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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.