If the UK’s diversity doesn’t encourage us to learn about people’s experiences, what will?

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Note: This is the second part of this weeks one off set of blog written by Shivani Gug about her grandfathers’ personal cultural experiences.

It’s not news that the United Kingdom is vastly diverse, that each and every individual’s upbringing has varied depending on where they were born and raised, and that each of these individuals has their own unique story to tell. Many stories go untold or forgotten, and we don’t really get a chance to comprehend the smaller significant things people may have done in their lives as an attempt to help diversify society. So many different people have played their part on the path to encouraging society to be as diverse and inclusive as it is today; for this reason, we should make an effort to reflect and listen to people’s experiences.

 

We all know about the Windrush Generation of 1948, and how it marked a significant change after the Second World War in migration figures. The Empire Windrush itself carried almost 500 Caribbean migrants, a small number compared to the vast array of immigrants that reside in the UK today, yet nonetheless significant due to the large numbers of migrants that followed from other Commonwealth countries. In a way it marked a modern wave of migration, as it could be seen as a turning point from which society started to become more diverse.

 

In this wave of modern migration, many of our relatives moved to the UK, many of whose experiences are fascinating to listen to. The story I’d like to share is that of my grandad’s: a man whose determination to advocate for equal rights I have always admired. Residing in Doncaster since he moved to the UK, my grandad speaks of his experiences of settling in and what he did to encourage the inclusion of people from different ethnic groups.

Why did you move to the UK? And could you tell us about your experiences whilst being in the UK?

His move to the UK was not one of choice but one of necessity. Due to the passing of his father he had to move to the UK when he was only 16 as his elder brother resided in England and was the only person to look after him. The process to achieve naturalisation today variably differs from what it was at the time as it depends on a number of factors including your birthplace, whether you are married or in a civil partnership, if you have indefinite leave to remain or ‘settled status’. It is also likely you need to pass the ‘Life in the UK’ test which thoroughly tests your knowledge about the UK, including its history and politics. At the time, however, it was quite easy to achieve naturalisation, as he said all he had to do was pay a fee and take an oath. It still took him a while to settle, but once he did, he took on a range of jobs to support his family. Some of these, as mentioned in the interview, included working in the foundry and driving an ice cream van. He opened a clothing shop and for many years worked to run it as a family business. I grew up being told stories about the shop and how it was once bustling with customers, when the online market didn’t exist. Once the market changed and the demand for the business declined, he went on to start up a transport company, working with the education board and department of transport.

 

Due to his determination to witness positive social and cultural change in the community, my grandad decided to run for the local Doncaster counsellor role in 2006. Although he missed getting elected by a small margin of votes, the campaigning process taught him a lot about what the people of Doncaster wanted, as he was able to engage with many members of the community. He organised cultural community fairs, which were supported by the Ethnic Minority Network, Doncaster Market and the Yorkshire Trust. The fairs displayed music, dance and food of the different ethnicities that resided in Doncaster. Additionally, he worked for the racial equality council which had the aim of campaigning and developing the community to combat racial abuse. His work here aided the council to promote good relations between people of different races, as he was able to communicate the wishes of his own cultural group.

How did you get involved in politics?

After raising questions about diversity figures in the UK, my grandad soon immersed himself in politics. Due to his determination to witness positive social and cultural change in the community, he decided to run for the local Doncaster counsellor role in 2006. Although he missed getting elected by a small margin of votes, the campaigning process taught him a lot about what the people of Doncaster wanted, as he was able to engage with many members of the community. He organised cultural community fairs, which were supported by the Ethnic Minority Network, Doncaster Market and the Yorkshire Trust. The fairs displayed music, dance and food of the different ethnicities that resided in Doncaster. Additionally, he worked for the racial equality council which had the aim of campaigning and developing the community to combat racial abuse. His work here aided the council to promote good relations between people of different races, as he was able to communicate the wishes of his own cultural group.

What was your opinion on having separate schools for different religions and cultures?

The government’s suggestion to open separate religious or cultural schools did not appeal to my grandad. After being selected as a representative on behalf of the Hindu community for BBC Radio in Sheffield, he sat alongside people from other religious and cultural communities such as Sikh, Jewish and Chinese representatives. He was the only one on the panel who passionately believed that if children belonging to different religions or cultures were educated separately, they would grow up struggling to integrate with the rest of the community during their adulthood. He felt that this would create a more racist environment and in entering the working world they would find it unusual or unnatural to integrate.

 

Sometimes we get so caught up in our personal lives, that we forget to pause for a minute to reflect and thank those whose past actions led us to live as we do today, however big or small they may have been. To move not only from one country to another but from one continent to the next at such a young age comes with its challenges, but nonetheless so many individuals have done just that. My grandad’s actions contributed towards his personal attempt to encourage diversity and inclusivity in Doncaster. As per the 2011 Census, in Doncaster more individuals were born in a country outside the EU in comparison to within the EU (excluding the UK), the statistics comparing a figure of 10,900 to 8,000. It demonstrates that there is a need to ensure society is inclusive, due to there being a wide range of individuals whose birth country is not the UK.

What is next for diversity in the UK?

With the end of the transitioning period after leaving the European Union and the height of the coronavirus pandemic, we are yet to see the exact impact that may be had on the future migration in the UK. With travelling reduced to a minimum during this health crisis, and provisions introduced to stay at home, limited migration has occurred. Nonetheless, one may assume that with the introduction of a points-based system to work in the UK there is going to be a much more difficult process for non-UK residents to reside in the UK. Seventy points will be needed to make an application to work in the UK, of which three conditions will be mandatory.

  1. Being offered a job by an approved sponsor (worth 20 points)
  2. Receiving a job at an appropriate skill level (worth 20 points)
  3. Required English speaking ability (worth 10 points)

The Government argues that the free movement rights from Europe failed ‘the highly skilled migrants from around the world’, so now they seek to prioritise those with the ‘highest skills and the greatest talents’. This has the potential to massively slow down the rate of further migration. Some may view this as a positive due to pressure a large population can exert on public services such as healthcare and schools. However, limited free movement will not impact migrants coming into the country but also citizens of the UK wanting to leave. We may find ourselves in the near future having to familiarise ourselves with visa application processes and other countries’ immigration policies, as citizens from other countries will have to do with us.

 

Nonetheless, the 9.2 million non-UK born individuals and 6 million non-British residents (as of mid-2020) continue to diversify the UK. And in the way I shared with you today, we should make an effort to reach out and hear about people’s experiences, because more often than not we may find ourselves pleasantly surprised at what people have done.

 

Sources

https://www.citypopulation.de/en/uk/southyorkshire/E08000017__doncaster/

http://www.migrationyorkshire.org.uk/userfiles/attachments/pages/645/d-doncaster-2011-census-profile-iun-june-2014.pdf

https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/naturalisation-british-citizenship/#3-what-are-registrations-of-british-nationality

https://www.gov.uk/british-citizenship

https://www.gov.uk/browse/citizenship/citizenship

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-51134644

Gov UK Points Based Immigration System

https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/brexit-legislation-what-has-passed/

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/bulletins/ukpopulationbycountryofbirthandnationality/yearendingjune2020

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