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Our Response to the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper

Alex Sutton, Senior Grants Manager

The government recently launched its Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper and invited views on ways the government might support building stronger and more integrated communities. At Paul Hamlyn Foundation, our view is that societies are more likely to live well together if exclusion is addressed and connections deepened, and welcome the opportunity to respond to the consultation drawing on learning from work carried out by partner organisations we support.  Below we set out our key recommendations for how the government can support communities to be more integrated.

The Green Paper defines integrated communities as communities where people – whatever their background – live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities. We welcome a definition of integrated communities which is inclusive of all people, regardless of background, and consider this a progression from earlier concepts of integration which focused on individual community groups (such as refugee or migrant integration). Stating explicitly that integration is not assimilation is welcome. Unfortunately at present not all rights are shared. The government’s definition should be more explicit that an integrated community is one in which inequalities are addressed and where all people have access to equality of opportunity. The government should also go one step further and not only reference social participation but also civic participation, and recognise there should be equal opportunity for those who make the UK their home to have their voice heard in decisions and policies that directly influence their lives.

Due to the varied nature and scale of integration challenges, the Green Paper emphasises tailored local plans and interventions to tackle the issues specific to particular places. However we note that a number of factors that affect integration are beyond the domain of local decision making or policy sphere of influence. Therefore, it is imperative that local plans are underpinned by a cohesive and aligned set of national policies. Migration is one area where certain policies hinder integration. This includes the suite of measures intended to create a ‘hostile environment’ (now a ‘compliant environment’) for irregular migrants in the UK, such as the Right to Rent rules; lengthy, expensive and conditional routes to citizenship and permanent status which are counterproductive to integration policy efforts; the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions on limited leave restrict people from accessing JobCentre support, even though they have a right to work; restrictive family reunion rules which impede integration; and the continued uncertainty about the future status of anyone whose legal residence in the UK is currently dependent on EU treaty rights. The Green Paper commits every government department to assess a number of current priority policies, whether they exacerbate segregation and could be developed to actively drive integration, and we welcome the intention to strive towards joined up policy across Whitehall. The Home Office should assess how immigration policy, and particularly policies designed to create a hostile environment, impede integration and re-assess policy so it proactively supports integration. Further attention must be given to the lack of immigration legal advice and the high cost of fees which restrict people from acquiring citizenship

The new strategy for English language in England must address the lack of funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). We welcome the government’s interest in the number of measures required to improve the offer for people to learn English, and the government’s plan to produce a new strategy for English language in England. In our response, we highlighted the significant fall in funding from government for ESOL since 2009 and stated that the new strategy must address the funding challenge. To be effective, we outlined that provision should be flexible, account for childcare needs and shift work to ensure it is accessible and should include a mix of adequately funded community-based classes delivered by third sector organisations and structured courses at colleges to meet the needs of different communities.

The Green Paper has a helpful focus on the important role local and national leadership plays in promoting and achieving integration outcomes. Work we have supported has shown local authorities struggling to develop appropriate integration plans due to strained resources and at times anxieties about publicly setting out their plans to support integration. In order to develop leadership and support learning, leaders need access to expertise to challenge and provoke thinking including data, evidence, and examples of good practice from other nations. Local leaders need to be given the resources and tools they need to set out a bold vision of what integrated communities look like in their areas, and publish plans on how they will achieve that vision. The Controlling Migration Fund could be used to incentivise local authorities to put comprehensive and bold strategies in place, thereby ensuring it is deployed as part of a wider plan.

The Green Paper proposes measures to ensure that all people are able to come together with people from different backgrounds and play a part in civic life. We also recognise the important role of civil society in supporting social mixing and social action. However, the funding environment continues to be difficult for organisations that provide essential services. We note that social mixing may not address disparities and structural inequalities, which in themselves prevent social mixing. We also highlight that civic participation a key component of integrated communities. For our democracy to be healthy and legitimate, equal political participation is vital. To boost participation in civic life, government should ensure that strong voter registration policies are in place and consider broadening the voting franchise to include those aged 16 and above as well as settled migrants who call the UK their home. Citizenship ceremonies should be publicised as community events, which all local residents are welcome to attend, should take place in local civic venues, such as museums, parks, libraries and schools, and provide opportunities for civic engagement, such as volunteering and voter registration.

The Green Paper proposes measures to provide tailored support to people, especially those who may not currently be active in the labour market, to build their confidence and skills to take up employment. In our response, we highlight that despite improvements in education, inequality persists in the job market. BME workers are more likely to be overqualified for their role, to be in low-paid work and to live in poverty. We also noted that almost all asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision on their asylum application are denied the right to work. That the vast majority of asylum seekers are not legally allowed to work means that many experienced and professional asylum seekers are unable to develop and maintain their skills, gain experience in the UK labour market or secure references. These rules should be reformed so it is easier for refugees to secure further employment once they have received refugee status and to allow those waiting for an asylum decision to be self-reliant and not dependent on the welfare system.

The Green Paper closes with an important chapter on data and measuring success. We think it is imperative that data is accessible and that local, regional and national officials can navigate the different metrics available to inform their approach. The data indicators suggested in the chapter focus on integration outcomes, however government must ensure that reliable data on demographics is available in order to measure integration outcomes.

We are thankful to the organisations whose work we referenced in making our recommendations, including Coram Children’s Legal Centre, Cohesion Sheffield, the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Refugee Action, Refugee Council, the Runnymede Trust, and the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS).

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