The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 10/12 |

2.3. British debate on integration

In Germany, political debate was focused on denying the fact of the multicultural character of the country throughout the second half of the twentieth century, whereas in Britain at that time debate was also dominated by antipathy towards ethnic minorities but with particular emphasis on racial issues. However, the past decade brought about a change in the socio-political discourse of both countries.

The change is twofold: on the one hand the need for immigration and as a result for integration has been officially acknowledged, on the other – multicultural society seems increasingly problematic to a significant part of the societies who question the success of the European paradigm of multiculturalism and call attention to its costs. In Great Britain recent debates have therefore shifted away from a concern with race towards issues such as social exclusion and cultural diversity as well as their potential risks. At least three factors influenced this shift: firstly, the diversification of immigration influx, secondly, social migration-related tensions in some British cities and thirdly, concerns over security in relation with terrorist attacks.117

This chapter deals with main topics of public debate on immigration and integration in Britain. The recurring pattern of these debates is the bipolarity of the views presented in different spheres and dimensions. Hence, there are intellectual and academic disputes with the majority perceiving multicultural Britain as a project and a desirable state of being; at the same time there are popular discourses marked mostly with the sceptical attitude towards multicultural concept (apart from the cosmopolitan spheres). Between both narratives there are media debates which, depending on their socio-political profiles, refer either to intellectual disputes or the popular stories and views of conservative political wing as well as official, governmental opinions. The overview provided here attempts to cover all the debates’ spheres, although does not explore them extensively.

Main keywords used in the integration discourse

Do immigrants live in ghettos?

Since the beginning of post-colonial immigration flows, the phenomenon of what is known as ethnic ghettos (in Germany called parallel societies) has been a fact in Great Britain. White population has been living separated to a high degree from ethnic minorities such as black and Asian and recently Polish nationals, who tend to create communities in some large urban areas. For instance, areas in east and south London are inhabited by people of African ethnicity. Hammersmith is a London borough with a high population of Polish migrants and West London is dominated by the Indians, London’s largest non-white ethnic minority group.118As a consequence, lot of Britons leave London and move to the countryside or expensive and more family-friendly suburbs. During the last decade London has lost more than a third of its UK-born residents who were replaced by immigrants.119

The issue of ethnic communities has raised a lot of concerns among the officials. The speech of David Levin, vice-chair of an association of 250 state schools and leading public schools in London, alarmed a widespread media discussion on social exclusion of people living in “ethnic ghettos.” He warned that majority of London’s schools are “sleepwalking into segregation” with classes in some part of the city of almost all black or Asian pupils (e.g. one school to which he refers in East London has 97% pupils of Bangladeshi origin).120Also Prime Minister David Cameron admitted that Britain made an error by allowing ghettos to develop: “We need to have contact. In many of our towns and cities, we have allowed ghettoes to develop . . . It worries me that we have allowed communities to grow up which live 'parallel lives.'”121

Do Muslims refuse to integrate?

In Great Britain, just like in Germany, there have been concerns about the willingness of immigrants, Muslims in particular, to integrate and embrace the national way of life. According to the Global Attitudes Project majority of British citizens (52%) see Muslims as wanting to be distinct from the society and unwilling to adopt the British customs (the same public opinion research shows that the western country where this opinion is most wide-spread is Germany with 71%).122

Some social surveys researching this issue have indeed found this opinion justified. A poll conducted in 2006 for the Telegraph reveals that four out of the ten British Muslims want sharia law to be introduced into parts of the country where believers in Allah are predominant population group. A spokesman of Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, commended on this poll saying that: "It is critically important to ensure that Muslims, and all faiths, feel part of modern British society. Today's survey indicates we still have a long way to go.”123 Moreover, Muslims in the UK have some different values from the majority of the citizens when it comes to the western liberal attitudes – some of which are against British law. For instance, a poll conducted by The Gallop demonstrates that British Muslims are extremely intolerant to homosexuality: 100% of interviewed said they find it unacceptable.124 Confronted with the challenge of “failed diversity,” the government sought to re-orientate the integration policy towards cohesion which could actively promote certain values, including freedom of speech, democracy, equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality. During his speech on integration and assimilation at the Munich Security Conference, the Prime Minister mentioned the need for a shift from what was characterized as “the passive tolerance of recent years” to a “much more active muscular liberalism.”125

Are immigrants an opportunity or a burden?

