In Aston, a predominantly ethnic minority area of Birmingham, Pardeep Modhvadia was quite frank last week about how insulated his life can be from mainstream white British culture.
“We are very much involved with our mosque and events in the Asian community,” said the 34-year-old IT consultant whose wife, Nazia, is 33. “Many of these events involve Asians exclusively and it can be easy to get wrapped up in Asian culture and not embrace other communities around you.”
Modhvadia admitted that he and his wife “mainly only see Asian people”, partly because of religious and family ties.
“I don’t think we are as segregated as some people say, though,” he added. “It has always been this way. However, since the London bombings you can get an unfriendly reaction from white people who do not know you.”
There are plenty of those—because white people, even those living in the same area, are equally unlikely to know many fellow citizens from across the cultural divide. Among them is James Parker, a 24-year-old mechanic, who lives in the same area of Birmingham with his girlfriend Chloe, 22. He, too, was straightforward about the ethnically restricted ambit of his life.
“Our friends are mostly white,” he said. “I knew a lot of Asians in school and they mainly talked only to each other and would sometimes speak in Gujarati—it was like their own club. So everyone kind of divided into their own racial groups.”
He added that the community “had been more segregated since the London bombings”.
Is this the true face of modern Britain? Is it diverse but divided; integrated in theory, separate in practice? Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), believes so.
In a bold and controversial speech this week, he will warn that Britain is “sleep-walking” its way to a society of segregation, ethnic enclaves and potential conflict.
“We are becoming strangers to each other and we are leaving communities to be marooned outside the mainstream,” he will say.
Some districts, he will add, are on their way to becoming “literal black holes into which nobody goes without fear and from which nobody escapes undamaged. We could have a different future. But if we want that different future, we have to face facts now”.
According to Phillips, the facts are deeply uncomfortable and largely unspoken. Ethnic communities, he says, are increasingly concentrated in “ghettos”. Although there has been some integration, notably in London and the southeast, the popular image portrayed abroad of Britain as one big happy melting pot is false.
Not only do ethnic minorities largely live in separate areas, they are typically segregated at school and socially—and it is getting worse. “When we leave work, most of us leave multi-ethnic Britain behind,” Phillips will say.
He will draw on CRE research which shows that most Britons cannot name a “single good friend” from a different race and that many young people from ethnic minorities have no friends beyond their own community. “We are divided physically, economically, culturally and psychologically,” he will say.
Most controversially, perhaps, Phillips likens the widening gulf in Britain to the dark underbelly of America revealed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where rich whites escaped the devastation while poor blacks were left to sink.
Britain’s sleepwalk to segregation may lead to a similar rude awakening: “When the hurricane hits—and it could be recession rather than natural disaster, for example—those communities are set up for destruction.”
It sounds almost apocalyptic, as doom-laden in its own way as Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, when he warned of the effects of mass immigration. But this is not a sudden intemperate outburst from Phillips. It is part of a broad strategy to change the way that Britain deals with race.
Phillips began an orchestrated challenge to the whole notion of multiculturalism last year, when he said there was a need for a return to common values. Now he is to make the point even more starkly: “The fragmentation of our society by race and ethnicity is a catastrophe for all of us.”
TO understand Phillips’s fears, it is necessary first to examine some of the basics about Britain’s ethnic make—up. Despite decades of immigration, and unprecedentedly high levels in recent years, ethnic minorities still account for only about 8% of the total population, according to government figures.
In many areas of Britain, black or brown faces remain rare. In Scotland, Wales, the northeast and the southwest, ethnic minorities account for just 2.3% of the population or less; in Northern Ireland the figure in 2001 was just 0.75%. Not exactly multicultural.
What is striking, by contrast, is the concentration of ethnic minorities in key regions and cities. In the East Midlands minorities make up 6.5% of the population, in the West Midlands the figure is 11.3% and in London 29%.
In fact, nearly 45% of all ethnic minority people in the UK live in London, the ultimate kaleidoscope capital.
In a way this could be seen as ghettoism on a grand scale and, as it developed, the emphasis on the capital probably influenced how opinion formers grappled with the advance of ethnic minorities.
As Kenan Malik, the writer, puts it in the forthcoming issue of Prospect magazine: “At one time the left had been a champion of a common humanity and universal rights. Over the past 20 years, however, many key figures and organisations on the British left have promoted the idea of multiculturalism.”
The intellectual elite decided that accepting difference took precedence over upholding British values.
