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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 01:05 GMT 02:05 UK
Analysis: Segregated Britain?
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: UK "sleepwalking" into segregation
The head of the Commission for Racial Equality Trevor Phillips is warning of increased segregation.

But it should come as no surprise - it has been on the government's books since the riots of 2001 in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham.

The most damning report into the disturbances, by Ted Cantle, a former council chief and expert in local communities, warned of communities living "parallel lives" and recommended wide-ranging changes to policy.

The words chosen by Mr Phillips for his speech are more strident - but they amount to the same thing: People share space in Britain's towns and cities but do not know who each other are.

The CRE chairman has already attacked what many increasingly regard as the heart of the problem, multiculturalism, a concept that few people agree on.

BBC News asked people on the street about racial segregation

To its critics, multiculturalism means defining people as different - black, white, Asian, Muslim, Irish and so on - and then treating them differently.

At its most stark, critics say it means policy makers decide how to treat people based first on their ethnicity, rather than their rights as citizens; in turn, this encourages people to see themselves as different, as separate, rather than sharing common goals.

On the other hand, the supporters of multiculturalism say it cannot be blamed for segregation in society; they argue that public displays of difference - such as a laissez-faire attitude to building of places of worship, can strengthen communities by building civic pride into identities.

In his speech, Mr Phillips argues that the nation is becoming more divided by race and religion, with young people being brought up in enclaves.

He warns that Britain is "sleep-walking" its way towards segregation on a scale already seen in the USA. The evidence is there to be seen, says Mr Phillips, it's just going unspoken.

'Enclaves growing'

So what is the evidence? Last month the Royal Geographical Society published a study that suggested ethnic "enclaves" are growing in the UK's cities.

In major cities they found groups isolated by ethnicity. Some of the widest separation occurred with people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, some of the poorest groups in society.

In short, government policy needs to be much more sophisticated in how it stops this kind of seemingly permanent division, argued the paper.

However, there is evidence that points in completely the other direction - not least within the figures of the BBC's Born Abroad project, published this month.

Ethnic mixing

Those maps of the UK, based on research carried out for the Institute of Public Policy Research, show not only the homogenous clusters that worry Trevor Phillips - but also ethnic mixing seemingly taking place through choice.

Maps immigration to Britain
Where people come from
Where they live
How well they do

Two major ethnicities, for example, the Caribbean-born and the India-born, can be seen quite clearly in the Born Abroad maps moving out of inner cities into the leafier suburbs as the years pass.

In other words, people who can afford to do so often appear to have little problem mixing on Acacia Avenue. And as older, economically-established ethnicities move out of the cities, Born Abroad shows new and more diverse peoples moving in - particularly young people drawn by the attractions of London.

Building citizenship

So what does this mean for policy? One of the big issues over the past five years has been whether or not government should be taking a leading role in defining what it is to be a British citizen.

Integration in this country has always been something of a myth
David Clancy, Epping, Essex, UK

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett was a fan of the idea and introduced citizenship ceremonies - but Britain has so far shied away from wrapping its people in the flag in the same way as you would find in America.

Perhaps more importantly, although America has more than its fair share of a common national ethos, it is precisely the place that Trevor Phillips is warning Britain not to become.

Since the London bombings there has been a return to these ideas, with a wide spectrum of thinkers - both from the left and the right - arguing that more needs to be done to build a sense among young people that this country is for all of them.

Ted Cantle, the man who authored that key report into the 2001 riots, is soon to launch an institute dedicated to studying how to create "community cohesion".

But once that's done, how much difference can remain? Should councils produce literature in English alone? Lambeth in London, for instance, produces literature in at least 10 languages.

On the other hand, have policies aimed at fostering tolerance led to indifference towards each other, rather than an effort to build common values?

Segregation first and foremost starts in the mind. The question is whether there is an easy way to get neighbours who may think the same, but not know it, to stop treating each other differently.

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