Eric Kaufmann: ‘Majority avoidance: one of the few holes in Casey’s strong report’

December 5, 2016

Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report is to be commended for its rigour and steadfast defense of liberal principles. It calls out illiberalism, not shrinking from addressing this problem in conservative Muslim communities, while also highlighting racism and discrimination against Muslims by the majority. It asks for a reinstatement of budgets for teaching English and for mitigating the impact of immigration on rapidly-changing communities. There is little to quibble with here. Later in the report, Casey reviews initiatives since the 2001 Cantle Report. This makes it abundantly clear her report is in line with previous work, albeit based on more extensive and detailed quantitative evidence. The failure, it is suggested, is in the execution more than in our knowledge base.

But in two interrelated respects, the report misses a big story. The first concerns the fact that while minority groups are becoming considerably less segregated, segregation between majority and minorities (taken as a whole) remains stuck at a high level. This is a point I made in my report in 2014 and which Ted Cantle and I reiterated recently in our OpenDemocracy report.

The second – related – point, is that white British ‘avoidance’ is the principal driver of this pattern and yet white British attitudes to integration are only lightly addressed in the report. Insofar as this concern is just emerging in the UK academic literature, one cannot fault the report’s authors. Nevertheless, this is an important area that needs a great deal more research and attention.

Third, and also related to the above, is that there is very little grasp in the academic literature of what can be done in free societies to mitigate segregation. No wonder little is said about this in the report. Singapore is a statist society where housing is largely public and the government has few qualms about telling people where to live. As a result, minorities like the Malays and Indians are prevented from clustering and there is no segregation.

We cannot and should not do that in free societies, but what can be done? The report mentions a study which found that when British council tenants were offered a choice in where they would be located, this increased segregation. This gets to a fundamental reality: the more choice people have in where they are housed, the more like tend to live with like. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if segregation is considered a problem for minority upward mobility and majority attitudes toward minorities, we need to consider unobtrusive ways to address it.

Let’s return to majority withdrawal, or ‘white avoidance.’ Imagine there were no illiberal Muslims, Hindus or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Britain and everyone signed up to British values. This may lead to less segregated ethnic communities, but would have little impact on the overall interaction between majority and minority. Instead we would simply see even more expansion of ‘superdiverse’ areas such as Luton, Newham and the like, which white British families largely avoid when searching for a place to settle down or send their kids to school. More than this, they avoid even moderately diverse communities. For example, when we examine schools and places with growing populations, white British absolute population growth is significantly higher in schools and neighbourhoods over 80-85% white British, in a rising curve.

Even if ethnic concentrations disperse, if Britain were to become two nations – one superdiverse, the other remaining White British – this would still represent an important source of division. Indeed, as the Brexit vote revealed, this split is already re-configuring the electoral map in Britain and moving the country in the geographically polarised direction of the United States. Diverse urban areas and homogeneous exurbs or rural districts increasingly see each other as alien. Because white British are so numerous, what they do matters a lot more for the total picture than the actions of small minorities, so white British movement demands more attention.

My own work with Policy Exchange will focus on retaining white residents in mixed areas, which is a major challenge in urban Britain not considered in the report. I hope to examine three ‘nudges’ that could improve white-minority integration: a) correcting whites’ misperceptions about the actual minority share in mixed schools and areas; b) providing accurate information to minorities lacking knowledge about relatively white areas; and c) designing new homes in diverse areas to appeal to white British preferences so as to retain whites in diverse communities.

Recent research suggests white Americans tend to overestimate the share of minorities in moderately diverse areas, and so avoid them and wind up living in whiter areas than they would prefer. I intend to test whether this is also the case in Britain. Using a computer algorithm, survey respondents will be asked whether they have heard of a set of neighbourhoods and schools in their area, and if so, to guess their ethnic composition. We are interested in understanding whether whites have a distorted view of the ethnic composition of mixed areas and schools, and whether minorities have heard of many largely white areas. If so, a policy recommendation might be to construct an online neighbourhood facts database with accurate ethnic (as well as socioeconomic, amenities and housing) information to help people make more informed area choices. Also, it may be worth trialing a system of listing the ethnic composition of schools on their website, as is true, for instance, in some US public school districts like Boston.

A second strand of experiments will focus on new housing, which is in high demand in London and other urban areas. We know that most of the public prefers traditional designswhile planners and architects favour the modernist aesthetic which currently prevails in new housing construction. However, Experian MOSAIC data also hint at important ethnic differences, with white British prioritising period designs and gardens while minority groups may be more open to modernism and favour driveways as well as larger numbers of rooms to accommodate extended families. In this manner, it may be possible to design new housing to appeal to different groups and thus ‘nudge’ integration in an unobtrusive way. My work at Policy Exchange will consist of examining the preferences of members of different groups for alternative housing designs controlling for neighbourhood ethnic composition. In other words, might White Britons be more willing to move to a new housing development in an ethnically diverse area if these are designed in a traditional manner?

Overall then, while there is much to commend in the Casey Review, there are large and important omissions which can only be addressed through new research.

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