An integration nation: breaking down the barriers

Baroness Warsi’s speech to Operation Black Vote at the Young Foundation.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Baroness Warsi


Britain wouldn’t be the place it is today without the contribution of people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Think of the Commonwealth soldiers who served with the allies in the wars.

Think of the immigrants, people like my dad, who came here to build up our industries in the mid 20th century.

Think of our diverse communities contributing to every section of society today.

Think of Mo Farah. Our national hero.

When Mo crossed the finish line - twice - this summer.

The nation got behind this London lad.

No one batted an eyelid over the fact that he was a Somali-born Muslim.

After all, this guy is British - very British.

As he told one interviewer: “Look mate, this is where I grew up.

“This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud.”

It said a lot about the diverse, integrated state of our country today.

Where everyone - black, white and brown - was proud to drape themselves in red, white and blue.

But despite great individual examples, there are still barriers to integration.

And today this is more of a problem for us as a country.

Why? Because today Britain is in a global race.

And we can’t just rely on Mo Farah to win this one for us.

It’s a race that pits us against counties around the world.

It’s a huge challenge of global, economic competition that will determine our future.

And we have got a secret weapon to succeed in the global race.

The races from around the globe that make up Britain today.

Our diverse communities.

People with links to places across the world, with business acumen and ideas, with cultural insight and experience and with endless untapped talent and networks.

It’s our duty - it’s crucial to our future - to unlock this potential.

And it flies in the face of the survey in which 52% of people said that migrants in Britain were bad for our economy.

So today I want to focus on what the barriers are to integration and how we can overcome them.


First, let’s look at the barriers.

I believe that the things that stop people getting on with each other are the same as the things that stop them getting on in life.

In other words, integration and social mobility are inextricably linked.

Take language.

Some ethnic minority groups have much lower levels of English than others.

15% of Bangladeshi and 12% of Pakistani women report having little or no English.

Research shows that English language is the second biggest predictor in occupational success, after qualifications.

And 60% of people believe that the biggest barrier to being integrated is not speaking the language.

We need to get on top of this.

The solution isn’t to throw money at translation and interpretation services or at teaching assistants for non-English speaking pupils.

It’s helping more people to learn English.

That’s why I’m delighted at my department’s commitment to fund English language learning.

And it’s why I want to see us go further, finding new and innovative ways to help people learn English.

Whether it’s a DVD at home, a CD in the car, a volunteer at the community centre, or an after-school club.

Because a common language is the fundamental basis of common understanding.

It’s not just language that holds the key to integration. It’s also got to start in our schools.

There were huge gaps in attainment on the basis of ethnicity.

With British Caribbean, British Pakistani and British Roma children falling way behind the national average.

So what does this mean?

It means freeing up communities to start free schools in areas of deprivation, like the King’s Academy in Bradford, so that everyone, whatever their background, has access to the best schooling.

It means supporting failing comprehensives to become Academies, so that hard done by catchment areas suddenly get the best facilities and the best chances.

It’s also means changing the way we support and engage with different communities to bring them into the fold - not leave them out in the cold.

This government has moved away from intervention on the basis of race towards increasing the impact of mainstream policies on minority communities.

Backing mainstream organisations, like Youth United, which bring together people of all backgrounds.

And championing National Citizens’ Service.

Not just funding national bodies, but also supporting local projects.

My good friend, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, has led the way in this endeavour.

Spearheading the Big Lunch and the Bandstand Marathon, which have brought people together over food and music - shared experience in shared spaces.

Championing A Year of Service and the Near Neighbours programme, which have united people of different faiths so they can make a difference, together.

And driving forward the Localism Act, so people can bid to run local services and shape the areas in which they live.

This sends out a clear message to our BME communities.

No longer are you getting the crumbs off the table.

You now have a stake in the cake.


Second, let’s look at our values.

For people to integrate in our society, I think Britain needs to be better at asserting its values.

Back in 2006, Tony Blair urged minority communities to adopt British values and to integrate.

But he forgot to point out that Britain needs to be equally sure of its values.

As a nation, we need to be stronger about asserting shared British principles

Like freedom, fairness and responsibility.

Opportunity, aspiration and tolerance.

Doing as you would be done by, being proud of the country in which you live.

How can we ask people to sign up to our values if we are not sure of them ourselves?

