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21 August 2015updated 09 Sep 2021 2:52pm

Why David Cameron’s priorities should be integration, integration, integration

By Jon Yates

In 1996 Tony Blair declared his three main priorities in Government would be “education, education and education”.  David Cameron has declared that his legacy will not be defined by Europe, the economy or the union, but through integrating the UK’s most isolated communities to combat radicalisation.

The Prime Minister’s welcome intervention has lit a rocket under the integration debate in the UK and it also reveals a bold new consensus that recognises that as we become more diverse we are at risk of becoming the worst type of society – diverse, but divided.

This argument sits at the heart of our mission as an organisation.  The UK’s lack of integration is not just a problem for one ethnic or religious group it is an issue for all of us. There are signs of divisions opening up among our communities and you only need to see the websites targeting young Muslims or listen to conversations in the pubs of left-behind coastal towns to sense the risk of  alienation and division.

Research we produced with the Social Integration Commission showed that -despite being the majority – white people are the least integrated ethnic group in the UK by age, income and ethnicity. Our findings also demonstrated that our most diverse city, London, is less integrated proportionately than anywhere else in the country. This lack of integration costs the UK economy £6bn a year or 0.5 per cent of GDP.

That’s why the Prime Minister is right to recognise that without action we will risk deeper isolation and a more divided country. His appointment of Louise Casey to lead his integration review is therefore hugely welcome.

However, the challenges are very real. The Government will find itself confronting hard questions such as, how can you influence a school’s ethnic mix while respecting parental choice? How do you put constraints on who lives where without encroaching people’s rights or restricting house building?

Our experience of bringing diverse groups of people together has taught us that  the Prime Minister’s ambition can be realised, but answering these questions will be a hard circle for any Government to square. Prime Minister Blair looked back at the end of his time in office and admitted that he wished he “had been bolder”. Those of us who care about living in an integrated country will wish this Prime Minister to retain every element of boldness as he looks to build a more integrated country. 

Jon Yates is strategy director of The Challenge, a social integration charity.

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