Danny Dorling replies to Trevor Phillips on racial segregation
Equality chief Trevor Phillips was wrong when he claimed our cities are divided by racial groups, says population expert Prof Danny Dorling.
The real threat is the growing divide between rich and poor
Sunday, September 25, 2005 The Observer
'Ghettos in English cities almost equal to Chicago' ran a headline last week. 'Sleepwalking to segregation' began an editorial in the Times
All this resulted from a speech made in Manchester by the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, last Thursday. He had some interesting points, but his central claim - that we are drifting toward racial segregation - is wrong.
Racial segregation is not increasing, as he claimed. There are no neighbourhood ghetto communities in Britain, and the 'new' research he cited to try to support his claims is neither new nor authoritative.
The carefully considered conclusion of academics in Britain is that there are no ghettos here. In short, Phillips has been ill informed, or has simply not understood what his organisation has been telling him. Racism is rife in Britain but it is not being expressed through rising levels of neighbourhood segregation, nor are any ghettos likely to be formed in the near future.
If ignorance of these trends extends as far as the chairman of the CRE, the debate on segregation in Britain will be the poorer for it, and we will neglect the segregation that really is occurring: by poverty and wealth.
Had Phillips read the work of the academic who has studied segregation in most detail in Britain over recent years he might have thought more carefully. In fact if he had only read the first two sentences of Dr Ludi Simpson's most recent paper he would have learnt that 'racial self-segregation and increased racial segregation are myths for Britain. The repetition of these myths sends unhelpful messages to policy makers.'
The most up-to-date segregation statistics for ethnic and religious groups were published more than a year ago. They were calculated from the latest census and are comparable with figures a decade earlier. For all ethnic minority groups identified by the census, the indices of segregation fell between 1991 and 2001. These are the indices to which Phillips referred in his speech. They fell fastest for people of black and 'other Asian' origin.
For no ethnic minority group have these indices risen. In contrast, segregation rose over the same period in Northern Ireland for many religious groups. The pattern in particular cities will vary slightly, but nationally ethnic minority neighbourhood segregation in Britain is falling - and there are no ghettos, no neighbourhoods where a single ethnic minority group is in the majority. This has happened in America, where they are called minority-majority areas.
Even if there were such areas in Britain there is no reason to see that as a problem, but before proposing opinions, it is important to get the facts right.
What may have confused Phillips is work reported by an Australian-based academic at a conference last summer which referred to the extent to which different groups in Britain may be becoming more isolated rather than more segregated. It is not hard to see why the indices academics use to measure these things could so easily be confusing. The segregation index is a measure of the proportion of people who would have to move home for a group to be evenly spread across the country. It is falling for all minorities.
By contrast, the index is a measure of how often individuals from a particular group are likely to meet other individuals from their group. Communities suffer high levels of isolation if most of them live together with few other ethnic groups. Low levels of isolation come in communities where ethnic minority groups are more spread out and where other groups live in relatively high numbers.
The two are related but do not measure the same thing. Most crucially, if disproportionate numbers of people in a particular group are of child-bearing age and have children, raising the size of the group, the index of segregation remains the same, while the so-called index of isolation rises. That is a simple function of population growth among younger communities, of whatever ethnic origin. It does not reveal very much about levels of isolation.
The index of isolation is thus not necessarily a good measure to use, but if the CRE chairman does refer to it, it might be useful for him to know that it is highest in Britain for Christians, followed by people with no religion.
The most segregated religious groups in England and Wales are people of the Jewish and Sikh faiths, not Muslims as is often supposed; while the levels of geographical isolation of people of Catholic faith in Scotland exceed those of any minority religious or ethnic group in England. All these facts are taken from a couple of pages of the 2001 Census Atlas of the UK. That was published in 2004 but there are now many other sources of this data to show that no neighbourhood ghettos are being formed in Britain.
There are shocking statistics concerning segregation that Phillips does need to address. In some areas African-Caribbean boys are up to 15 times more likely to be excluded from school than are white boys, and up to 12 times more likely to be incarcerated in prison in Britain. Children and young people are being segregated out of classrooms and disproportionately into prisons by ethnicity in this country. The CRE has enough real work to do that it does not need to create fictitious evils.
In terms of education Phillips is right to say that children are more segregated by school than by neighbourhood, but this is only slightly so and it has only once been measured - so he was wrong to imply that schools are increasing the trend towards racial segregation. Our schools and universities are becoming more unequal in their intake, but not necessarily by religion nor by ethnicity.
What is most unfortunate is that this misunderstanding detracts from the neighbourhood segregation that is most clearly occurring in Britain but which is about poverty and wealth, not race nor religion.
Neighbourhoods are becoming more segregated by rates of illness and premature mortality. Depending on when and to whom a baby is born, inequalities in their chances of reaching their first birthday have widened since 1997. Neighbourhoods are rapidly becoming more segregated by wealth - most clearly by housing equity through which the best-off tenth of children should each expect to inherit £80,000 simply because of where they were born.
The racial ghettos referred to in Phillips's speech do not exist. However, had his researchers looked at the census more carefully then they would begin to see much else that should concern them. Cut Britain up horizontally rather than by neighbourhood, and you do find minority-majority areas. For example above the fifth floor of all housing in England and Wales a minority of children are white. Most children growing up in the tower blocks of London and Birmingham - the majority of children 'living in the sky' in Britain - are black.
Phillips needs the census to tell him what is happening as much as any of the rest of us do. Our gut feelings are not good enough, our own lives too isolated for us to extrapolate from experience.
The evidence comes mainly from social statistics. Increasingly, Britain is segregated by inequality, poverty, wealth and opportunity, not by race and area. The only racial ghettos in Britain are those in the sky in neighbourhoods which are, at ground level, among the most racially mixed in Britain, but where the children of the poorest are most often black.
We have not been sleepwalking into segregation by race, but towards ever greater segregation by wealth and poverty. That matters most to the life chances of people in Britain.
· Danny Dorling is professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield and co-author of People and Places: A 2001 Census Atlas of the UK', published by the Policy Press