Anti-homeless spikes: a visible symbol of a underlying trend. (Photo: Getty)
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Social segregation is rising - what's to be done about it?

Social segregation - of races, classes and religions - is on the rise in Britain. A new report suggests ways out of the mess.

At a time of hardening attitudes to both disadvantaged people and immigrants, it is vital that politicians take levels of social integration – the extent to which people from different backgrounds meet and mix – seriously.

Research by the Social Integration Commission, which I chair, has shown that the average Briton has on average about half as many interactions with people from different age groups, classes and ethnicities as would occur if their social networks were randomly drawn from the local population. This problem affects all sections of our society – white people are as likely to have unrepresentative networks as people belonging to other ethnicities, whilst highly diverse areas are not necessarily integrated. Indeed, Londoners’ networks are amongst the furthest away from reflecting the makeup of the communities in which they live. Our research also revealed that the most extreme form of segregation in modern Britain doesn’t relate to a lack of interaction between different ethnic groups, but rather between the rich and poor.

Social segregation is curtailing our ability to solve key economic and social challenges. Around 40 per cent of jobs in the UK are found through personal contacts. As a result, when it comes to recruiting new staff, informal networks shaped according to ethnicity, age and income background limit the talent pool available to employers. Low levels of integration additionally increase anxiety and fear of the unknown, leading to greater ill-health and isolation in later life. The Commission estimates that a lack of integration costs our economy £6 billion, or approximately 0.5 per cent of GDP, each year.

However, more important than the sums or any particular policy challenge is the broader point that sits at the heart of why levels of integration matter. Unless action is taken to reduce social segregation, the danger grows that in the face of the many and complex challenges of the future, instead of asking ‘how can we solve this together?’, the people of the UK will ask ‘who can we blame?’

In our new report, Kingdom United? Thirteen steps to tackle social segregation, the Commission makes a series of recommendations on what can practically be done to create a more integrated and socially cohesive society.

It’s challenging to get policy right in an area which feels largely to be the domain of people’s voluntary – even ‘natural’ – choices but, through targeted and intelligent interventions, we could create many new opportunities for people from different backgrounds to meet and mix.

For instance, the recent drive to open free schools has led to increased numbers of children being educated in peer groups dominated by a single faith group or community. The Prime Minister’s current promise to build 500 new free schools if he is re-elected will further intensify this problem. To ameliorate the impact of this trend, the Commission is calling on the Department for Education to only approve applications for new faith schools when the petitioners have a clear plan for pupils to meet and mix with children from different faith backgrounds and communities

Residential segregation is also on the rise, and we view the growing trend for separate entrances to housing developments for private and social tenants as a particularly disquieting – almost Dickensian – development. Through Kingdom United?, the Commission urges local authorities to ban the installation of ‘poor doors’ and ‘rich gates’ in their areas.

We must ensure that the UK’s trajectory towards greater diversity does not undermine the cohesiveness and long-term success of our society. This will require policymakers to own up to the challenges posed by a segregated society, and to develop new ways for people from all sections of our society to meet and connect.

Matthew Taylor became Chief Executive of the RSA in November 2006. Prior to this appointment, he was Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to the Prime Minister.
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.