our schools to be amongst the most segregated. Our most ethnically diverse communities report the lowest levels of trust in others. And 600,000 people have just left London for a less diverse area. If you care about integration, let’s admit none of this is good news.

Two: It is about far more than ethnicity. It is also about the generational and income divisions that mark our country.

We can see this in an education system that places half the children who can’t afford lunch in just 20% of schools, a social care system that corrals the elderly together or isolates them at home, a lack of affordable housing that locates rich and poor in separate enclaves.

Three: It is a serious problem. Segregated societies are weak societies. Individuals have lower levels of well-being, communities have lower levels of trust and economies have less effective labour markets.

Four: The solution is integration. Activities that bond people together across boundaries are the key – not immigration policy. The National Citizen Service is a great example of how this can be done – through this, charities like my own have connected thousands of people across income and ethnicity and generational lines, built trust and helped to integrated communities.

Our debate should be about how we connect people together. It should be about building institutions where people will meet. It should be about how we transform our public services so people connect. It should be about how we all find ways to form friendships across boundaries.

We have had enough of despair and denial. It is time for action.

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