Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


27 FEBRUARY 2008

  Q1 Chair: Good to see you again, Mr Phillips. This inquiry is about community cohesion and migration, and you are the first of this afternoon's witnesses, so if I could start? We also have a pretty tight timetable, so we will try and keep our questions brief, and we would like the answers brief as well and to the point. Can I start by asking you from the point of view of your organisation what actions you think you should be taking to promote good relations between migrants and the host community?

  Mr Phillips: First of all, thank you, Chair, for inviting me. I think the most important thing is to ensure that we understand exactly what is going on, and that we essentially regard migration and integration as two sides of the same process. There are many arguments about size and scale and all the rest of it about migration which you may want to get into, but essentially, we think that the first point is that we can manage most migration. We think that most migration now is broadly speaking benign, because it is economic. Humanitarian migration is actually quite a small part of the flow, but in itself, we think that this is part of the British tradition and so on. So essentially, I suppose the answer to your question is that what we think we need to do is make sure we have a properly structured integration programme, that we do this explicitly, that we manage it alongside our migration programme, and most of all that we manage our integration programmes with regard to the kind of migration that is taking place today. If I may just say one other sentence about this, there is a great deal of confusion, I think, amongst people about the nature of migration. Historically in this country we have had migration which is essentially post-colonial, which comes in rather discrete waves, like the one of which my parents were a part, from the Caribbean, or from South Asia. Today, we face a completely different sort of migration, many different groups of people coming at the same time, principally coming for work, not necessarily having had a previous connection with the UK, not necessarily speaking English, and by the way not necessarily wanting to stay here for good. This is a rather different proposition, both on the migration and on the integration front.

  Q2  Sir Paul Beresford: Trevor, you have been talking about immigration. Migration is two-way, it is emigration as well, and there is a lot of information in the newspapers at the moment about emigration of educated professionals, plumbers, builders and so forth, not necessarily white, but predominantly white, out of this country to Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, et cetera, and that presumably is having an effect, perhaps positively, drawing Polish people here and others, but do you think it is having an effect? What effect do you think it is having? Is it important?

  Mr Phillips: The first thing to say, it is not new. Historically, until about 40 years ago, this was a country of emigration, as you know. Where did all those people in New Zealand and the new people in Australia come from? So this is not a particularly new phenomenon to this country. Do I think it is having an effect? I do not think it is one that is specifically of significance for public policy. There is, I guess, an argument that says the more churn—that is to say both in and out—there is, the more communities change, and at the heart of the discussion I think that you are having is the issue of change and the significance to communities. I think in that respect there is significance to it, but I think the truth of the matter is that if we are thinking about the change that is politically and socially significant in this country, it is largely to do with who comes rather than who goes.

  Q3  Sir Paul Beresford: Just a quick follow-up: not today, but I would quite like you to have a little think about it and look at the figures, because the other difficulty we have which you have not touched upon is those people who are leaving are migrants but they are trained professional people predominantly, and we are losing a group of key people to the development of this country.

  Mr Phillips: But we are also, as you will know, gaining a great many people who are skilled. In fact, the entire purpose of the points system just introduced by the Government is precisely to raise the bar on entry, so I think in practice I would be surprised if there were a net loss of skills that are economically valuable to us, and bear in mind modern migration is really more economic in character than anything else. So what we are, as it were, sucking in, are people with skills that the economy as we currently have it in this country needs.

  Q4  Mr Betts: Before I ask the question, can I just apologise for having to leave the Committee for a temporary period shortly after your answer. It will not be due to anything you have said, just to reassure you.

  Mr Phillips: It usually is, so it is all right, I do not mind.

  Q5  Mr Betts: When the Commission on Integration and Cohesion made its recommendations, we had a pretty detailed response from the Secretary of State indicating what the Government would do about those recommendations. Were you content with the Government's response and do you believe it is actually going to deliver on it?

