FOCUS: Integrated Communities, a Response to the Government’s Strategy Green Paper

FOCUS: Integrated Communities, a Response to the Government’s Strategy Green Paper

John Holmwood, Gurminder K. Bhambra and Sue Scott

This special issue of Discover Society represents a new initiative. We present articles responding to the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper, which was published on 14th  March with a deadline for responses of 5th June. Responses to specific questions can be made online, by completion of a form (links on the Green Paper site), or by email to Our special issue (minus this preamble) is available here as a pdf which we will submit to the consultation. We encourage others to respond to the consultation with comments based on evidence drawn from the social sciences and we will also publish them in our Rapid Response section (see our guidelines for the format).

We have taken this initiative as a way of getting beyond what one of us has called consultation by co-option. This takes place through the construction of participants as ‘stakeholders’. Stakeholders are differentially affected by proposed policies, but they are all defined by having a direct interest in the matter. In this context, government presents itself as mediator of submissions which it collates and selects according to its own policy objectives. Stakeholders also lobby government independently of the consultation process. In this way, consultation operates in the interest of the powerful and requires wider publics (who might bear the consequences of the policies) to be represented by a stakeholder or accept the fiction that it is the government that represents their interests. It is the latter that sustains the idea of a government commitment to evidence-based policy, when what is being enacted is the politics of policy-based evidence and interest-based evidence. In the meantime, the Government makes appeals for public support through mass media utilizing populist and divisive language that distinguishes ‘strivers from shirkers’, for example, or proposes an ‘hostile environment’ for migrants.

At the same time, government policies for publicly funded academic research require it to show its impact, through commercialization or its influence on policy and practice. Academics are encouraged to ‘co-produce’ their research with user beneficiaries in order to maximise likely take-up. The attack upon experts as embodying special interests was an important part of the Brexit referendum campaign and it coincided with this development. In effect, the impact agenda requires academics to align their research with partial interests, rather than a general public interest. For the most part, academics have acceded to this wider environment that has eroded the public value of research designed to facilitate public debate and democratic participation.

Discover Society is an attempt to reverse this trend and in this special issue we seek to make consultation over the Integrating Communities Strategy Green Paper a matter of open public debate and not simply eliciting closed submissions by stakeholders responding to the Government’s own framing of the questions at issue. 


The publication of the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper; Building Stronger, More United Communities on March 14th bombastically promotes Britain as “one of the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith societies” (page 7) and declares that, “over many centuries, we have welcomed migrants into Britain” (page 10).

A month is a long time in politics. Reflection on the 25-year anniversary in April of the Stephen Lawrence murder – and, in particular, a three-part documentary by the BBC -showed that the institutional racism identified by the Macpherson Inquiry had not been laid to rest. Equally, reportage by the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman showed the shameful treatment by the Home Office of the Windrush generation of Commonwealth citizens and their children who had become resident in Britain. These reports had been ignored by the Prime Minister and other ministers, but the coincidence of a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London, designed to reinforce the country’s new outward looking post-Brexit spirit, brought a different, inward looking, mean-spiritedness into focus.

It is not possible to read the Green Paper outside this context. The attitudes that have formed Government policies over the last decade have involved increasing antagonism toward immigration as Conservative party politicians sought to counter the rise of UKIP. The offer by David Cameron of a referendum on leaving the European Union was designed to lance that boil, but instead it spread the infection. The opposition to immigration was not simply about new immigration from EU countries, but also about what Enoch Powell had called in his infamous 1968 ‘rivers of blood speech’ (also having its 50th anniversary in April), the ‘immigrant descended’. (He meant the non-white immigrant descended). As in the US after Donald Trump’s Presidential victory, the vote for Brexit was explained as a vote by the ‘left behind’, specifically a white working class that had lost out through deindustrialisation and neoliberal globalisation. This was an account that left out Britain’s non-white citizens who experienced higher levels of disadvantage.[1] Moreover, a recent review of studies of the impact of immigration on wages and on local services has shown that the former has been less than a penny per hour, and the latter has been minimal with perceived pressures on services deriving from government cuts.

In fact, the Green Paper’s celebration of Britain as a ‘successful, multi-ethnic, multi-faith society’ is belied by the earlier claim by David Cameron in his February 2011 speech at the Munich Security Conference that ‘multi-culturalism’ had failed. He identified a problem of integration where, “we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.  Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”

It is precisely such unsupported and politically expedient claims that have contributed to a wider public anxiety about multi-culturalism and the ethnic minorities with which it is associated. Such claims are themselves an obstacle to integration. For example, the Observer newspaper recently reported a YouGov poll finding that 43% of respondents expected relationships between different UK communities to deteriorate over the next few years compared to 14% who thought there would be improvement. More than two-thirds of Conservative Leave voters believed multiculturalism is not working.