That’s why I’ve been so outspoken on Britain remembering its Christian heritage.

It’s why I went to the Vatican and called on Europe to assert its Christian identity.

If Christian Britain was more sure of its own identity it would be less rejecting of the other.

And I believe this government’s pro-faith agenda has reflected that.

With Britain, once again, growing confident of its Christianity.

And that’s why I’ve been so outspoken on the need for schools to teach history.

And I’m delighted that Michael Gove has put history at the heart of our curriculum.

Because, as I’ve said for years, how can we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we come from?

But not only must we assert our values - we must ensure those values are afforded to everyone, whatever their faith, colour or creed.

For too long authorities have dismissed many of the more difficult issues facing minority communities.

Some said “don’t meddle in these matters”.

Others steered well clear for fear of offending.

We’ve been treating our communities like foreign embassies.

Where rules from abroad apply and wider society keeps well out of it.

And for too long, cultural sensitivities have often led our leaders to become morally blind.

I believe we’ve dealt with matters differently.

When it came to forced marriage, we said enough was enough.

It’s the same with the issue of drugs.

Where a drug is harming a specific communities it’s not enough to say it’s part of their cultural practice.

It’s right to say they deserve the same protection from harmful drugs like everyone else.

And that is why for many years I have campaigned for the banning of khat.

Likewise we should come down equally hard on attitudes that can lead to tragic consequences.

Earlier this year I spoke out on the issue of child sexual grooming.

I said that a small minority of predominantly Pakistani men thought women were second class citizens and white women were third class.

Because if we shy away from the difficult issues in this country, however uncomfortable, we will never confront them.

And how can people integrate in a society when, in the name of cultural sensitivity, we continue to entrench barriers?


Third, let’s look at discrimination.

Discrimination, intolerance, prejudice and bigotry.

We need to stamp these out if we want our society to be better integrated.

These un-British traits mean that at best some people feel they don’t belong and at worst their lives and livelihoods are under threat.

So in 2010, we made it a requirement for all police forces to record anti-Semitic attacks.

We are funding tighter security measures in Jewish faith schools.

We appointed the first UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues, Sir Andrew Burns.

We are funding the Holocaust Education Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project.

And are committing further funds to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

And more than that - we are now finally starting to tackle the more recent scourge of anti-Muslim hatred.

As we announced last week, we are funding the Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks (MAMA) programme.

And we established the Cross Government Anti-Muslim Hatred Group, allowing us to respond to the growing problem of Islamophobia, department by department.

Fighting bigotry and intolerance is key to enable people to integrate, to participate and to reach their full potential.

Future of Britain

We can’t afford to let people be held back.

Be it by language, by education, by discrimination, by disengagement.

As I have said, Britain’s migrant communities are key to our future.

Who better to sell Britain to the world than our diverse communities?

Whose links extend from Ankara to Islamabad, from Shanghai to Saint-Lucia.

Who better to offer the world the products it wants?

Than the country that sells naan bread to India; canoes to the Eskimos; tacos to Mexico.

Who better to rebalance our economy and accelerate our recovery?

Than some of our most can-do businessmen and women.

Our diaspora communities and entrepreneurs hold the key to linking businesses across continents.

Lady Thatcher once said: “Britain is now, more than ever, a multicultural society: and I think that we are beginning to appreciate the challenges and opportunities for learning that this diversity offers.

“A new resilience derived from diversity can only strengthen Britain.”

She was right.

Estimates show that our economy is missing out on £8.6 billion a year - probably more - from failing to fully empower people from ethnic minorities.

Imagine what Britain could do if we unlocked all that untapped talent.

So we need to break down these barriers.

Expose those opportunities and those values.

Bring people in from the sidelines, into the mainstream.

So the young black British boy doesn’t think he’s more likely to fail at school and less likely to get on in life.

But realises that he is not part of the problem, he’s part of the solution.


David Cameron has called on us to become an aspiration nation if we want to win the global race.

I believe we also need to be an integration nation.

Taking away those barriers that stop people playing their part.

Asserting shared British values – and affording everyone those values.

Removing discrimination, tackling bigotry and hatred, wherever they arise.

And, crucially, unlocking the full talent of Britain’s diversity - a diversity which is so essential to our country’s future prosperity.

Published 12 November 2012