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Changing faces, shaping places - Have I got news for you?

Changing faces, shaping places

Key questions

  • How is migration reported in the media?
  • Should borders be open to all migrants?
  • What strategies can be employed to promote community cohesion between migrant groups and existing communities?

Key concepts

  • Cultural understanding and diversity
  • Place
  • Human Processes

How is migration reported in the media?

The issue of migration has become one of the most contested areas of the political landscape in the UK. The economic contribution that migrants make to the UK has become particularly controversial and has been one of the biggest areas of debate for researchers, policymakers and the media. Researchers produce often contradictory evidence on the impacts of immigration, political parties argue about how best to manage migration and its impacts, and the media is full of stories about various aspects of immigration.

Most commentators agree that UK 'business needs managed migration' (CBI, 2005). There are job vacancies at all levels of the economy. There is also recognition that migrants, in filling these vacancies, bring a number of benefits:

  • Keeping inflation down
  • Increasing productivity
  • Stimulating economic growth
  • Facilitating employment growth
  • Reducing the average age of the workforce
  • Filling vacancies in unskilled or low paid employment

Unfortunately, many people still tend to think of supply-side factors when they hear the word immigrant: they think of migrants as parasites who come to the UK for their own personal benefit, moving as a result of socio-economic and political conditions at home. The reality is very different: the UK economy has benefited from Eastern European migration and British citizens now rely on migrant workers to do jobs they themselves prefer to ignore.

Should borders be open to all migrants?

The media play an important role in the public perception of migration.

The UK only became a net recipient of migrants in the 1980s - prior to that, more people left the UK than arrived here. The rate of immigration started to rise markedly in the mid-1990s, reaching a peak in 2004 (222,600). This is due to a number of factors:

  • The emergence of a global migration market, mainly for highly skilled workers, resulted in an increase in the number of work permits issued
  • A rise in the number of asylum applications to a peak of 84,130 in 2002 (Home Office figures, 2006). Applications have since fallen (23,520 in 2006)
  • Significant inflows of foreign students coming to study at British universities
  • Migrants moving to join their families in the UK
  • With the enlargement of the EU in May 2004, citizens of the eight new member states gained the right to work in the UK, just as UK citizens can work elsewhere in the EU
  • The UK, along with Ireland and Sweden, decided not to place any restrictions on the number of people who could migrate from the new member states
  • A further category that needs to be considered, but which is harder to quantify, is the number of irregular migrants. A study conducted by the Home Office estimates that there were around 430,000 unauthorised migrants in the UK at the time of the 2001 census

Migration is a varied experience and immigrant groups themselves are incredibly diverse so it is difficult to make generalisations about them. For example, the public perception of the Indian community may be that it is composed largely of Commonwealth immigrants who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. The community in fact includes large numbers of recently-arrived work permit holders working in sectors such as IT. Likewise, while the Somali community may be largely composed of refugees and asylum seekers who have come to the UK as a result of violence in their country since the early 1990s, Somalis have been arriving in the UK since the mid-nineteenth century. At that time, many came to work on ships and in the docks. There are also small numbers of Somalis who have come to the UK as work permit holders in recent years.

What strategies can be employed to promote community cohesion between migrant groups and existing communities?

Increasing diversity in the UK has led to the debate about how to balance two apparently opposing demands between recognizing difference and establishing a common identity. Many argue that it is time that integration policies went beyond the broad ethnic categories they have traditionally relied on and that achieving greater community cohesion will require policies that take into account the many differences between and within communities. It is a complex debate which should go beyond the common misconception about immigrants that they are a drain on society, or that they all belong to ethnic minorities. Community cohesion is measured by how many people believe that those from different backgrounds get along. Opinion: Beyond black and white (07.09.05) is an article from the BBC News website that provides more information on this topic.

A recent survey by the Department for Communities and Local Government has identified places where social cohesion appears fragile. Six of the ten areas with the worst community relations have recently received large numbers of Eastern European migrants.

Peterborough, Burnley and Barking and Dagenham are three such areas in the UK with high levels of immigration and where community cohesion is reported to be amongst the lowest in the country. Local residents have voiced concerns about overcrowded accommodation and pressure on public services. The BBC News article Immigration ‘harming communities' (16.07.08) provides more information on this topic. Immigration and race relations are at the top of voter's concerns and such tensions have prompted ministers to try to restrict numbers coming to live and work in the UK.

Some proposed strategies:

  • The Local Government Association has recommended that a £250 million contingency fund be set up to assist councils under pressure from high levels of immigration
  • The Conservatives have argued that annual limits on economic migration are required
  • The Department for Communities and Local Government has pledged a £50 million cohesion fund to support councils and £10,000,000 for schools with increasing pupil numbers




What is in the news?

The PowerPoint slide gives you the instructions for this starter activity. You will also need to use the worksheet.

The worksheet provides you with a list of recent newspaper headlines on the topic of migration. Your task is to sort the headlines into three piles, depending on their content:

  • Fact
  • Opinion
  • A mixture of both

When you have done that, discuss with your class what images of migration are portrayed by the media, and complete the remainder of the worksheet with your ideas.



There are two options for the main activity for this lesson. Ask your teacher which one you should attempt.

Option one

Should borders be open?

Again, the PowerPoint slide tells you what you need to do for this task. You will be getting involved in a debate about whether borders should be made open for the free flow of migrants between countries.

The information you need for this debate can be found in an article on the BBC News website: Viewpoints: Should borders be open?, in which eight different people give their opinions about migration.

Your class will be divided into eight groups, and each group will be allocated a statement from the website.

Read the statement and decide whether the person agrees or disagrees with the question ‘Should borders be open?'

Pull out three points from the text which support their reasoning.

Nominate one person from your group to be the spokesperson. They will represent your group and read out the views of your person in the debate.

Your teacher will chair the debate. Afterwards, there will be time for questions and wider discussion.

  • What are your own views about the question?
  • Which of the statements do you agree with and why?

Option two

Community cohesion

The PowerPoint presentation includes a definition of community cohesion taken from the Leicester City Council website. Read through the definition and see if you can now write your own, much shorter definition in one sentence. Share your thoughts with the person sitting next to you.

Look at the images on the second slide of the PowerPoint.

  • What do each of the images represent?
  • How can the activities or places shown in the images be used to promote community cohesion and cultural understanding between different cultural groups?
  • Now see if you can come up with some of your own ideas
  • Can you think of any other approaches which might promote community cohesion?
  • Do you think that it is important to promote community cohesion?
  • Why do you think this?

If you have time, use the Internet or your school library to research the history of the Notting Hill Carnival. What has this event got to do with community cohesion?



Again, there are two options for the plenary activity, depending on which task you have carried out already.

Option one

What do I think? (Complete this activity if you did option one - Should borders be open? - for the main task)

Following on from the debate, complete the worksheet which gives you the opportunity to write down your own thoughts and feelings about the question of whether international borders should remain open to migration. Think about which of the statements you agreed with or disagreed with, and what the advantages and disadvantages of having an open border policy might be.

Option two

Mission statement (Complete this activity if you did option two - Community cohesion - for the main task)

In pairs, use your thoughts about how community cohesion could be encouraged to complete the worksheet. It asks you to finish the following statement:

  • "As a class, we think that all communities in Britain can integrate more effectively if..."

Share your ideas with another pair and integrate your ideas. Can you come up with a statement that the whole class agrees with?

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