We can't deny the existence, and sometimes the significance, of segregation. There are many examples of segregated communities, from the Amish of Pennsylvania through closed orders of monks or nuns to more problematic imposed segregation of East European Roma or, under apartheid, South Africa's Bantu people. These people, however, have either chosen a separate life or had such a life imposed on them. Segregation is not an accident of demography.
Yet Ted Cantle and Eric Kaufmann, in a report for Open Democracy, want us to believe that segregation is a function of demography rather than policy.
This paper comes to a clear view that whilst many areas have become more mixed, segregation is increasing in a number of very particular respects in the UK, especially the growing isolation of the White majority from minorities in urban zones. Further, the extent and pace of this change, within some communities, is very evident.
The contention here is that certain parts of England have, despite the country becoming more diverse, grown more segregated. To reach this conclusion the authors have looked at ethnicity data at ward level demonstrating that, between 1991 and 2011, certain parts of cities like Leicester, Birmingham and Bradford have become more segregated. But this only works if you accept segregation as being defined by "the extent to which an ethnic group is evenly spread across neighbourhoods", something that disregards choice or policy.
At the core of Cantle & Kaufmann's argument is the idea of "white flight" - that White British people are leaving as more non-white people are moving into a particular place:
...between 2001 and 2011 the White British population in England reduced as a percentage of the total population from 86.8% to 79.8% — a decrease of 8%. Although there was a decrease in the proportion of the population who were white in most areas, the decrease was much greater in the areas which had a low proportion of white British in 2001 than in areas which had had a high proportion. Thus for example, in Newham, which had had the lowest proportion of white British in 2001 there was a 50% decrease in the percentage of WB between 2001 and 2011; in Barrow in Furness, where 97.9% of the population were WB in 2001, this decreased by less than 1% by 2011. This does indicate support for ‘more mixing and more clustering’, but they are not equivalent trends, the clustering is noticeably more marked.
Setting to one side Cantle & Kaufmann's deliberately polemic choice of places, what is implied here is that White British people are, as soon as a black family arrives, throwing their chattels onto a cart and heading for Basildon. There is no attempt to understand why people move or indeed where they move to. We know that between 10% and 15% of the electoral register changes in any given year as a result of movement, family break-up and death. And we know that this churn is higher in poorer places with more rented property.
So people, of whatever ethnicity, moving out of Newham - or for that matter, within Newham - should not surprise us. We should welcome this as, in a lot of cases, it's a direct consequence of people bettering themselves. The question we need to answer is why the gaps these folk leave are being filled by people of non-white ethnicity in Newham but White British ethnicity in Barrow. To understand this, I'm going to talk about one place that Cantle & Kaufmann cite in making their argument - Toller Ward in Bradford.
Toller is an invented name to describe an area of inner city Bradford made up of Girlington and a large part of Heaton township (or "behind the hospital" as many might call it). Girlington is, and has been for a long time, a pretty poor place with tightly-packed terraces running down the hill from Duckworth Lane to Thornton Road. With Manningham, this community was one of the first places where Bradford's Mirpuri community came to live. But remember it was poor before that - local comedian Nicky Newsome would sing a maudlin song about growing up in Girlington filled with references to sleeping head to toe in a shared bed and eating meat on a Sunday.
Behind the hospital is a different place. Daisy Hill, Chellow Dene and Heaton aren't poor places but feature large Victorian and Edwardian properties, 1930s semis and a good few more recent (and grand) detached houses. In 1991 this area was, unlike Girlington, overwhelmingly white and middle-class (including me).
Over the years since, the process Cantle & Kaufmann see as a problem, Toller's White British population fell from 46.9% to just 10.4%. Why this happened is nothing to do with "white flight" but a simple consequence of economics and demography. As a middle-class area, the population of the Heaton half of Toller ward is determined by the supply of middle-class people to live in it. And here in Bradford that supply is coming from the City's Pakistani community. These people, brought up in Girlington and Manningham, are simply doing what previous generations have done and moving a little further out from the city centre and a little further up the hill. It really has nothing at all to do with their ethnicity.
Meanwhile, in Girlington a different pattern is playing out. In the poorest parts of the place, the population is less Pakistani as their economic success allowed them to move up the hill. In their place are new immigrants - Roma, Kurds, refugee Arabs, Francophone Africans, Somalis. And this, just as the other economic driver taking the Pakistani population to better homes in Heaton, gives the lie to Cantle & Kaufmann's idea of segregation. In time those new immigrants will move on and move out, probably to be replaced with another generation of immigrants.
So what Cantle & Kaufmann describe as "growing segregation" is nothing of a sort but rather the long established process of immigrant communities improving their economic lot and moving to better areas. We've seen this in London and Manchester with the Jewish community, and in North London with the Indian population. What we're seeing isn't segregation but rather the playing out of immigrant population's integration into our developed, successful consumer society.