  Mr Phillips: Well, those are two quite different questions. First of all, the way that I saw the Commission's report, there were really three key things that I think are important. One is the extent to which they drew attention to the most significant issue for community cohesion, and that is change. It is not just the fact that different people live together, but they specifically pointed out that the local circumstances are critical, and they identified three kinds of areas in which there were risks, as it were, in relation to community cohesion. The first group is those in outer London and rural areas which are experiencing migration in large numbers for the first time, and all areas where there are new kinds of migrant, Portuguese, Poles and so forth. Secondly, they drew attention importantly to the issue of fairness and the perception of fairness and that being critical to community cohesion. If people think new migrants or new residents are being treated in some way more favourably than they should be, then that becomes an issue, and indeed if those who come in feel they are being treated unfairly, that creates an issue of community cohesion. Thirdly, I think their solution, "Shared futures", was the right answer. I think there were three things missing in the Government's response, which broadly speaking I thought was fine. Now whether they can deliver on all of it, I do not know, though I think actually the character of the Government's response was modest to a degree that suggests that they ought to be able to deliver on it, but I think there are three things that perhaps they ought to have paid attention to. One is measurement. How do we measure what is going on? They put a lot of store by the citizenship survey which is based on perceptions, and indeed they are allocating funds, you will see in their response, on the basis of what people say they think about their area. The more people say that they think that their area is fine, the less money they are likely to get.

  Q6  Chair: Can I just clarify, you are not at this point talking about numbers here, you are talking about the way in which you assess whether there is good community cohesion or not?

  Mr Phillips: Correct. What the Government's response says is that they are going to hand out—well, the total is £50 million, but I think the first tranche is £38.5 million or something of that sort—the way they are distributing funds is based on the percentage of people who say, "People get on well in my area". The more people say that, the less they are deemed to be of concern. I have some anxieties about this. I think it is quite possible and quite likely that people in a monocultural area, or in an area where different groups of people never mix, are likely to say, "It is all fine here". There is a well established school of thought, started by Chicago academics in the early 1920s, which has a model for immigration which suggests that actually, the point at which people get anxious is the point at which true integration begins, because that is when people actually start to meet each other, and there is a little hump there that people have to get over. So I have some anxiety about the issue of measurement. Secondly, I think that both the original report and the Government's response have not quite dealt with what is a very real phenomenon in this country, and that is potential conflict and actual conflict between new migrants and last wave migrants. We are thinking Sikhs and Somalis, Iraqis and Kurds, Indians and East Europeans and you hear it in all sorts of places, because the new migrants move in adjacent to the last wave, because these are the natural gateways, harbours, ports and so forth, and you hear it from the last wave, "We worked hard, they do not", so I think this is a phenomenon to which we have not really paid enough attention. The third point I just wanted to drop into the discussion is to return to my point earlier that migration now is largely an economic phenomenon. That means that it follows the course to parts of the country which are economically booming, and that is why, of course, we have issues in London and the South East, issues which are to do with infrastructure pressure and so forth. I wonder if there should not have been a case for a more active consideration of regional policy of the kind that we are seeing in Canada and Australia, as part of both economic policy but also part of an effort to ensure that conditions are more favourable towards community cohesion and integration.

  Q7  Mr Olner: I just get the view, Trevor, that there is a world of difference between the perception of the problem and the reality of the problem, and even during your answer to my colleague, you kept using the words migration and immigration. There is a huge difference, as you suggest, between migration and immigration. I just wonder how fully understood that is out there in the general public, and with the authorities as well.

  Mr Phillips: Well, yes. I think one could get very technical about this, I agree, but I have to say that I myself tend to use the word migration now because I think it is a more neutral way of describing what is essentially, as I said, an economic phenomenon. I think that the word immigration for the last 40 years has, for reasons which are obvious if one remembers what happened at the beginning of that period, acquired a set of connotations which make it all about race, all about difference, when it does not need to be. So I think you are right, there is a sort of difference here, but I myself tend to try to use the word migration now purely because I think it is better for people to be able to talk about this issue without it being overladen with racial overtones which, if they were ever legitimate, are clearly almost irrelevant today.

  Chair: Can we try and drill down on a few specific questions? Andrew, do you want to raise one about the Commission on Integration and Cohesion?

  Mr George: Yes, I wonder if I might just ask it as a lead-up, whether from your wealth of experience you could perhaps guide me at least, for a community dealing with the issues of known and existing prejudices which exist in the community, whether it is better for a community to respond to those in a positive way through a celebration of diversity, through the recognition of the enrichment which migration brings, rather than through being more kind of critical and accusatory and trying to point out where the racism and the prejudice exists. In terms of the balance of how to address the existence of prejudice in the community, how do you get the balance right, because presumably one involves one being associated with the thought police and the other—

  Q8  Chair: Can we try and keep this brief, Andrew?

