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Is Britain becoming more segregated?

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A report claiming to show parts of Britain being ‘segregated’ by ethnic minorities and Muslims has fed racist scaremongering and political posturing. But its flawed definitions paint a misleading picture, residents told Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue 2529
The report suggests Britain is become more segregated. But its definition of segregation is misleading
The report suggests Britain is become more segregated. But its definition of segregation is misleading

Britain is becoming dangerously segregated—according to a deeply flawed report that anti-immigrant politicians and newspapers have received with glee.

Entitled “Is segregation increasing in the UK?”, by “experts” Professor Ted Cantle and Eric Kaufmann, it warns of a “growing isolation of the White majority from minorities in urban zones”.

In his glowing foreword right wing Labour MP Chuka Umunna says it will “inform the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, in particular our ongoing inquiry into immigration”.

But the report’s definition of segregation is selective and misleading, and this skews its conclusions—as people in the areas it points to told Socialist Worker.

The Daily Mail newspaper rounded on Savile Town in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, as “one of the most racially homogenous” places identified in the report.

“Not because everyone is an indigenous Yorkshire man or woman … but exactly the opposite,” it ranted. Apparently Muslims have “forced” white people out.

But Mohammed Pandor, a Dewsbury Mufti, said, “Savile Town is not a ‘no-go’ area just for Muslims and mixing does go on.

“If someone who wasn’t Asian walked through no one would bat an eyelid.”

Which version is true? The National Census figures bear out Mohammed’s. It found that all religious groups were “less segregated” in 2011 than in 2001 across the borough of Kirklees.

This means their homes are more spread out across different areas. This residential segregation of ethnic groups also decreased through the 1990s as Caribbean and Pakistani people have continued to spread out beyond the areas where they originally settled.

Even people who live in relatively concentrated areas are likely to mix with other ethnic groups outside of the home, at work or school.

As Mohammed said, “When I went to school, I was the only Asian boy apart from one other from Pakistan. My children went to a non-Islamic school too.

“The majority of people send their children to schools that aren’t Muslim, because they want the school to reflect society.”

Another kind of mixing is on the increase too—within households and families. One in ten households in Kirklees contain more than one ethnic group. The proportion of the population identifying as “mixed ethnic” has increased by 75 percent during the 2000s.

How does the report get the place so wrong?

They always need a scapegoat—first it was Jewish people, then it was Irish people and now it’s our turn.

Mohammed Pandor

The problem is in what it measures. The places where it says segregation is going up are those where the proportion of “White British” people in the population is going down.

No wonder right wingers who see this as a problem have seized on it.

But the people in Britain who are most likely to be limited to mixing mostly with members of their own ethnic group are white and middle class.

That doesn’t count as segregation because their perceived values and culture are seen as the norm for British society. It’s only a problem if the people who aren’t “integrating” are ethnic minorities.

This view of “social cohesion” often has one target in particular—Muslims.

Mohammed said, “This is just part of the scapegoating that’s going on and the media has an important part in it. They always need a scapegoat—first it was Jewish people, then it was Irish people and now it’s our turn.”

Defining segregation as a fall in the white population also lumps together everyone who isn’t white. This leads to the misleading claim of segregation in parts of Birmingham and Bradford.

Mirfat Sulaiman who lives in Birmingham’s Handsworth area said, “There aren’t many white people in Handsworth—but it’s a very mixed area with people from all over the world.”

She added, “People mix at work and in the community. I don’t go to the swimming pool at the moment because it’s really run down, but it’s a place where you could sit down and just chat with the ladies.”

This points to one of the causes for the segregation that does exist—social deprivation. Racism means people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be locked out of some jobs and priced out of some housing.

This is what diversity looks like: Protesting against Nazis in Dewsbury

This is what diversity looks like: Protesting against Nazis in Dewsbury (Pic: Neil Terry)

Marv Scott grew up in Blackburn, where the report notes the “White British” population has shrunk from 76 percent to 66.5 percent between 2001 and 2011.

He said, “The word segregation is misleading and it hides many factors—low pay, quality housing shortages and of course racism.

“I grew up in a typical working class terrace in the 1970s and ‘80s. There was no segregation as far as we were concerned—we used to go round Asian friends’ houses for tea.

“We moved to a bigger house as our family grew and so did our neighbours if they could afford it. But many were taxi drivers or factory workers—on low pay and long hours.

“So the Asian community in Blackburn has more or less stayed where I grew up. These houses were small—two up, two down. They still exist across many towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire.”

Mirfat agreed, “If white people are more likely to move out that’s because they can afford to live in a better area. But If you’re a migrant, you tend to live in more run down areas where the rent is cheaper—they can afford it, but we can’t.”



Racism can play a more direct role in shaping where people live. It can drive people to seek the support and protection of people from the same background as them.

James, a refugee from Gambia who now lives in Birmingham said, “A friend of mine lived in Walsall in a predominately white area.

“When she came home from work there’d be rubbish left around her house and sometimes things were put through her letterbox. That’s someone who has lived in Britain for 32 years.

“It got bad to the extent that she had to move to Birmingham because of her children.”

Racism also shapes what are seen as “good” and “bad” areas in the first place. Mohammed said there had been “an element of white flight” from Savile Town.

“If someone wanted to live here they’d be welcome to, but we can’t force people to stay,” he said.

“When my parents came to Savile Town in the 1960s, we were the first Asian family on our street.

“But our neighbours didn’t want to live next to an Asian family and they sold up. An Asian family moved in, then the neighbour opposite sold up too.”

What’s taking place is not segregation in terms of people living in separate space

Dr Stephen Jivraj

But this has to be seen as one element of a much broader process, warns University College London lecturer Dr Stephen Jivraj. He co-authored a report busting claims of segregation, “Ethnic Identity and Diversity in Britain”.

He told Socialist Worker, “What’s taking place is not segregation in terms of people living in separate space. The white population declining in some areas, but that’s part of a process that’s been going on for the last half century.

“Even during the 1950s when there were relatively few migrants, there was an outward move from the cities by more affluent people.

“Then when you had an influx of migrants in the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s, the populations in inner cities were often replenished by migrants.”

He added that in general, “White people are not avoiding mixed areas in cities.

“But as the white population moves out to the outer areas, migrant populations moved into the poorer inner areas. Then as the white population moves further, the ethnic population then move into those outer areas.

“But that’s not exclusively white people—in Leicester large numbers of Asian people are moving out to the suburbs as they’ve moved up.”

There is a kind of enforced segregation in many areas—with housing policy, low pay and benefit cuts driving out the poor.

Cantle and Kaufmann position themselves as moderate liberals, not rabid racists. They call for incentives for white people to live in mixed areas, for example.

The report even acknowledges that “segregation can be said to be declining nationwide” both “in terms of overall diversity” and the way it is “more evenly spread”.

But they do worry about “some exceptions”. Their methods are fundamentally flawed, and this gives dangerous

support to the myth of a segregated Britain that racists love to use.

Stephen said, “The problem is how the term ‘segregation’ is used. When academics like me talk about segregation they largely mean ‘residential segregation’—but that’s part of natural process.

“In around 100 or 200 years time every area will be like Newham in east London—super diverse.

“In some parts of life more could be done to encourage more mixing—for example not many people from ethnic minorities are at the top of professions. But segregation is not going up in everyday life.”

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