It was a view encapsulated in a race relations plan that was developed in Bradford, after race riots in the 1980s, which declared that every section and ethnic group of the city had “an equal right to maintain its own identity, culture, language, religion and customs”.
Such multicultural tolerance, Phillips now believes, has ultimately helped to build ghettos. “We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into the effective isolation of communities in which some people think special separate values ought to apply,” he will tell his audience in Manchester this week.
It has also allowed the traditional British values of free speech and family to be eroded. He points to such incidents as Sikh activists trying to ban a play they found offensive rather than support free speech; and to the “almost casual” acceptance of Afro-Caribbean fathers abandoning their children.
We even tolerate evangelical African churches performing exorcisms on children in the name of multiculturalism, he notes.
The growing ethnic divide, says Phillips, takes two broad forms, the first being “hard segregation” based on where people live.
“Residential segregation is increasing for many groups, especially south Asians,” he will say. “Some minorities are moving into middle-class, less concentrated areas, but what is left behind is hardening in its separateness. The number of Pakistani heritage people in ghetto communities—defined as districts with over two-thirds concentration of any one ethnicity—trebled between 1991 to 2001.”
Zooming in closer on the figures for ethnic minority communities lends support to this proposition.
A recent analysis of census data by experts at Sheffield University identified in detail for the the first time where migrants (many of whom, but not all, are from ethnic minorities) settle in Britain. It revealed that in five areas of London—Wembley, Hyde Park, Southall West, East Ham and Kensington—more than 45% of the population had been born abroad.
Outside London, areas such as Sparkbrook in Birmingham and Belgrave in Leicester had populations with more than 30% of people not born in the UK. When British-born ethnic minorities are taken into account, the ethnic “ghettos” become even starker.
Another study, presented to the Royal Geographical Society last month, calculated that the proportion of Asians living in ethnic enclaves had risen by 30% in 10 years. It listed eight British cities, including Leicester, Birmingham and Bradford, where levels of ethnic segregation were beginning to rival US cities.
“They are coming into the major league of segregation,” said Dr Mike Poulsen of Macquarie University in Australia, who led the study.
Other experts, however, argue that the picture is more complex and that, for some groups, such “hard segrega-tion” has been declining rather than rising.
“What we have got in Britain as a whole is a decrease in segregation,” said Professor Ceri Peach of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and author of The Ethnic Minority Populations of Great Britain. “For example, if you look at the Caribbean population in London, you can see a decrease (in segregation) census by census since 1961.
“You can see a hollowing out of the inner-city concentrations and a movement towards the outer boroughs, and it is a pretty well standard movement.” The Indian population has also spread into the wider community.
Peach, though, agrees that there are Asian-dominated enclaves, particularly in some northern cities.
“You have got some areas of very high concentrations of Pakistani or Bangladeshi populations, where they form half the population in a few wards. But it is not a very common situation.”
AS so often, statistics can be used to support a case either way: both for an increase or a decrease in segregation, depending on where you draw the lines.
Peach points out, for example, that just because there are some highly visible ethnic enclaves, it does not mean that overall segregation is increasing because the total ethnic population is growing and spreading at the same time. Within a decade, the ethnic population is projected to become the majority in Leicester and Birmingham.
Danny Sriskandarajah, head of migration at the Institute of Public Policy Research, argues that there is no simple static segregation at work, but a more complex “churning” of ethnic populations.
“The segregation thesis is based on the notion that there are white people leaving mixed areas to settle into more white areas,” he said. “But the evidence suggests it is not a white phenomenon, it is not based on race. It is more to do with socio-economic class and age.
“What we are seeing in London is people with young families of all colours and races moving out. You are seeing that across the Indian community as much as the white community. Middle-class Indian families are moving out as well.
“What we are seeing in London, peculiarly, is a movement out of everyone who is settled and has the means to go, and the movement in of people from all over the world from Albania to Somalia. That is what I would see the phenomenon as, rather than a racial one.”
Such an influx and outflow, he says, is very different from the black ghettos that have persisted in some American cities for generations. The exception is the Bangladeshi community in the East End of London, which is the one settled ethnic community that has failed to improve its position.
Beyond the physical divides, Phillips also identifies “soft segregation” in social and cultural circles. Even in London, the CRE found, a “derisory” proportion of whites had non-white friends and ethnic minority youngsters tended to have friends exclusively from their own community.
HOW much does this matter? When isolation is coupled with economic deprivation, it breeds discontent, says MI5, which recently issued a new edition of a study on the radicalisation of young Muslim men.
The paper, which takes into account the background of the four July 7 suicide bombers who attacked London, points to social and economic deprivation as key “drivers” in their conversion to terrorism.