One of the often-stated claims on the issue of immigration is a common belief that immigrants “steal” the jobs from the residents born in the UK and are a burden on social services.

Since 2004, when eight central and eastern European Countries joined the EU and got a free access to the labour market in the UK, estimates of gross migrant flows from the A8 have reached a million. In the context of rising unemployment there have been considerable public concerns that migrant workers were displacing native workers. Different tabloid newspapers and right-wing media have been running stories on how the immigration is badly affecting British employment and blaming open door policy for that. For example, according to the Sun article from 11th January 2012 “more than 160 000 Brits have lost out on a job to an immigrant in the past five years.”126 Moreover, there is a wide-spread conviction that immigrants live off social benefits: they are said to take council houses, child benefits, free health care and public education etc. Nevertheless, the official data show a different picture. The report issued by The Department for Work and Pensions in 2008 presents analysis which supports the opinion that “the generally poor labour market outcomes of low-skilled natives in the UK do not reflect a lack of available jobs... but rather issues around basic employability skills, incentives and motivation.”127 As far as the case of foreigners “being a burden” to British welfare benefits, a broader view needs to be taken in account. In order to measure a fiscal impact of immigration, one has to compare the cost of services and benefits used by migrants with the financial contribution they make mainly by their income taxes. The estimation provided by The Migration Observatory “suggests that the overall fiscal impact of immigration ...was mostly positive but small.”128

Do we need immigrants?

Another argument that often comes up in the debate on immigrants, both in Germany and in the UK is the sort of “the boat is full” rhetoric. Lots of people ask themselves if their countries really need to let that many immigrants in. In case of Germany there are two main arguments in favour of immigration: one demographical and the other economical. In Britain, however, only the latter is used, immigration as a factor boosting British economy. One it comes to demography, Britons do not worry about population decline as much as Germans, whose fertility rate is said to be the lowest in Europe (in the UK: 1.91, in Germany: 1.41). Nevertheless, the UK owes it to immigrants: according to the ONS report immigrants are is usually reckoned to be responsible for 70% of population growth (partly because of higher birth rates among them). The debate oscillates between two points: first, the UK as a country with too small resources for receiving immigrants and second, as a counterargument, the notion that British economy rests on continued high levels of immigration.

The most recent hot discussion on this topic focused on the so called ‘70 Million Debate’, initiated by the Migration Watch UK – a think-tank calling for reduced immigration – which collected more than 100 000 signatures within one week on an e-petition. The group argues that the increasing annual net immigration at the present level of 250 000 is much too high. If it is not cut, the UK’s population will reach 70 million within the next 23 years (the current number is around 62 million). The petition calls for “all necessary measures” to be taken to ensure the population stays well below 70 million. Nicholas Soames MP, a supporter of the petition argued: “Although immigration was a natural and essential part of an open economy with some benefits, there were pragmatic causes for concern … In the coming 15 years we will have to build, just for new immigrants and their families, the equivalent of eight of the largest cities outside London.”129A survey of early 2012 found that nearly 80% of people in England think the country is overcrowded. According to another research commissioned by US and European think-tanks the majority of Britons are likely to say that there are too many immigrants in the country (around 50%, whereas in Germany 15% of natives are of this opinion).130 The idea of reducing non-EU influx has strong opponents, too. Chris Bryant, shadow immigration minister, said in October 2012 that governmental attempts to cut the numbers of foreigners coming to the UK are simply “ludicrous” and dismissed claims that Britain was overcrowded.131 Additionally, the report of Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford shows that majority of the non-UE immigrants are students (who are less likely to settle in the UK than other immigrants)– reducing their inflow would have a negative impact on the academic field and labour market.132

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