The title of the report is instructive. As with the recent government-backed Casey review, which called on migrants to swear an oath of allegiance to Britain, discussions about integration in the UK tend to place the responsibility on the incomers rather than on the hosts.
The authors of this latest report are thoughtful about what local communities and central government can do to help migrants settle and integrate into the UK.
They also explicitly acknowledge that “integration is a two-way street, requiring the involvement of both newcomers and host communities.”
However, this is not the top line that most outlets have taken from it.
The Metro’s coverage today is typical. Headlined “Migrants ‘should be speaking English as soon as they arrive'” they report that MPs have called for migrants to be enrolled in “compulsory language classes” when they arrive.
Providing language classes for migrants is undoubtedly a good thing. However, it’s worth pointing out that according to the latest available census data, almost 90% of foreign nationals living in the UK already speak English “very well” so it’s not entirely clear what the purpose of forcing every single new incomer to take classes would achieve. It’s also worth pointing out that existing funding for English classes has been drastically cut over recent years. It’s unclear why the government would suddenly commit to greater funding now, particularly as they are also committed to dramatically reducing immigration.
the language issue has become totemic for anti-immigration campaigners. When UKIP lost the Oldham by-election in 2015, against many predictions, their then leader Nigel Forage suggested that the result had been ‘bent’ by corrupts postal voting.
In multiple interviews, he insisted that mass immigration and the increase of ethnic minorities meant democracy had “died” in parts of Britain. In one interview he cited a report which suggested that there was a street in Oldham “where nobody spoke English, nobody had ever heard of Jeremy Corbin, but they were all voting Labour.”
No such report existed. However, the idea that there are vast swathes of the UK which are now essentially ‘foreign’ is one that persists against all evidence. In 2015, then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told his supporters that “we have places in London and other places that are so radicalised that police are afraid for their own lives.” Then London mayor Boris Johnson rightly described the claims as “utter nonsense”, however, the idea that the UK and much of Europe have become ‘no-go areas’ for ‘natives’ remains a popular far-right trope.
The risk is that well-meaning reports, such as today’s, only play into this sense that immigration has made the UK a more divided and less cohesive place to live than ever before.