Our council chief exec, Darra Singh, is leading the Government’s Commission on Integration and Cohesion. They have produced an interim report today and the press attention has been on statements made about English language competence, see comments from the Independent, the Sun and the BBC. It is not surprising really as the Commission’s own press release was titled: “Not speaking English is the single biggest barrier to successful integration”. The Sun’s typically charmless take on this was: “Talk our lingo or stay out”.
In his speech today Darra said:
The third – and possibly the largest – barrier we have seen so far is not speaking English.
We asked people in our opinion polling what they thought the key barriers to being English were. Only 5 per cent said that they couldn’t see any barriers at all. We wondered for the others if one of those barriers might be people’s faith – that in some sense, you have to be Christian to be English. But only 4 per cent of people thought that was the case. So we looked at what people thought was the biggest barrier. And overwhelmingly, it was speaking English.
Now, I do think that the issue of language is potentially contentious. However, it is an issue that demands a public debate. 60 per cent of people thought that not speaking English was a barrier to making a real contribution to this country.
That finding has to influence all of our thinking from now on.
I am glad the issue has been raised but what were the first two points if English was the third? The first point is deprivation. The report is insightful in pointing out that deprivation is a “white” issue as well as an ethnic minority issue. Although the majority of immigrants live in deprived areas the majority of the deprived are white which leads to the second point. The Commission calls it “competition for shared resources”. This is the issue that BNP has been making its own, ie immigrants are getting your council houses, jobs, etc.
The Commission’s work so far seems pretty clear sighted. Darra is to be congratulated on his work to-date.
Darra was interviewed on the Radio Today programme so if you have the technology you can listen here.