The Government can no longer stand back while communities fragment as a result of mass immigration says MP Chuka Umunna.
Mr Ummuna chaired an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration, which focused on Boston and Halifax, and its interim report was published last week.
The launch was chaired by former Boston Standard journalist Mary Riddell, now a political columnist with the Daily Telegraph, and attended by figures including Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford.
As part of their findings (see panel, right) the APPG has called on the Government and local authorities to play an active role in integrating communities that are now leading ‘parellel lives’.
Coun Bedford says the borough council is eager to do more – particularly to address the shortage of homes for migrants and the settled population – but says the authority is powerless to act without an injection of cash from the Government (see story below).
Mr Umunna says in the report: “Very few of the individuals we have met during visits to Boston in Lincolnshire and Halifax in Yorkshire were hostile to immigration.
“Indeed, most shared the view that it has been fantastic for our economy and for the cultural life of our country.
“It is clear, however, that demographic and cultural change has threatened people’s sense of security, identity and belonging within their communities and – in some instances – put pressure on local public services.”
But he believes our communites are leaving a vacuum for extremists to exploit.
He says: “We must confront the fact that immigrant communities and members of the settled population in some parts of modern Britain are leading parallel rather than interconnected lives.”
He continues: “We are of the view that Government – national, regional and local – cannot stand by whilst our communities fragment in this way.
“Why? Because it has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate on all sides to exploit.
“It deprives people of jobs and opportunities and increases isolation, ill health and anxiety. It reduces social mobility.
“Above all, it compromises trust between groups at a time when, in an uncertain and changing world, it is all too easy to blame ‘the other’ for all our problems.”
Mr Umunna says the ‘task before us now is to design and deliver a meaningful integration programme which will work for all parts of the UK’.
Speaking after the launch, Mary Riddell told us: “It is heartening that the APPG visited Boston and tried to get beyond the lazy cliche that it is the ‘most divided place in England’.
“The report’s findings appear to reflect what I have found – that very many Bostonians are open-minded and inclusive people who get on well with their immigrant neighbours but who feel that issues such as low wages and lack of housing are problems too often ignored by Westminster.”
The report also said all immigrants should be expected to learn English before coming to the UK or be enrolled in compulsory courses when they get here.
That suggestion is outlined in one of six principles in the report.
Other recommendations are the Government must adopt a national strategy for the integration of immigrants – and local authorities, like Boston Borough and Lincolnshire County councils, should draw up and implement local integration action plans.
Principles in outline are:
1. The Government must develop a comprehensive and proactive national strategy for the integration of immigrants.
The parliamentary group says the strategy should include a focus on developing new community institutions that promote integration and funding existing ones.
2. Local authorities must be required to draw up and implement local integration action plans.
One of the group’s recommendations here is the Government should consider immediately bringing forward plans for the launch of an Intergation Impact Fund.
3. The Government must reassess its current ‘one size fits all’ approach to immigration policy.
Here it’s recommended the Government should appoint an independent commission to explore how a devolved or regionally-led immigration system might work.
4. For new immigrants, integration should begin upon arrival in the UK. As well as making recommendations on immigrants learning English, the parliamentary group wants the Home Office to look at ways in which new immigrants ‘could be placed on pathways to citizenship automatically upon their arrival to the UK’.
5. We (the Government) need more and better data on the integration of immigrants.
6. The Government should demonstrate strong political leadership on immigration in order to build public confidence and facilitate successful integration of new arrivals at regional and local level.