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

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 9/12 |

Assimilation and Segregation

The British policy towards immigrants has been quite different from that in Germany. The UK has a strong tradition of equality resulting in anti-discrimination legislations after World War II, which were passed in order to ensure that ethnic minorities have equal rights and are allowed to cultivate their traditions. For example, Sikh motorcyclists were allowed to wear turban instead of helmets and Muslim policewomen to wear the hijab.97 It was assumed that a hospitable law to migrants would make them more open to the wider community. However, the reality turned out to be more complex: institutional racism was rife and the working class’ hostility was generally widespread. Nevertheless, official governmental approach was based on the concept of diversity (although it did not contradict the tendency to restrict immigration inflow). This could be well summarized by the often-quoted words of the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins from 1966:

“I do not regard it [integration] as meaning the loss, by immigrants, of their own national characteristics and culture. I do not think that we need in this country a ‘melting pot’, which will turn everybody out in a common mould, as one of a series of carbon copies of someone’s misplaced vision of the stereotyped Englishman . . . I define integration, therefore, not a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.”98

However, there was also a strong opposition towards this progressive-style of legislation, for example in the Trade Unions, and more recently this strategy has been seriously questioned. There has been a feeling that the cost of diversity is a polarized society with communities who chose to live in “ghettos” and refuse to integrate. The shift, therefore, has been made from diversity towards what is called cohesion. For example, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion was formed in 2006 and during the introductory speech of Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State, declared that: “We have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness.”99 Similarly, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality has argued that multiculturalism led to segregation.100 In this sense, multiculturalism as a heterogeneous society composed of separated communities with no common core values, the statement of crisis of multiculturalism is justified. The shift from diversity to cohesion, however, has not brought any radical change to assimilation policy yet – apart from the obligation of passing of a test on knowledge of British history, language and culture. The test has been recently reshaped with a stronger emphasis on “traditional British history” which is supposed to ensure that applicants possess “patriotic” feelings, as the Home Secretary, Theresa May, explains.101

But one may ask: what are those British values which are so often mentioned as a measure of ‘community cohesion’ and what exactly should the ethnic minorities integrate into? In fact, in a social multidimensional life it is never clear what counts as a full integration. The so called ‘cricket test’ shows how difficult it is to measure the level of assimilation. In the 80s, a Conservative politician, Norman Tebbit, suggested that it can be measured by cricket supporting: minorities cannot be regarded as integrated until they supported England at matches with their own countries. At the beginning of the 21st century David Blunkett, Labour Home Secretary, decided that one key index of integration was speaking English. However, this may sound inadequate in the case of immigrants from former British colonies who possess English knowledge anyway with little or no relation to English culture. Defining British values seems to be problematic too. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown delivered several speeches during which they attempted to lay down core British values. In December 2006 Blaire numerated some main traits, such as: ‘belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all’, ‘solidarity of coming together of peaceful co-existence’. Brown mentioned ‘openness and internationalism’ and ‘pride of national heritage’. Nevertheless, those statements have been questioned too.102Neither of them provides any kind of coherent picture of Britishness with which every citizen would identify, including nationally detached young qualified generation, liberals, socialists, feminists, believers, agnostics and loads of different often opposite to each other worldviews. Why then should minorities be expected to acknowledge those values? What is more, Britain itself has always been divided: Scots have a small attachment to the idea of Britishness and have an antipathy to the English hegemony. Against this background it seems highly difficult if not impossible to create a set of British values which could be a basis for a nationalistic project of civic belonging. Those values appear to be rather common to all liberal democracies.

Structural integration

One of the four dimensions of integration is structural integration. Its main goal is to decrease the differences between immigrants and natives to a minimum in terms of participation in the core institutions of the host society, such as education, economy and politics as well as to ensure that they have an equal access to all of public institutions.


In the UK the educational level of immigrants compared to that of natives differs from the German case. There are also significant differences between immigrant groups. Generally, British male immigrants tend to be better educated than UK-born citizens, especially Black Africans, Indians and Chinese. There are only two groups of migrants who leave full-time education at a younger level than Britons: Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi. However, immigrant women are less educated compared to native women. But there is a significant improvement from the first to the second generation of women in terms of educational attainment. In comparison with Germany, immigrants in Great Britain are much better educated than native population.103 In addition, there has been an increasing trend of immigrants being more and more educated: recent newcomers are more educated than UK citizens and previous immigrants.104

Educational achievements of immigrants’ children present a different picture. Language and communication skills tests among the primary school pupils indicate that immigrant pupils have generally worse results than British. Especially the pupils of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity fall well below the average at all stages of primary education. The most probable reason can be their mother tongue – they do not speak English at home so they are disadvantaged from the very beginning of their educational career.105 Afro-Caribbean do badly at tests as well – it might be thought that they should not have language problems as their home language is said to be English. In fact, their mother tongue is mostly a local form of English. Therefore they face similar problem as many children from native working class whose home language differs from that spoken at school.106

Recently, one of the hottest topics of public debate on education in the context of immigrants have been Islamic schools. The state supports several thousands of faith schools of which 12 are Muslim schools. This is a part of a broader shift to increase cultural diversity of schooling. It is also an answer to a call for freedom of multicultural education, which has become strongly emphasized since 80s.107 Until now, apart from 14 state supported schools, there are around 700 private Islamic schools called “madrassas.” Although their number is still relatively small, the demand for Islamic Education is growing very fast.108 Parents who chose those schools say that they offer the appropriate environment which encourages pupils to cherish values of their families as well as provide essential knowledge of Muslim culture.

However, the issue causes a lot of social discontent and anxieties as well as raises concerns about the social influence of separate education.109 Some reports suggest that it can develop racial segregation and intensify extremism: “extremism may be more of a problem within some independent schools rather than state-funded schools,” said the report of the Department of Education.110 In this light, the Department of Education launched new regulation requiring promotion of “British values” in all private schools, including independent Muslim faith schools: “These requirements include the promoting of fundamental British values, respecting the civil and criminal law and presenting political issues in a balanced way.”111 The regulation came into force in 2012.

In overall, the schooling of Great Britain is supposed to be quite segregated in terms of ethnicity. A lot of immigrants’ children attend schools with large numbers of both other immigrant pupils and disadvantaged students (i.e. with relatively poor family backgrounds). This is typical for ethnic minorities in all immigrant countries, in the UK there is however the biggest disproportion.112 It creates a sort of a vicious circle: children go to schools where they stay in their ethnic communities without having enough contact with natives and their language. It decreases their opportunity of successful assimilation as it does not help them to build up identification with a broader community than just ethnic minorities which they belong to.

Economical Integration: Labour Market and Earnings

There is a relatively large share of immigrants working in high-skilled jobs in the UK. Nearly 40% of all immigrants work in managerial and professional occupations as well as in skilled trade (the top 3 are Chinese, African Asians and Indians).113 But new immigrants, although they are more educated on average than others, far more often work in manual jobs far. Almost 30% of them find jobs in elementary occupations such as manufacture of food products or domestic personnel (e.g. babysitter, cleaning).114 Consequently, they work usually below their qualifications.

The average wage gap between immigrants and natives in the UK is bigger than that in Germany (although British immigrants are better educated both than German immigrants and British natives). The earnings of Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi are the lowest. By contrast, white immigrants earn similar amounts to UK-born employees.115

As far as employment rate among immigrants is concerned, historically, the gap between them and natives was relatively big and tended to widen even more in economic downturns. Now, there is almost no difference between employment rates of immigrants and UK-born citizens. In 2009, 81% of immigrant men in working age were employed compared to 79% of their UK-born counterparts.116

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