  Mr Phillips: I see where you are trying to go here. Forgive me, I do not really agree with the premise of your question. I think it is perfectly reasonable for people to say, "I want to get to know my neighbour, he is very different to me, I like their children", and so on, and at the same time be in some cases extremely angry about what other people might say about their neighbour. In fact, I think the truth of the matter is the more people get to know each other across the lines of ethnic and religious difference, the less those things become significant, unless they are drawn attention to in a negative way by somebody else, in which case, what tends to happen actually is that people get very angry about it and say, "How dare you say that about my friend?" I think for matters of public policy, the fundamental point is this: first of all, everybody should be equally protected by the law, that we should identify bias, discrimination and racism where we see it; that the way in which we can best deal with the problem that you identified actually between people is by putting people in a situation where they get to know each other as people, as mothers at the school gate, as fellow workers, as fellow students. That is, in my book, the real underlying meaning of the word integration.

  Q9  Mr George: At a national and practical level, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion recommended the establishment of a national body and yet you indicated that your Commission responded with caution to that. Why are you so cautious?

  Mr Phillips: Because I do not think we are there yet. I think we first have to get some of the basics right. We first have to understand what is the problem that we have to address, and we can talk about it in general terms, but I would like to see some more specific measures being set down; secondly, I think we need to have some common understanding of what is our strategy for dealing with it, and for my money, at the heart of the strategy has to be an effort to get people not just to live side by side, but to interact in their real lives, and their real everyday lives. Thirdly, I think we need to focus on making sure that the levers that we have available to public policy, that is to say the control that we might have over public authorities and so on, to make those public authorities behave in a way that ensures that people feel they are treated equally and encourages people to get together. After we have done all of that, then I think we can start thinking about whether we need a single central body to bring it together. So I am not against it, but I just do not think we are at that stage yet.

  Q10  Anne Main: You will probably have some very brief answers to this. I agree with Darra Singh saying that one of the barriers to integration is not being able to speak the language, it is also a big drain on local schools and resources, not being able to communicate with their peers and with their friends. Would you agree with that, and also, would you like to give us your views on the change to funding with regard to language courses, and also your views briefly on translation services that are provided by councils which some say maintain a dependency and do not encourage people to speak English?

  Mr Phillips: Well, the answers, as you asked for them briefly, are yes; yes, I agree with the Government's policy; and no, I think translation services are really a transition service.

  Q11  Anne Main: Thank you. What about funding to do with the language courses?

  Mr Phillips: Well, that is what I meant when I said I agree with what the Government is proposing, that is to say, to move the emphasis and the weight of funding towards people who need English because they are going to be settling here long-term. I think for those who are coming to work, and who are here short-term, actually, to be perfectly honest, they can help themselves or their employers ought to help them.

  Chair: Greg, do you want to move on to social housing?

  Q12 Mr Hands: Trevor, what are you hoping to achieve with your inquiry on social housing allocations? What do you perceive as being the risks in the report and what kind of reactions might it set off, and do you think there are areas where migrants are getting priority?

  Mr Phillips: Well, let me first say this as a matter of principle: I do not think there are ever any risks associated with telling the truth, simple and straightforward. What do we hope to achieve: well, the background is, of course, that we know that there are many, many areas in this country where it is said that somebody says that migrants get public services unfairly or ahead of people who are entitled because they have been paying their National Insurance stamp and so on and so forth. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the so-called—let me be neutral—than in the arena of social and public housing, where it is said quite widely and believed quite widely that new migrants somehow "jump the queue". My view about this is that there has never been any serious evidence produced to show that this is true. Any time you ask somebody, it usually comes down to "a bloke who said it to my friend in the pub". My view about this is that, you know, I can be as cynical as I like about it, but there are millions of people out there who believe it. The job of my Commission is to be an independent authority, to provide independent evidence on these matters, and the reason that we put forward the idea of an inquiry into this is simply to see, is there any truth in it? If it turned out that there is some truth in it, actually, we are the right people to do the inquiry, because we are the people who have the power to stop that sort of discriminatory allocation taking place, so it seems to me that the steps are pretty straightforward: we find out if there is something wrong, unlawful, unfair going on. If there is not, we tell everybody, and everybody can shut up about it. If there is, we will stop it.

