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Aspects of Immigrant and Minority Integration | United Kingdom |

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Aspects of Immigrant and Minority Integration

Randall Hansen

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The United Kingdom became a country of immigration after the Second World War. During the first post war years immigration from the former colonies prevailed. Later, the number of immigrants from other world regions increased. Currently, immigration from other European Union Member States is at the center of attention. The large number of immigrants provokes much controversy, especially with regard to the question of social integration and cohesion.

Pay and display machine in Chinatown / Liverpool 2006: The integration of visible minorities is a leitmotif in British home affairs. (© picture alliance/JOKER)


Following the election of the Labour government under Tony Blair in 1997, multiculturalism (which was never defined) became a fashionable term in the UK. However, since the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in northern England in 2001, the term ‘multiculturalism’ has been viewed with increased suspicion in the UK. The major newspapers have run articles and editorials denouncing the balkanizing effects of multiculturalism, and the Home Office has placed the accent once again on integration in and loyalty to Britain. This partly is dependent on one’s definition of multiculturalism: for above all Canadians, ‘multiculturalism’ means integration; for Britons and many other Europeans, it means segregation.

Following the 2001 Asian-white riots, the government stiffened requirements for citizenship with the goal of ensuring that naturalized migrants were better integrated. Even the Commission for Racial Equality, until 2006 the official voice of visible minority concerns in the UK, chimed in to the integrationist chorus. In 2004, its black director, Trevor Phillips, secured national headlines by telling the country “multiculturalism is dead.” He has since warned of a drift towards US-style segregation and urged a greater emphasis on accentuating common Britishness. The organization’s 2004 report defines the organization’s leitmotif as an “integrated Britain where all are equal.” In the following year, the realization that three out of four of the July 2005 bombers were born in Britain to relatively affluent backgrounds was a profound shock to the national psyche. At the 2011 Munich Security Conference Prime Minister David Cameron declared that “state multiculturalism has failed” and that what was required was not a “passive tolerance” that allowed extremism to flourish but, rather, a “muscular liberalism.”

As is the case throughout Europe, the discussion of integration is really a discussion of Islam and Muslims , and the now decade-old debate between those who believe that Muslims are failing to integrate (meaning that values of particularly young male Muslims differ from those of the broader society and show tendencies toward violent religious extremism) and those who believe that the “problem” of Muslim integration is an Islamophobic construction shows no sign of ebbing. Indeed, the emergence of evidence in late summer 2014 that British Jihadists are travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has reignited debates about Muslim integration.

Anti-Discrimination Policies

Britain has had a long history—often discussed under the rubric of “race relations”—of anti-discrimination legislation. The country’s anti-discrimination framework has been developed gradually since the 1960s, always under Labour governments.

The most important change in anti-discrimination policy in the last decades was the Race Relations Amendment Act of 2000. Although enacted in reaction to the failings of the police service, it affected a much broader range of institutions. The legislation extended the 1976 race-relations legislation (which outlawed both intentional and unintentional discrimination) to all public bodies—police, the universities, the National Health Service (NHS)—and to all private bodies exercising public functions, with the exception of Parliament, the security services (i.e., MI5 and MI6), and immigration officers. It also placed a “general duty” on public authorities to work towards the elimination of unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups. In 2010, the Race Relations Act (2000) was merged into the new Equality Act. The latter brought under a single act over one hundred legislative instruments, including those outlying discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and disability. In the main, the legislation covered the same groups protected under existing legislation, but it did add new prohibitions of discrimination on the grounds of association and perception (when one is perceived to belong to a particular group). These post-2000 changes amounted to an important evolution in anti-discrimination legislation. Whereas previous policies had targeted access and opportunity, the new measures are concerned with outcome. Public bodies are compelled to consider their ethnic makeup and to question whether insufficient ethnic-minority representation reflects their policies. That said, the measures only touch one part of the economy. They do not affect the private sector, and still less do they affect the ill-paid, precarious, and often undocumented sector of the job market in which migrants and visible minorities are disproportionately concentrated.


The quality of the school attended has a decisive impact on visible minorities’ integration and life chances. For historical reasons, the education system has tended to replicate rather than remove race-based differences in educational outcomes. This is mainly because access to good schools is generally gained by living within a particular catchment area or by paying very high tuition fees.

This is of particular concern to visible minorities, as those with the worst school results—Pakistanis and Bangladeshis—tend to live in areas with the worst schools. Although causality is difficult to establish, there can be little doubt that their fairly dreadful school results cannot be separated from the quality of inner-city schools. So far, attempts of reform had little effect.

Religion and Diversity

The United Kingdom—particularly England—is in the curious position of having an established church while being among the most secular societies in the Western world. Religion was a non-issue throughout much of the postwar period. This situation changed drastically in 1989, when Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses. The publication led the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran to issue a fatwa sentencing the author to death. The fatwa made international headlines, but of greater local interest was the reaction of British Muslims: large demonstrations against Rushdie in Trafalgar Square, replete with an effigy of Rushdie with a slashed throat, and copies of the book burned in northern England.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and the July 7, 2005 bombings in London, the traditional preoccupation in the United Kingdom with categories of race has been partially transcended by a concern with religion, particularly Islam. These attacks were followed by an increase in racially motivated violence, and by a general climate of suspicion of and hostility towards Muslims.

While Muslims enjoyed civil law protections as visible minorities under the Race Relations Act, they lacked the protection of criminal law sanctions specifically designed to address religiously motivated crimes. To change this, the Labour government adopted in 2006 the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, still in force, which for the first time made religious hatred a criminal offence. Prosecution, however, can only be initiated by the British government, not by aggrieved individuals.

The 2006 bill was highly controversial when introduced. The same is true for another measure initiated under Labour: expansion of faith-based schools. Religious schools are nothing new in the UK; there are approximately 7,000 Christian schools receiving state funding. By contrast, only thirteen of some 156 full-time Muslim schools in the UK (2014) receive state funding , a result described by the House of Lords as “institutionally racist.” As part of its effort to create academies (state-funded schools with more autonomy over curriculum and operation), the Labour government under Tony Blair began funding Muslim schools. The measure has been expanded under a Conservative education secretary since 2010. For some, the funding is a matter of equity as Catholic and Anglican schools receive funding; for others, Islamic schools create particular problems of religious extremism.

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile United Kingdom.



  1. New Statesman (2011).

  2. Joppke (2014).

  3. See for instance Haynes/Hamilton (2014).

  4. In 2003, estate agents estimated that access to a good state school added EUR 69,000 to the price of a house. For particular schools, the figure can be closer to EUR 220,000, or double the price of an average UK house.

  5. Association of Muslim Schools UK, “FAQs,” Externer Link: (accessed: 9-17-2014).

  6. On the latter, see the comments by Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, in "Headteachers' union raises serious concerns about Trojan Horse," The Guardian, May 2, 2014.


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Dr. Randall Hansen is Full Professor at the Canada Research Chair in Immigration and Governance, and Director of the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. E-Mail Link: