Ethnicity and Integration?

Ethnicity and Integration?

Alita Nandi

The objective of this Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper as outlined in the Secretary of State Sajid Javid’s, Foreword is “to build strong integrated communities where people – whatever their background – live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities.” Specifically, “…to tackle the inequalities and injustices that hold people back…inequalities that can act as barriers to integration and opportunity, barriers which prevent us from building a Britain where everyone has the chance to succeed” and “to confront the segregation that can divide communities”, as stated by the Prime Minister in her Foreword. The Green Paper sets out the challenges to and strategies for achieving this objective of a unified country.

The integration strategies set out in the Green Paper focus on the role of local institutions and policies to provide better support to ethnic minorities for reducing their economic disadvantage as well as to support and encourage them, particularly those who are living in segregated communities, to integrate with mainstream society. While many of the strategies recommended in the Green Paper are possibly effective and useful, I would like to question some of the recommendations and ask if these are likely to achieve their stated goals.

First, segregation, integration, inequality and disadvantage are defined and discussed in terms of one type of difference – ethnicity. Indeed there is a large body of evidence that most ethnic minority groups have lower employment rates, lower wages, are more concentrated in low paying sectors and jobs, experience higher levels of poverty and are likely to be poor for longer periods.[1]  However, across ethnic different ethnic groups, there is also evidence that women, individuals with disabilities, sexual minorities, individuals living in deprived areas, individuals with parents from lower occupational classes are also likely to experience similar economic disadvantage.[2] While the Green Paper mentions some gender and social class differences, ethnicity remains its primary focus. Although the objectives mentioned in the two Forewords do not specify disadvantage and inequality of opportunity only in terms of ethnic differences, the rest of the Green Paper seem to have a disproportionate focus on this.

This disproportionate focus on ethnicity does not reckon adequately other disadvantaged groups. It also gives a misleading impression that ethnic groups are homogeneous and individuals in these groups only face barriers due to their ethnic backgrounds. It ignores the fact that ethnic groups comprise of people of different gender, age, social classes, sexual orientations and disabilities and as a result may face multiple disadvantages. Only gender differences within ethnic groups are mentioned in a few instances. Finally, this focus on ethnic groups and the subsequent discussion of segregation in Chapters 3 and 5 make an implicit causal link between ethnic differences and lack of integration in communities and schools.

Second, the Green Paper makes useful suggestions about building shared communities by increasing interaction and contact between different ethnic groups in Chapter 5. These strategies are supported by evidence that contact between individuals of different groups with a common shared goal, reduces prejudice and helps build a more cohesive and unified society.[3] However, this strategy should be useful in reducing inter-group prejudice and bias along other dimensions – gender, age, class, disability, sexual orientation – as well. Thus it is not clear why these integration strategies are only directed at groups based on ethnicity?

Third, the Green Paper seems to suggest that residential and community segregation is being driven by some ethnic minority groups who are less inclined to live alongside white British communities: “There are town and city neighbourhoods where ethnic minority communities are increasing in concentration with growing isolation from White British communities,” (page 12) and, from the Casey Review, “people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity tend to live in more residentially segregated communities than other ethnic minority groups”(page 10). There is however no mention here about segregation of the white majority community. There is no discussion either about whether some white majority individuals are choosing not to live in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods. We accept that even if all white majority individuals wanted to live in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods, it would be difficult for most of them to do so because by definition they are the majority group. But the point is, whether by choice or not, only a small proportion of white majority adults live in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods..[4] But this lack of contact with ethnic minority group members may increase their prejudice and bias against minorities and thus reduce social cohesion. In other words, this segregation of white majority communities may have an equally deleterious effect on the integration of British society as the segregation of ethnic minorities.

Fourth, let us examine the claim in this strategy paper that some ethnic minority individuals choose to live with members of their own ethnic group. The Green Paper recognises that this may lead to social networks that fail to provide better economic opportunities. But it does not explore whether living with others of the same ethnic group has some advantages for ethnic minorities and thus incentivises such behaviour. There is evidence that living with co-ethnic members is associated with better health.[5] Among ethnic minorities, the likelihood of being a victim of ethnic and racial harassment in public places is lower for those living in areas with higher proportion of their own ethnic group.[6] Although the growing number of hate crimes is mentioned in the Green Paper there is hardly any discussion about how to reduce it.

Fifth, there are some useful suggestions for building integrated communities through “shared community spaces”, “shared activities through culture and sport” etc. But we know that around one in ten ethnic minorities report being victims of ethnic and racial harassment in public places in the last one year, and a higher proportion avoid or feel unsafe in public places.[7] It is possible that this may reduce opportunities for ethnic minorities to participate in activities in these public places, activities which could promote integration in neighbourhoods and communities.

Chapter 6 recognises differences in employment opportunities across ethnic groups, and in keeping with rest of the paper hardly mentions differences across other groups. But having said that, the methods suggested in the strategy paper to increase these opportunities, such as providing better training and information to help minorities take advantage of the opportunities available, are very useful. The suggestion of developing tailormade and localised opportunities is also helpful. What is missing here is a substantial and thorough discussion of the evidence on discrimination at the workplace and steps that can be taken to reduce and eliminate it. While racial prejudice and its possible impact on job discrimination is acknowledged by mentioning the Natcen and the Runnymede Trust’s report on Racial Prejudice in Britain, there does not seem to sufficient focus on the role of institutions in contrast to that of individuals. The publication of ethnic differences in public services by the Race Disparity Unit via the Ethnicity Facts and Figures website is a useful first step in this direction.

[1] Fisher, P. and Nandi, A. (2015) ‘Poverty across ethnic groups through recession and austerity, Joseph Rowntree Foundation;  Guveli, A. and Brynin, M. (2012) ‘Understanding the ethnic pay gap in Britain’, Work, employment and society, 26(4) 574–587; Heath, A. and Cheung, S. (2006) ‘Ethnic Penalties in the Labour Market: Employers and Discrimination’, DWP Research Report 342; Longhi, S. and Brynin, M. (2017) ‘The ethnicity pay gap’, Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Reports 108.
[2] Longhi, S., Nicoletti, C., Platt, L. (2012) ‘Interpreting wage gaps of disabled men: The roles of productivity and discrimination’, Southern Economic Association, 78 (3): 931-953; Longhi, S. (2017) ‘The disability pay gap’, Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report 107; Nandi, A. and Platt, L. (2010) ‘Ethnic Minority Women’s Poverty and Economic Well Being’, Government Equality Office Report; ‘State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain’ Social Mobility Commission Report.
[3] Hewstone, M. (2015) ‘Consequences of diversity for social cohesion and prejudice: The missing dimension of intergroup contact’ Journal of Social Issues, 71 (2): 417-438.; Pettigrew, T. and Tropp, L. (2006) ‘A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 90 (5): 751-783.
[4] Knies, G., Nandi, A., Platt, L. (2016) ‘Life satisfaction, ethnicity and neighbourhoods: Is there an effect of neighbourhood ethnic composition on life satisfaction?Social Science Research.
[5] Becares, L., Nazroo, J. and Stafford, M. (2009) ‘The buffering effects of ethnic density on experienced racism and health’, Health and Place 15:700-08.
[6] Nandi, A. et al  (2016) ‘Prevalence and persistence of ethnic and racial harassment and mental health: A longitudinal analysis’.
[7] Nandi, A. and Luthra, R. (2016) ‘Who experiences ethnic and racial harassment?’.


Alita Nandi is a Research fellow in the Institute for economic and Social Research at the University of Essex.

Image: Graham Hogg CC BY-SA 2.0

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