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Last month Bright Blue hosted its Social Reform Conference. The Conference included a number or break-out sessions. I had the pleasure of hosting a highly informative discussion of social integration session.

Social integration has become a significant Government priority over the past seven years. Under David Cameron’s Premiership, the Government was particularly concerned with a lack of integration among certain minority groups, such as Muslim women. This led to the Casey Review – authored by the civil servant Dame Louise Casey – which was published in early 2017, and made a series of recommendations to improve social integration in the UK.

Under Theresa May’s leadership there has been a continued focus on social integration. In the 2017 election, the Conservative Party manifesto promised that a new Conservative Government would put forward a new integration strategy to bring together divided communities.

It was in this context that a knowledgeable panel, and enthusiastic audience, came together to discuss how to improve social integration. We were joined by panelists Binita Mehta-Parmar (Director of centre-right think tank Modern Britain), Sunder Katwala (Director of British Future), and Mohammed Amin (Chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum).

There was some agreement among the speakers and audience that migration can have an affect on social integration and cohesion in British communities. Many agreed that this is particularly plausible if a community experiences a significant increase in the number of migrants in a short time period. One speaker offered the example of Boston in Lincolnshire where the non-British population increased from 1.5% of the total population to 10.5% in just ten years. However, speakers passionately believed that mostly migration had little effect on integration and, in some cases, its effect could be positive.

The discussion then turned to whether some minority groups are less likely to be integrated in the UK. The was broad agreement that some groups, particularly subsections of larger groups, are less likely to be integrated. The panel identified Muslim women, of whom 22% speak no or little English, as a group who can sometimes fail to integrate. Other speakers also identified Orthodox Jews as a community that needs to do more to integrate.

Finally the panel addressed ways in which the Government could promote social integration in the UK. There was broad agreement that it was right for the Government to insist on higher English proficiency levels for new migrants. There was a consensus that integration is incredibly difficult without a shared language with which to communicate. Some panelists also raised the idea that state institutions, such as schools, could do more to promote integration between different communities.

Improving social integration will be a key Government priority over this Parliament. In 2018, Bright Blue will publish a new paper on the levels of trust in local authorities in the UK. We hope that this will aid the Government’s new social integration strategy.

James Dobson is a senior researcher at Bright Blue