Lack of social integration is costing the British economy £6bn a year and failure to tackle the issue threatens to create a nation of segregated schools, thwarted careers and gated communities, a report warns today.
The independent Social Integration Commission said that, without action to deepen interaction and ties between the UK’s different economic, ethnic and age groups, the country is “on a path towards a fractured society”.
The second volume of the commission’s three-part study into the effects of growing diversity published today finds that Britons are increasingly seeking the company only of those most like themselves, with profound consequences.
The resulting drop in social mobility and increased isolation between groups means that problems are emerging in areas from employment to health, costing the UK the equivalent of 0.5 per cent of GDP or £6bn each year, according to the study. The impact alone on the long-term jobless, whose lack of contact with those in work means they are likely to remain unemployed for longer, is estimated to be £1.5bn.
At a community level, factors such as a lack of friendships across age groups are resulting in loneliness and anxiety which bring associated costs of £700m in healthcare and £1.2bn for treating an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease.
The report predicts that Britain’s schools, where half of all children on free meals are educated in just 20 per cent of all schools, could become divided on ethnic and social lines. It raises the prospect that on the same street, one school will be found catering only for pupils on free meals next to another for students from wealthier backgrounds.
Similarly, employment risks becoming based on who an individual knows rather than ability, while gated communities will become routine.
Matthew Taylor, commission chairman, said: “We are ringing an early alarm bell. There are already real costs to our economy and society of not taking sufficient action to promote social integration.
“Unless we pull down the barriers that can divide us, ethnic and social divisions in our schools could grow, gated communities could become the norm, and widespread distrust and fear of crime could rise. This is not a UK that is currently recognisable, but the seeds of its existence are being sown.”
The report found that when diverse groups do mix, Britons become more trusting and open to different groups across ages and ethnicities. For example, white Britons who had positive contact with Asians also became more trusting and positive towards the elderly.
But it said Britain faces daunting challenges as it becomes more polarised in terms of age, ethnicity and income.
The study found that schoolchildren have only half of the contacts with other ethnicities that would be expected if there was no segregation while those in the “A” socio-economic bracket had two-thirds fewer contacts with the unemployed than would be expected.
The report said: “The danger grows that in the face of the complex challenges of the future, instead of asking, ‘How can solve this together?’ the people of the UK ask, ‘Who can we blame?’. We can already see this in hardening attitudes to both disadvantaged people and immigrants.”
Such social fissures have profound implications for social mobility, in particular employment prospects, according the study.
The fact that some 40 per cent of jobs are found through personal contacts means that the long-term unemployed, who often lack connections with those in employment, are more isolated, according to the study.
Building ties between the jobless and those in work can therefore have a significant effect, including schemes to introduce people from socially deprived areas to blue-chip employers. The addition of one worker to a jobseeker’s peer group increases their likelihood of getting a job by 13 per cent.
The report argues that the tolerance of British society does little for integration unless Britons are willing to go further and take the risk of trusting people they do not know.
Trust has fallen dramatically in Britain over the last 50 years with the proportion of people saying they generally trust others declining from 60 per cent in 1959 to 30 per cent.
Divided we fall: costs of segregation
£1.5bn – long-term unemployment
The long-term jobless are increasingly unlikely to count anyone in secure employment in their peer group, decreasing their access to job opportunities.
£700m – recruitment
Many people are not applying for some professions because they see them as closed off. In turn, employers who recruit by word of mouth are limiting the pool of available talent, reinforcing segregation.
£700m – health and social care
A lack of friendships across age groups is raising the risk of social isolation in later life, with increased rates of illness and associated care costs.
£1.2bn – cardiovascular disease
Dwindling trust is resulting in lower levels of general well-being and a higher risk of illness and obesity, in particular for the over-65s.
Case study: under 30s leaving Britain
Paul Hambling, 26, is from the Lake District. He is currently studying European languages at the University of Salford, where he is in his final year.
"I am looking to move to Germany once I graduate, due to the cost of living in the UK and because there are better job prospects there.
"Having previously lived in Germany, I found the cost of living so much cheaper than in the UK. I could do my weekly shop there for €25 (just under £20) compared with £35 here. Rent is a lot cheaper too. My three housemates and I paid €295 a month, including all the bills. Rents in Berlin are comparable with Manchester, which is brilliant for a capital city. I also found that pay tends to be much better there in terms of what I would like to do – translating. Over there, I could expect about €3,000 (£2,375) per month compared with £2,000 here.
"With the better pay and smaller living costs, it makes sense to move there. The language wouldn’t be a problem as I speak German fluently. Given the economic might of Germany at the moment, it’s a very attractive option. A lot of people from my course are looking to move abroad after graduation – we simply cannot afford to stay in the UK. My parents don’t have any problems with me going abroad. Nowadays with low-cost airlines it would be easy for me to come home and for them to come out to visit me.
"There is no doubt in my mind it would be the best thing for me.”
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