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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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