Last year’s EU referendum revealed a divided country. Could genuine economic and social reform reunite the UK?
Join expert panellists at the RGS-IBG’s 21st Century Challenges Policy Forum, A ‘United’ Kingdom? on 16 March 2017
In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a seminal speech on her 12 objectives for the ‘Brexit’ negotiations. She called for a UK that was ‘more united’, and aspired to ‘build a stronger economy and a fairer society by embracing genuine economic and social reform.’
While said to reflect a long-standing ‘Eurosceptic’ culture in the UK, analysis of the vote to leave the European Union also revealed significant differences in voting behaviour between places and communities within society. Along with age, level of educational attainment and socio-economic groupings were two of the key factors that correlated with a vote to ‘Leave’, with the majority of Leave voters interviewed by pollsters reporting that life in Britain today was worse than 30 years ago.
A major review into opportunity and integration (Casey Review, 2016) has concluded that some communities in the UK have been ‘left behind’ by social and economic progress.
At a time when some people perceive more threats than opportunities to their standard of living, how can we build a stronger and fairer society for a more ‘United’ Kingdom?
Ralph Scott, Research Manager at THE CHALLENGE
There is widespread concern that British society is more divided than it has been for some time. These divisions were starkly exposed by last year’s referendum, which revealed not just a geographic or demographic divide, but also a rarely perceived social and ideological one.
Last year, on the morning of 24 June, there was a palpable sense of shock from each side of this divide. People were living in their bubbles, unaware of what the other half of the country was thinking. At The Challenge, we believe these bubbles are having a detrimental impact on our society, and our lives as individuals.
There is a substantial evidence base on the positive impact of bursting these bubbles, and making contact across differences – whether ethnic or socio-economic or generational – on our health, our happiness and our work prospects. But what can we do to encourage more contact across these boundaries and develop social integration?
That’s the reason The Challenge exists. We run social integration programmes, where people from different backgrounds – 130,000 young people to date – are brought together on equal terms, to work towards a shared goal for the benefit of their community.
Professor Eric Kaufmann, Professor in Politics at BIRKBECK COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
Social cohesion has tended to focus on integrating minority groups into society. In geographical terms, this means the problem of minority self-segregation. This was also the focus of the recent Casey Review, which highlighted isolated or extreme attitudes and behaviour in minority ethnic communities. While important, this historic focus should not deflect attention from the geographic and school choices of the white British majority. Since whites are a majority, their mobility decisions have a bigger impact on the national picture than those of smaller groups.
Individual and aggregate data show that minorities are leaving their areas of concentration for ‘superdiverse’ areas. White Britons are the only major group which is retreating towards areas in which they are already concentrated. As minorities enter superdiverse areas, white British people tend to leave or avoid them. This is reproducing the problem of ‘Two Britains,’ one heavily white, the other highly diverse. In a free society, people can move where they wish, but there may be ‘nudges’ that can change people’s perceptions, encouraging them to stay or remain in moderately diverse areas. We need to discuss potential ideas around schools and housing which may help retain a white British presence in diverse urban areas.
Nat Defriend, THE YOUNG FOUNDATION
The Young Foundation’s Amplify model has been operating in towns and cities across the UK for the past three years. Drawing heavily on our expertise in social research, community mobilisation, and support for social innovation, the model has trialled a theory of change which prioritises unheard voices and perspectives, builds aspirational community narratives to counter dominant accounts of deficit and decline, and provides support for grass roots actions.
Our work is beginning to demonstrate the potential for a different relationship between communities and the organisations, businesses and institutions which serve them. One characterised by partnership, collaboration and mutual interest.
We believe that such relationships can address the key factors which maintain structural inequalities in society; that some communities or groups within them remain invisible and unheard when debates take place about social challenges and how to address them; that the distribution of resources fails to recognise the potential in all groups of society to be creative and innovative and capable of developing solutions for the challenges in their communities; that only those people and organisations who fit a certain profile receive the support and backing they need to test and develop their ideas.
In testing practical responses to these issues, the Amplify model poses some key questions for policy and practice at this critical time in UK society. How do we genuinely listen to communities? How can we collaborate in a way which transforms the relationship between providers and beneficiaries? How can we direct funds and resources and expertise to local priorities that build on positive, aspirational narratives of communities rather than negative ones which stress only their deficits and challenges. The answer to these questions holds the key to dismantling the structural causes of inequality, and rebalancing UK society towards greater fairness and equity.
For a more detailed exploration of how we can tackle divisions and inequalities within places and communities across the UK, join the expert panel above – as well as Dr Faiza Shaheen, Director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), chair Nicholas Hellen, Social Affairs Editor at the Sunday Times, and discussant Cllr Cameron Geddes, Cabinet Member for Economic and Social Development, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham – on Thursday 16 March 6pm-9pm (including networking drinks) at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
Open to experienced delegates in policy, practice and research, this event is free to attend. To register, please email [email protected] with your name, job title and organisation. For more information visit 21stcenturychallenges.org.