  Q13  Mr Hands: It sounds like you are going to be finding that there is no jumping of the queue.

  Mr Phillips: Do not presume that at all.

  Q14  Mr Hands: It sounds like that is your own opinion.

  Mr Phillips: No. I thought I was quite careful to say that I had never seen any evidence, but that does not mean that there is not any evidence. I am a chemist.

  Q15  Mr Hands: Fair enough. Is there a question though as to whether there should be? If there is an argument that there is no jumping of the queue, what about those who make the argument that there should be priority and preference to those who have been locally resident for longer, which I think is a slightly separate question, but is your inquiry looking into that as well, like local letting schemes and things like that?

  Mr Phillips: I think it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask. What we are probably going to do is do a phase two of this exercise, because that will take longer, but I think the question in principle that you are asking is: is it ever legitimate to favour those who have, on the face of it, some prior claim, some prior entitlement, because of longer residence? Well, I think the answer is that in principle, there must be a case for that. However, I think fundamentally, what this is really about is transparency. I do not think anybody would argue if, for example, a local authority argued it out, put it to a vote and said, "These people get preference, and that is the way the system works", whether it is newcomers because they have bigger needs, or people who have been there for a longer time because they have a historic entitlement. You could make that decision either way, it is a political decision. From our point of view, we are not a political organisation, we are an NDPB, so we do not have a view about that. What we do have a view about is that whatever is done must be transparent, it must be decided legitimately, and those who pay for those services must know what has happened, so that involves a properly set-out, articulated policy, a decision on that policy, and transparent monitoring of that policy. At the present time, we are not convinced that any of those things is happening.

  Anne Main: Can I just ask a very brief supplementary to that? Given that many of the people who present to a local authority will have a high need and be homeless, do you think that having a large number of homeless people in an authority's area will give that perception to those people?

  Chair: That would be getting back into a discussion about housing allocation policy.

  Anne Main: I am just asking about the remit that you have because I am conscious that you are taking it on board that a housing authority has an obligation to house homeless people, and that can sometimes make people feel, who are waiting patiently on a list, unfairly treated.

  Q16  Chair: Trevor, can I come on to that in the context of the discussion about housing allocations policies?

  Mr Phillips: I can answer that in a sentence. Hypothetically, that is entirely true, but there is no actual suggestion that there is any correlation between the anxiety that people feel and, for example, the numbers of homeless people on the local housing roll. If you compare Barking and Dagenham with Westminster, I do not see that issue becoming a major political question in Westminster, it is in Barking, and the homelessness roll in Westminster historically is many times what it is in Barking.

  Q17  Dr Pugh: Can I take you back to some of the earlier remarks you made on the trade-off between addressing inequalities and working towards community cohesion? It seems to me to be a kind of no win situation. Either a migrant community is worse off, with poor jobs, low pay and poor housing, and then there is no resentment, unless they are competing for jobs that other people want; or alternatively, they are perceived to be better off, and have a better deal on housing benefit and other things. Very rarely is it the case that you get the appearance of absolute equality, so in a sense, it is almost an impossible mission you have, both to satisfy ambitions apropos community cohesion and also with regard to inequality, is it not?

  Mr Phillips: Forgive me, I am not sure I completely understand the question, because I do not think that there is any particular reason or any history, that people just do not—not that this is anything particularly to do with migrants—people do not just dislike people because they are poor or homeless.

  Q18  Dr Pugh: That was not my point. My point was that when the migrant community arrives, and they are clearly seen to be doing the worst jobs, getting the lowest pay and the poorest housing, there is, generally speaking, a degree of community tolerance and maybe community cohesion. If on the other hand the reverse is the case, the situation becomes more difficult and more socially problematic, and therefore, getting the community cohesion and getting the equality are sometimes seen to be crossgrained.

  Mr Phillips: I see. Yes, but I do not think that is anything like the situation at the moment. I mean, most of the newest migrants into this country over the past four or five years are people who come and work. I cannot remember right now the actual number of, for example, people from Eastern Europe who are claiming benefit, but it is absolutely tiny.

  Q19  Dr Pugh: But the vast bulk of people who are working in the migrant community at the moment are doing jobs that other people are not sufficiently attracted to, are lower paid than other jobs, are living in more crowded conditions, and were that not the case, you could argue—

  Mr Phillips: Oh, I see.

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