UK has updated the way it measures integration – now it’s everybody’s job to make refugees welcome

A refugee family welcomed in Glasgow in 2016. Jane Barlow/PA Archive

With the number of displaced people in the world at record levels and a growing global focus on the integration of refugees into new communities, the UK government has decided to update a set of indicators it uses to measure how well refugees are settling into their lives in Britain.

The Home Office’s new Indicators of Integration, which I helped to design as part of a small team of academics and researchers after a wide-ranging consultation, are intended to be a tool to help national and local governments, NGOs and other providers plan interventions and to promote and measure integration. It’s currently unclear how well refugees are integrating in different parts of the country, and the new indicators are designed to address this gap.

The indicators were first produced in 2004 and have been used extensively as far away as China, Australia and the US to help governments assess the effectiveness of particular integration interventions. For example, they were used in the UK to assess the outcomes of funding from the European Refugee Fund, helping to identify the importance of bonding through social networks to integration.

Since then, the arrival of an increasing number of refugees from the Middle East and north Africa in Europe in 2015 has generated much debate. The media played a role in exacerbating concerns by phrasing their arrival as a “refugee crisis”. In the years that followed, this debate about a “crisis” has been replaced in policy circles with a preoccupation on resettling and integrating people who have been forced to leave their homes, with the emphasis very much on the responsibility of refugees to integrate.

Everybody responsible for integration

The new set of integration indicators are underpinned by a number of principles which represent a shift in thinking since the last indicators were drawn up in 2004. No longer is integration mainly the responsibility of refugees. Instead, it is now seen in the UK as being dependent on a wide range of factors, such as social, political and economic conditions, which vary according to a person’s needs and the geographical context. Integration is also now considered the responsibility of everyone including governments at all levels, the communities receiving refugees, and the newcomers themselves.

Integration isn’t just the responsibility of newcomers. Ron Ellis/Shutterstock

The 2019 indicators outline a set of 14 areas that can help support the development of integration policy and interventions. Housing, work, education, health and social care and leisure represent arenas in which integration takes place, but that can also be measured as integration “outcomes”. For example, my research has shown that access to work for refugees can lead to improved health, social networks and competency in language.

There is also a section focusing on social connections, such as social bridges, bonds and links to state and other organisations, stressing the importance of different kinds of relationships to integration. Language, culture, digital skills, safety and stability are also included.

Measuring progress

The indicators detail specific measures that can be adopted to reflect progress, or lack of progress, on integration – such as the extent to which refugees feel safe and secure in the area where they live. Crucially, these don’t just measure what’s happening to the refugees, but also consider the impact on local people. For example, they include the percentages of local people from incoming and receiving communities who report mixing with people from other backgrounds and report having friends from different backgrounds. Other measures included a focus on refugees’ experiences and reporting of discrimination and harassment.

A key addition to the original indicators is an emphasis on how government immigration policy can play a part in integration. Refugees and asylum seekers often live in a sense of insecurity caused by only having short-term leave to remain, and so the indicators stress the importance of giving them routes to citizenship and permanent leave to remain, as well as for their families to join them in the UK.

The new indicators have the potential to reshape policy and practice around refugee integration away from the “hostile” or compliant immigration environment of recent years, to one that helps create contexts that help support integration. If the new indicators are as influential as their predecessors, progress around refugee integration would see local and national investment in more initiatives that encourage local populations to be more welcoming to refugees and asylum seekers. In the longer term, the hope is that refugees will report greater levels of belonging and improved health.