High levels of migration both internationally and from one area to another are challenging traditional approaches and policies on community cohesion. And the pressures posed by migration, already a big headache for local authorities, are only likely to intensify.
According to the UN, about 200 million people live away from their country of birth, a figure expected to grow.
Figures from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) show that in 2005 about 550,000 migrants arrived in the UK, while about 390,000 left. Ten years ago, the comparable figures were about half that. And levels of ethnic diversity in any one area are becoming even greater. The result is what the IPPR has dubbed ‘super diversity’ and ‘super mobility’.
According to Angela Mason, national adviser for equalities and cohesion at the Improvement & Development Agency, the rapid pace of change requires councils to take a new approach to diversity and cohesion.
“We used to think that diversity and equality were issues relating to women or ethnic communities, lesbians and gays or the disabled. But the globalisation of commodities and the labour market means that now we all have to understand diversity. We all have to make sure that we get the most, not the worst, from change and difference,” she says.
“We must make sure that the historical values that help us deal with difference, like fairness and tolerance, are dominant in society today.”
The key drivers for migration include technological progress, climate change and political problems.
Communications technology enables migrants living far from their homes to remain in touch with their families. Climate change is also set to be a driver for large-scale migration from developing countries. A paper discussed at the March EU summit in Brussels suggested that global warming could directly lead to mass migration and civil unrest in those countries, reinforcing emigration patterns.
The paper by Javier Solana, EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy, pointed to UN warnings that there would be millions of environmental refugees by 2020, mainly as a result of climate change. “Such migration may increase conflicts in transit and destination areas, suggesting that Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure,” according to Mr Solana’s report.
One area affected is Africa, where “water scarcity and land overuse will degrade soils and could lead to a loss of 75% of arable, rain-fed land,” the report said. In southern Africa droughts contribute to poor harvests, leading to food insecurity in several areas with millions of people expected to face food shortages.
Migration within the continent and through North Africa to Europe is likely to intensify, warned Mr Solana. Professor Ted Cantle, chair of the Institute for Community Cohesion, says: “It is only a matter of time before they move on to northern Europe.”
Jeffrey Mazo, from the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, suggests that countries like Greece and Spain, on the edges of Europe, are already grappling with major illegal immigration crises.
Economic migrants are the fastest movers. The higher-paid work on short-term contracts and move where contracts are available, while there is a cascade effect for the lower-paid posts.
Prof Cantle points to trends within Europe. “The Polish migrants come here because they can earn more, and Koreans are taking their jobs in Poland,” he says. And, given levels of unrest in places like Sudan and Rwanda, there is likely to be a fresh influx of politically inspired migrants.
But there are few prescriptions that can help government, at a national or local level, to tackle the demands of the ‘super migrant’ and ensure social cohesion. If migrants do not plan to stay long, creating a sense of belonging is naturally difficult.
Lord Goldsmith’s review of citizenship for the government, published in March, proposed new measures by which local and national government and partners can entrench the notion of Britishness. But according to a report published the same month by the IPPR, these ideas are not relevant to many migrants.
The report estimates that of every five foreign-born UK residents, two are likely to be eligible for British citizenship but have not taken it up. It suggests that many Eastern European migrants see themselves as European, and see few benefits in naturalisation. Prof Cantle agrees, highlighting the existence of ‘diaspora communities’ neighbourhoods with a high concentration of people from one area of the globe whose members have retained their original cultural identities.
Pulling together communities in the absence of the social glue traditionally provided by common identities poses particular challenges for local authorities.
The IDeA’s Ms Mason says: “Authorities face a situation that requires that they tackle migration pressures, uncertainty about numbers and a lack of resources. In light of this, perhaps it is the presence of values like fairness and tolerance that has helped them respond to the most recent wave of Accession 8 country migration.
“The IDeA’s migration excellence programme now has 11 migration support projects in place, benefiting 23 councils. This work builds on the experience of councils, and helps them to develop leadership, work with partners, including local employers, and improve their communication and information provision. Although there are considerable problems that need to be addressed, so far local government has risen to the challenges and, significantly, there has been little social unrest.”
Professor Danny Dorling from Sheffield University’s geography department, argues that the arrival of migrants in a city should be seen as a positive development. “If a place attracts migrants, it is a sign of success,” he says. “Towns are continually losing population, so to avoid decline and general stagnation, they must attract more migrants.”
He suggests that the best way to promote social cohesion is by improving services in poorer areas. “This means investing resources where they are really needed, which could encourage the population to stay.”
Migrants arriving in a host country will tend to go to areas with existing immigrant communities, and councils need to focus action there. The poorer migrants will live in areas with a concentration of houses in multiple occupation, which have a high
proportion of single people and students.
“Councils are generally reactive in meeting a demand when it arises but they need to be more fleet of foot,” says Prof Cantle, adding that it is up to central government to improve the information given to councils. “At the moment, there is little intelligence going to local authorities.”
Changes in population are so rapid that they do not show up in the 10-yearly national census, and the Labour Force Survey does not count workers who plan to stay less than a year.
Gill Rutter, senior research fellow at the IPPR and the author of the thinktank’s migration report, proposes that local authorities should carry out smaller scale ethnographic studies. “Council officers need to adopt a new mindset and go out to talk to people,” she recommends.
Authorities can access data about the population profile, which is held by other organisations, schools and the NHS. Ms Rutter also points to the need for investment to ‘build bridges’ across different communities, using projects based in primary schools and leisure centres.
The IPPR report emphasises the importance of public spaces, which can be used to provide opportunities for migrants to meet people from other communities in a safe setting. “There are major settlements being planned and we are concerned that there should be adequate provision of public spaces,” says Ms Rutter.
The research shows that much social interaction between communities takes place in a wide range of everyday locations, including parks, playgrounds, leisure centres, museums, restaurants and bars.
It is clear that in an increasingly uncertain world, communities are set to experience profound changes in the decades to come. Working at a local level will become increasingly important in binding them together.
Written byBen Kochan.