It is this understanding of modern Britain that informs the Green Paper. It describes the challenges of integration and points to the responsibilities of migrants, including by implication those of the non-white immigrant descended. It also outlines problems of segregation and the importance of social mixing. The Green Paper associates these as problems produced by ethnic minorities. Nowhere are homogenous white British communities subject to comment or proposed policy intervention. Indeed, as Danny Dorling sets out in his contribution to this issue, the British governing class is itself the most self-segregated in its residence, its use of private schooling and its employment in top positions in law, politics and media. Indeed, the Green Paper challenges the mono-cultural concentration of some ethnic minority communities yet it is among the white British population that the greatest self-segregation is found.[2] As Jenny Phillimore and Nando Sigona argue it is their choices that produce the segregation of ethnic minorities at whom the finger of blame is pointed. Indeed, Britain’s ethnic minority population, they argue, shows a strong drive toward social mixing and desire to live in diverse, rather than mono-cultural, communities. The obstacles are structural, not cultural.

Phillimore and Sigona set out how the creation of an ‘hostile environment for illegal migrants’ blurs the line between illegal and legal migration as well as demeaning those who came to Britain as Commonwealth citizens fully exercising their rights to do so. Legislation since 2010 has required employers, landlords, schools, banks and doctors to check people’s immigration status and this has fallen most onerously on visible minorities, not all of whom have papers that have come to be held necessary to corroborate status.

In fact, as Lucy Mayblin shows, this is not new. There have been moments of hospitality, but they have often been late in any given crisis and always grudgingly conceded.  Britain was a reluctant signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, for example, and the exclusionary impulse continues today. In fact, we might conclude from the overview provided in her article that Britain has a long history of seeking to avoid being seen as too generous, too welcoming, lest people seek asylum here.

Two of our contributions address the general issue of the evidence in the Green Paper. In the first, Mark Monaghan and Jo Ingold look at the very role of Green Papers in the formation of government policy. Green Papers act as discussion papers for policy that is in the process of formation (the reason why we believe engaging with the consultation on this Green Paper is so important). They set out a five-stage model for the translation of evidence into policy. However, despite frequent mentions in the Green Paper of a commitment to discovering ‘what works’, their conclusion is that the Green Paper privileges particular kinds of evidence based on reportage and audit over others and there is a danger this will be replicated in the White Paper that follows.

Indeed, it looks as if the current Green Paper fails at their first stage of translation. This is the definition of the substantive problem at hand, and, in this case, it is taken from Dame Louise Casey’s Review into Opportunity and Integration from December 2016. As Stephen Crossley sets out, she has a long and problematic relationship with the collection of evidence in support of policy development and has rarely hidden her indifference to empirical research, misusing government research, and inventing statistics to support her position. Despite a reputation for ‘telling it like it is’ her approach could be better characterised as ‘telling it as politicians want it to be’.

Echoing David Cameron’s Munich speech, Dame Louise Casey begins her review with the statement that among her findings was that of “cultural and religious practices in communities that are not only holding some of our citizens back but run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws” (page 5). The puzzle is that there is plenty of social scientific evidence to challenge this view. Some of it finds its way into the Green Paper, but only as contradictory and unresolved statements. For example, mono-cultural segregation, negative attitudes toward women and failure to learn English are all indicated as potential issues associated with Muslim communities, yet it is also acknowledged that “a higher proportion of British Muslims identif[ies] as British than the population as a whole” (page 57).

As Ajmal Hussain and Nasar Meer observe the main organising principle for integration is that of fundamental British values’. These are not themselves open to consultation and they are derived from the Government’s counter-terrorism Prevent strategy.  Yet, there is little evidence that different cultural practices of Britain’s ethnic minority communities are in conflict with fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and religious tolerance. Indeed, the social and civic engagement among ‘integrated’ Muslim communities – in for example the response to the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing – did not require the organising authority of the state or invocations of ‘fundamental British values’. There is little doubt that the focus on cultural practices as if they were in conflict, contributes to growing prejudice and can only contribute to the alienation of presently integrated Muslim communities.

Indeed, Therese O’Toole shows how the Green Paper identifies extremism as an obstacle to the achievement of integration and enfolds the goals of Counter Extremism into the concerns of integration. Not only is Counter Extremism posited in the Green Paper as a strategy for tackling inequalities, it is also presented as key to the promotion of rights, freedoms and shared values that are foundational to the government’s integration strategy. This involves an attempt to re-frame the meaning of counter-extremism to disassociate it from the Prevent strategy, something that is fraught with difficulties, especially given that both have been criticised for their negative impact on both rights and freedoms, especially for Muslim citizens.

The overwhelming emphasis in the Green Paper is on ethnicity and failures of ethnic minorities to integrate. As Stephen Ashe argues, this is presented in individualistic terms of deficits on the part of individuals – whether of aspirations or failure to speak English – without addressing the structural and cultural issues of racism as barriers to equal opportunities. Yet recent surveys of Asian and Black employees reveal that significant numbers have experienced racism at work. Indeed, the government has handed responsibility over to public sector managers to determine how to comply with their new duties, which is particularly ironic when the surveys identify managers as being main perpetrators of workplace racism.

As Alita Nandi argues, the Green Paper’s narrow and unhelpful focus on ethnicity denies other disadvantaged groups a voice and fails to recognise the barriers to their success. Second, this promotes the false notion that ethnic groups are homogeneous. All ethnic groups are also comprised of individuals with different gender, age, social class, sexual orientation, disability (or differently abled). While gender differences within ethnic groups are mentioned in a few places, in general wider issues of intersectionality go unrecognised.

