Thu, 29 February 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
It’s time for change Partner content
Home affairs
Press releases

We must accept migration is going to be part of modern Britain

72 per cent of people feel that Britain’s diversity is part of our culture today (Alamy)

4 min read

Census data this month revealed that 10 million of us in the United Kingdom were born overseas, an increase of 2.5 million since 2011. India topped the list as the most common overseas birthplace followed by Poland, Pakistan, Romania and Ireland.

Behind those statistics are 10 million individual stories: like those of my parents, who came from India and Ireland to work in the NHS; or indeed the parents of Rishi Sunak, both of Indian origin, whose son recently became the UK’s first British-Asian Prime Minister.

Concerns about the pace of migration contributed to the Brexit referendum, but have softened since. The visible lack of control as rising numbers of people make dangerous journeys across the Channel remains a salient issue for public and politicians alike.

But attitudes tracker research from Ipsos for British Future finds support for reducing overall immigration numbers is at an all-time low.

With one in six of us now born abroad – and one in three having a foreign-born parent or grandparent – diversity is a new normal in British society, reflected in our multi-ethnic classrooms and at the school-gate, even if successive governments have never put together a proactive approach to integration that could speed this up.

But greater contact over time is having an impact. A decade ago, people were as likely to say that diversity had undermined British culture as they were to think it was part of it, split 51 per cent to 49 per cent in 2011.

Returning to this topic for our Jubilee Britain research, we asked the same question again: in 2022, by 72 per cent to 28 per cent, people feel that Britain’s diversity is part of our culture today.

This helps to explain why Rishi Sunak’s arrival in Downing Street was both an important and somewhat understated moment of British social history. Ethnic diversity has become a new norm in the Cabinet, in the last decade, making this seem just a matter of time.

When British Future asked the public earlier this year how they would feel about a hypothetical ethnic minority prime minister, the most common response, from more than half of respondents, was that the PM’s ethnicity simply doesn’t matter. Around a quarter – more among ethnic minorities – felt that this would be a positive development to be celebrated.

A tenth of the public felt an ethnic minority prime minister would be a negative development. That shrinking toxic fringe would still object to an Asian boss or a Black neighbour.

The worst of this group are a menace on social media, where they are disproportionately active. That should be tackled effectively without accepting their false claim to be voicing what most people really think.

The year 2023 will usher in a new era for Britain. The coronation of King Charles III alongside our first British-Asian Prime Minister captures how Britain is a country of both tradition and change.

The coronation year coincides with the 75th anniversary of the NHS and of the arrival of the Windrush: the two key symbols of the contribution of migration and ethnic diversity to the making of modern Britain. This offers new opportunities for our major institutions to show how those of every colour and creed are invited to mark these national occasions as we reflect together on our past, present and future.

The question is no longer whether migration or diversity are going to be part of modern Britain – but what we can do together to make that work fairly for everybody, and to unlock the potential of our diversity for the common good.

Sunder Katwala is Director of British Future.

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.