Integration policy in the UK

Integration policy in the UK

There is no national policy framework on integration. There are integration policies relating to one category of migrant refugees, and to those applying for settlement and UK citizenship (see the policy primer on ‘Citizenship: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?’).

There are policies that have included migrants within their remit: on discrimination, for instance, and on community cohesion. There is also an important area of service provision, English language tuition, and services such as health and education where some targeted provision has been made to meet migrants’ particular needs.

As a result, responsibility for migrants is dispersed across Whitehall. No single department takes a lead role. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) within the Home Office is responsible for refugee integration and for settlement and Citizenship policy. TheDepartment for Communities and Local Government leads on community cohesion while the Government Equality Office leads on discrimination.

The history of integration policy began in the 1960s, directed at migrants from NewCommonwealth countries. Integration was then defined by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins as ’not a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’ (Rose 1969). The overt hostility faced by migrants ensured that the policy had a strong focus on addressing discrimination and incitement to racial hatred and on mechanisms to manage community relations. Commonwealth migrants also retained rights to vote and stand in elections and a fast track to Citizenship. In subsequent decades the focus of policy, however, remained with the second and subsequent generations of these communities, not migrants. This left a vacuum in policy towards newcomers which has only to a limited extent been filled.

A Refugee Integration Strategy launched in 2000 was intended to help recognised refugees (not asylum seekers) secure access to jobs, accommodation, welfare benefits, health, education and language services and to encourage community participation. The Department for Work and Pensions developed a complementary strategy to target practical assistance to refugees seeking to enter the labour market. Neither focus has been extended to other migrants. Refugees’ needs were assessed by a caseworker so that they could be signposted to relevant services. Evidence suggests that the service has been insufficient to enable many refugees to overcome the disproportionateunemployment and broader challenges they experience (Phillimore and Goodson 2008).

Research has shown that ability to speak English is strongly related to labour market performance (Dustmann, Fabbri et al. 2003). In contrast to some other European countries there is no targeted introductory language and orientation programme for new arrivals to the UK but migrants can attend classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). ESOL provision expanded significantly after 2004 when enlargement of the EU, coupled with new language requirements for those seeking Citizenship, led to increased demand. Budget challenges subsequently led to greater rationing of free places, however, so that some low paid migrants can no longer access classes at no cost (NIACE 2008, Collett 2011).

The previous Labour government’s community cohesion agenda, developed after disturbances in northern English towns in 2001, initially had no focus on migrants, addressing issues relating to long standing ethnic minority communities. The arrival of people from Eastern and Central Europe and in particular the fact that many settled in areas previously unfamiliar with migration, led to a broadening of that agenda following a report from a Commission on Integration and Cohesion in 2007 (CIC 2007). This led to some additional resources and guidance for local authorities and service providers.

Across Europe there has been a trend towards greater compulsion in integration policies, requiring migrants to attend language and orientation classes for instance and to demonstrate a level of language proficiency before arrival. The UK has to an extent followed this trend in requiring evidence of some language ability and knowledge of ‘Life in the UK’ before acquiring settlement or Citizenship, and most recently in requiring some family migrants to have a level of spoken English before coming to the UK.

European Union (EU) policy, however, has had limited traction on developments in the UK. Integration was not within the competency of the EU until the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Agreement on Common Basic Principles on Integration in 2004 was followed by a modest programme of activity largely focused on sharing good practice, and an Integration Fund for initiatives at state and local level. Significantly, EU policy only covers Third Country Nationals, not EU citizens who may in practice face many of the same challenges. The EU’s most significant intervention has been the Employment and Race Equality Directives in 2000 requiring Member States to have legislation on discrimination, but this was one area of law already well developed in the UK. In the Equality Acts of 2006 and 2010, UK policy moved ahead of the requirements in EU law. The 2010 Act includes a duty on public bodies to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations, a potentially significant lever for integration if migrants are included within the authorities’ target groups.

 

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