Moreover, the politics of austerity since the financial crisis of 2008 has meant that community services have experienced very significant cuts, whether that is to youth services, libraries, housing or other aspects of infrastructure. Indeed, one aspect of the Green Paper is to emphasise the importance of local resources that government polices have seriously degraded. This finds its most surreal aspect when reference is made to the bonding that can occur by action to maintain local services against threatened cuts:  “Community ownership of assets, such as parks, pubs, libraries and community centres supports strong integrated communities by catalysing social action. Saving a much-loved asset and taking part in shaping services can act as a focal point for the community and offers opportunities for people to mix and combat a ‘them and us’ mentality” (page 45).

The Green Paper is based on the belief that ethnic minority women pose both a particular problem and an opportunity to bring about civic integration for their communities, something which Sara Farris argues is an emerging policy approach across Europe. However, once again, its focus is the individual and the local level. Lack of integration thus seems, after all, to derive from these women’s poor will or inadequate background. No mention is made of the high costs of childcare in England that discourage many mothers from seeking a job, of the levels of discrimination that ethnic minority women experience in the labour market, of the badly paid and precarious jobs that are usually offered to them, of the cuts to the Adult Education Budget that have eliminated English courses, or of the closure of refuges for the victims of gender and domestic violence that make it more difficult for ethnic minority women to seek help. Discrimination against women within ethnic minority communities is what is given emphasis, rather than discrimination against ethnic minorities by the wider community.

This is particularly marked in the treatment of women from Pakistan and Bangladesh. As Katherine Charsley points out a substantial proportion of British Pakistanis are married to a partner from Pakistan. Both the Green Paper and the earlier Casey Review make prominent reference to such transnational marriages as both a symptom and cause of problematic integration. They do not, however, present a clear evidence base for this association. The findings of a recent ESRC-funded project on Marriage Migration and Integration conducted by Charsley and her colleagues suggest that the relationships between transnational marriage and integration are more diverse and nuanced, but migrant spouses also face barriers to opportunity. Proposals to provide practical information and signposting for new arrivals and increase provision of English language tuition are positive. However, the simplistic and pathologising portrayal of British Pakistani marriage practices in the Casey and Integrated Communities reports are likely to damage integration by reinforcing prejudice and social barriers.

Throughout the Green Paper problems of integration are amplified with little evidence that the problems are of the form proposed. As Maya Goodfellow shows with reference to the presumptive consequences of poor English language skills, lack of such skills is not as extensive as is claimed and is arrived at by conflating ‘don’t speak at all’ and ‘don’t speak well’. There is also a direct association made between “learn[ing] to speak and understand our language and values” (page 11) as if the values proposed as fundamental have a uniquely British formulation and are not expressed within other languages and by other communities. It remains that individuals would like more support, but it is precisely here that government cuts to services has taken a severe toll. Instead, English language requirements have become embedded in the hostile environment to discourage migration.

In fact, once the evidence of the Green Paper is deconstructed, it is apparent that there is much that the wider community can learn from the resilience of ethnic minority communities and their participation and commitment to success, notwithstanding the barriers that are faced.  A glimpse of this possibility is there in the way in which a problem of white disadvantage enters the Green Paper. Although it offers no discussion of its implications, as Mary Brown and Stephen McKay argue, there have been considerable improvements in the educational success of those from ethnic minority backgrounds.  It is now the white working class group that does least well at school, while ethnic minorities are already more likely to gain a degree than the white population as a whole. Despite this, there is still an ethnic employment penalty. This is partly explained by the higher social class family backgrounds of the white population (for now at least), partly by lower occupational standing in the workforce, and partly by employment discrimination. Brown and Mackay’s ethnographic work with a rural white population picks up some signs of reduced educational aspirations and an orientation towards earlier rather than delayed success in the labour market. Younger white people may be experiencing the effects of more limited social mobility, compared with those from an ethnic minority background, in their views about economic rewards.

We began this piece with reference to the scandal associated with the Government’s treatment of British citizens from the Commonwealth. It is evident that the Green Paper is part of that mindset. Integration is presented as a problem because immigration is perceived as a problem. Rights and responsibilities are invoked, but the rights of non-white citizens to equally determine Britain’s political community and civic expression are not recognised. If the government really believed in the value of Britain being “one of the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith societies”, that value would be expressed in a Green Paper that endorsed multi-culturalism and addressed the barriers to inclusion.

See, Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2017) ‘Brexit, Trump, and ‘methodological whiteness’: on the misrecognition of race and class’, British Journal of Sociology, 51(S1).
[2] See, for example, Semyonov, Moshe and Glikman, Anya (2009) Ethnic Residential Segregation, Social Contacts, and Anti-Minority Attitudes in European Societies, European Sociological Review 25(6): 693–708.


Gurminder K. Bhambra is Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex. John Holmwood is Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham. Sue Scott is Honorary Professor in the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University of York. Together, they are Joint Managing Editors of Discover Society.