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Michael Wade: British Pakistanis - the two-way street towards better integration

Michael Wade is the Chairman of Conservative Friends of Pakistan

With over two million immigrants settling in the UK over these past ten years, and an estimated 1.3 million people of Pakistani descent already British citizens,  the concerns of our indigenous population are often expressed with alarm as they make demands for a curtailment of further immigration into the UK.  Indeed, many British Pakistanis themselves express concern for the previous "open door" policy by the Labour Government. And so Government policy must be right in continuing to reduce the intake of immigrants into the UK as a part of the objective to enhance living standards & social harmony.

For centuries, Britain has accepted and welcomed immigrants from across the world; these citizens have enriched our society both economically and culturally – over the generations, diverse peoples have integrated within our communities and achieved their own aspirations.   But at a time of economic stress, combined with such large numbers of immigrants, we must work together in examining the current issues and seek solutions to barriers that might exist to prevent successful integration into British society.

We all have a role to play and, sometimes, the relevant topics are a challenge to admit and address, and so a spirit of honest tolerance and a ‘two way street’ form one of the first essential ingredients to integration. These are not matters to be addressed just by legislation, but by building bridges at all levels of society; whilst the immigrant should want to integrate so, too, must our Society actively extend the invitation to do so. This is the two way street.

The Government's Creating the conditions for a more Integrated society paper looks at promoting participation, responsibility, and social mobility as key aspects in creating an integrated society. Clearly, Government has an important role to play, but it must be focussed around establishing the right framework and conditions for integration to occur - thereby enabling success naturally in our society.

Focusing upon the British Pakistani citizens; only 13 per cent voted Conservative in 2010, and their communities are concentrated within 20 constituencies – demonstrating their close knit communities. Lord Ashcroft’s ‘Degrees of separation’ research suggests that ‘less than a third of men from a Pakistani background said that they would never vote Conservative’ - so the scope for our Party is for a 66 per cent target. About 60 per cent vote Labour.

Analysis shows that a further eight seats could have been won at the 2010 election with a modest improvement of support to the Conservative Party – and so this is an important objective and relevant to all Conservatives.  The fact is that the Conservative Party has not been successful in reaching out to the British Pakistani community; and so they, in turn, have not looked to the Conservative Party as the one that represents their interests.

Pakistani instincts, are ones of striving; seeking education, wanting to improve and aspire to generate wealth for their families. They are noble in their beliefs, they respect the Christian traditions and ethics – they reject the so-called ‘Islamic Extremism’.  British Pakistanis are sometimes perplexed by Britain’s support for the US drone strikes, they are angered by the £18,000 income requirement for a British citizen to earn before bringing another to the UK; and they feel strongly that there is a lack of equality and opportunity for their children – both in the education and job markets.

Conversely, it is not untypical for the indigenous citizen to be completely alienated from the British Pakistani community; it is a closed community to them. They have no idea what relevance these fellow citizens are to them – and no means of gaining access to them or extending the hand of friendship. The value to Britain of an integrated society is huge, drawn from such a rich vein of blood – Roman, Saxon, Gaul, Viking, Norman – later added to by Huguenot, Jewish, Afro-Caribbean, Indian & Pakistani peoples – and this is what makes up this great land of the British Isles and our indigenous population.

Solutions rest on both sides; for the indigenous British, it is to understand the issues on the minds of their new neighbours, to appreciate that this really matters, it is relevant to them too; and extend the hand of friendship at any level that can be generated. For the new citizens, we must encourage them to break out of the tight knit communities; learn and use the English language in their homes, understand British history, and adopt our mainstream values.

One of the most enchanting and practical aspects of Pakistani culture is, indeed, to respect their elders, and a strong sense of ‘family’ – not least, embracing grandparents within the family unit. Consider that impact, on mainstream Britain, in so many areas if adopted by UK society as a whole. Housing provision, care of the elderly, child care – Britain has much to learn too. It is estimated that our economy is missing out by £9 billion a year in failing fully to empower, and therefore integrate, people from ethnic minorities. So effective integration is also about delivering a growing economy.

A sense of British identity needs to be embraced by ethnic minorities so that we move away from cultural separatism.  Integration nullifies the threat of extremism – through education and a stronger sense of collective identity that everyone in society is encouraged to sign up to.  People will feel a greater sense of social responsibility towards their whole communities, and therefore be more willing to engage with the principles of the Big Society. As an example, the Reading Programme as a part of the Lloyd’s Community Programme, focused upon the Bengali immigrants in East London where workers in the City would give some of their time to school children whose parent’s first language was not English. This remains one of the most valuable Programmes even today – nearly 25 years later.

Those who immigrate to the UK, will stand a much better chance of integration into society, with a developed understanding of the English language, and British life in general. We should consider reducing the translation of official documentation from English to encourage learning. National Citizen Service is a programme that brings together young people from a diverse range of backgrounds and aims to assist in their integration into society. Through developing their skills, and working together, these young people will benefit from a clearer understanding of collective identity.

The Enterprise Challenge promotes entrepreneurship in schools and in disadvantaged communities. The project brings together young people from different backgrounds to compete nationally through an online business game forum, as does the Start-Up Loan scheme led by James Caan. Other programmes that help the two-way street to work are National Inter Faith Week (held every November), which promotes projects which bring people, from different faiths, together to serve their communities, and the Big Lunch, which encourages people to interact by having lunch with their neighbours and develop local resources – and brought 2.4 million people together in 2011 and carried on in 2012.

Ironically, success will have been achieved, when we no longer notice the issues! In other areas of ‘integration’ – such as equality between men and women or sexual orientation – society generally now looks atthe individual without prejudice. This is increasingly the case in regard to the origin or colour of our citizens – the only barrier, and measure, being the extent to which an individual has integrated within British society; here is both our challenge and opportunity where everyone has a role to play.


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