In addition, a recent Home Office study analysed for the first time the unemployment and economic inactivity by religion rather than the usual categories of age, sex or geographical area.
It found that the Muslim community was the most disadvantaged faith group in the country, with lower educational attainment and higher unemployment. The document, marked “restricted”, found that the unemployment rate among Britain’s 1.6m Muslims is more than three times that of the general population and is the highest of all faith groups.
About half of all Muslims are economically inactive (52%). That is higher than any other religious group.
WHAT drives where ethnic minority groups live? And if segregation needs to be countered, what can be done? In Thurmaston, a largely Asian area of Leicester, Rajiv Shah averred that there was a natural progression towards separate communities.
“It’s true Asian people tend to live together—that’s because when one Asian goes somewhere another one follows. I think it’s because Asian society is a close family community and they like it to be that way,” he said.
However, Shah, a Hindu who moved from Uganda, in east Africa, in 1972 and has lived in Leicester for the past five years, added: “This does not mean Asian people want to live apart from white people or black people. In Leicester we are more separated but it does not seem to interfere with the general day-to-day living.”
In a mainly white area on the outskirts of the city, Carol Brooks, who has run an art gallery in the city for 20 years, agreed that there was segregation but did not see it as a problem. “The Asian population does tend to keep themselves to themselves and look after one another. But it does not bother me—I say live and let live.”
Indeed, many people willingly become members of ethnic enclaves, argues Peach. Family links and “chain migration” explain much of why ethnic groups are concentrated in certain areas.
“People come and join their families, or the families settle and grow,” said Peach. “The economic explanations (for where ethnic groups live) are relatively weak.” His analysis of 1991 census data in London showed that less than 10% of the distribution of any ethnic group could be explained on economic grounds.
“Economic factors decide the range of places you can live, but not the particular place,” he said. “For quite a lot of people they actually want to stick together. You have both positive reasons for sticking together and negative reasons that prevent you getting out into other areas.”
Phillips, however, is convinced that wider and deeper integration is essential and urgent, if not physically, then at least culturally and economically. In particular, he believes that schools must be reformed because, as early results from a study by Bristol University show, children are even more segregated in schools than in the neighbourhoods where they live.
According to Ted Cantle, who studied the causes of the race riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in 2001, schools tend to reach a tipping point when about 45% of the pupils come from ethnic minorities.
“The evidence is anecdotal,” he said, “but it seems you then get all the white families leaving.”
Phillips will suggest that young people of different ethnic backgrounds should be brought together in summer camps to overcome suspicions and prejudice; he will also say that schools should be encouraged, or even coerced, into accepting a greater ethnic mix of pupils.
“I do not favour quotas and I think that busing (of children into racially mixed schools in America) showed itself to be a failed solution,” he will say. “But we cannot stand by and see the next generation schooled to become strangers.”
He wonders whether local authorities should be forced to redraw their school catchment areas so as to encourage integration.
How would that work in areas where ethnic populations are minimal? Would it work even in London’s schools, where children from ethnic minorities will be in the majority within a few years? Phillips recognises that he will be accused of “social engineering”, but he is adamant that action needs to be taken, given that immigration is going to continue. His strategy to counter critics is his vision of integration instead of multiculturalism.
Integration, he will emphasise, must be based on the shared basic values associated with Britain. They include, he will say, democracy, freedom of speech, equality and common language—and a tradition of poking fun at politicians.
He is in no doubt that it is not enough to believe such integration will be brought about by natural pressures or anti-discrimination laws.
Only action will do. “We need a kind of integration that binds us together without stifling us,” he will say. “We need to create a nation of many colours which combine to create a single rainbow.”
The Phillips Manifesto
A better balance to be struck between multiculturalism, “which leads to greater division and inequality”, and enforced assimilation, which creates an “intolerant repressive uniformity”. “Integration” is the key.
Establishing a set of non-negotiable “British values” to which all groups must subscribe, including respect for democracy, freedom of speech, tolerance of others, care for children and equality of opportunity.
A recognition by government that anti-discrimination laws alone are not enough to foster a properly integrated society, and for new measures to be taken to foster greater “equality, participation and interaction” between ethnic groups.
Specific proposals here include:
More “equality audits” to root out institutional racism in the public and private sectors;
More ethnic minorities to be appointed to public bodies such as health boards;
US-style sport and summer camps for children to encourage integration;
Cash incentives for schools to take a more diverse range of pupils, and the redrawing of catchment areas to get a better social mix.