Critical Interventions in Public and Policy Debates on Race, Segregation and Diversity

Submitting Institution

University of Manchester

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Demography, Sociology

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Summary of the impact

Work undertaken at the University of Manchester (UoM) has provoked debate, and challenged established lines of thought, by `myth busting' current claims about racial diversity and segregation — such as `Britain is becoming a country of ghettos' — which have hitherto dominated public and policy debate. A sociologically-informed demographic approach, developed at UoM, has been adopted by local authorities for monitoring neighbourhood population change and ethnic diversity. Additionally, research findings have been used by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), national policy-makers and local government to promote alternative, sociologically-informed understandings of race, segregation and diversity, challenging the current policy focus. Taken together, these twin interventions have resulted in increasingly critical and robust examinations of race, segregation and diversity, both nationally and locally.

Underpinning research

The research that underpins this case was undertaken at UoM (2006-2013), led by Dr Nissa Finney (2006-) whilst an early career researcher, and Professor Ludi Simpson (1992-2008, now Honorary Professor of Population Studies), alongside colleagues at the Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR). It emerges out of three projects:

  • (2006-9) Leverhulme `Migration, Race and Population Dynamics' project (PI Simpson)
  • (2009-10) ESRC (UPTAP Fellowship): `Ethnic Group Population Change & Integration' (Finney)
  • (2011-13) UoM (Hallsworth Fellowship): `The Role of Ethnicity in Migration Processes: A New Perspective on Ethnic Integration and Community Cohesion' (Finney)

The work continues within the ESRC Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) (Finney, CI; £2.3 million). Taken together, these projects address questions of ethnic segregation and local ethnic group population change, recognising that policy debate has been largely reactive to events, such as `race riots' or the rise of far right politics, rather than informed by evidence. This research programme is distinctive in two key ways:

(1) It focuses on the processes (not solely the outcomes) of population change in local areas, developing innovative methods for estimating neighbourhood ethnic group population change. Adding an important new dimension to CCSR work on demography, the research [A-E] developed techniques for calculating population change in small areas in terms of age, sex and ethnic group, and has advanced theoretical perspectives in segregation studies by drawing on theories of social demographic change, life course and migration. This has shifted the methodological focus of the field from measures of residential segregation (and circular debates around appropriateness) to the development of estimation techniques, the production of local population change estimates for ethnic groups, and towards an emphasis on understanding the drivers and processes (not just the outcomes) of population change.

(2) It directly targets and critically challenges claims about segregation and diversity commonly made in policy and public debate, such as `Britain is becoming a country of ghettos' or `Minorities don't want to integrate'. Outputs are intentionally designed to be accessible to non- academic audiences whilst retaining academic rigour. This strategy — to produce accessible evidence-based outputs that directly examine key concerns within popular race debates — constitutes a significant intervention, providing a hook for both Government and NGOs to engage in and promote alternative understandings of race, segregation and diversity [D].

Key ideas that this work's intervention in race debates have helped gain currency are that:

  • Many common assumptions about race, migration and segregation are myths. For example, that neighbourhood population change is driven by `white flight', or that racial segregation is increasing. [D]
  • Natural change (the difference between births and deaths) is the main driver of local population change for many areas and ethnic groups. Processes of family building and ageing bring about changes in ethnic residential segregation, regardless of migration. [C][D]
  • Geographies of migration within Britain indicate the same processes (dispersal and counter-urbanisation) across ethnic groups. These migration patterns are leading to greater residential ethnic mixing. [A][D]
  • There are ethnic differences in levels of residential mobility even when individual demographic and socio-economic characteristics are accounted for. This may reflect different expectations and aspirations across ethnic groups, as well as different opportunities and constraints. If some groups are more constrained in residential mobility than others, this can impact on employment or education, exacerbating ethnic inequalities. [A][B][E]

References to the research

(all references available upon request — AUR)

Article [E] was in the top three papers most cited in 2010 (of those published in this journal, 2008- 2009). This research is also sustained through eight CoDE briefings `Dynamics of Ethnicity: Evidence from the 2011 Census' ( — Finney on editorial board).

[A] (2012) Finney, N. & Catney, G. (eds.) Minority Internal Migration in Europe (Farnham: Ashgate) (AUR)

[B] (2011) Finney, N. "Understanding Ethnic Differences in the Migration of Young Adults within Britain from a Lifecourse Perspective" Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36(3) (REF 2014) 455-470 doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2011.00426.x


[C] (2009) Finney, N. & Simpson, L. "Population Dynamics: The Roles of Natural Change and Migration in Producing the Ethnic Mosaic" Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35(9) 1479-1496 doi:10.1080/13691830903125935


[D] (2009) Finney, N. & Simpson, L. Sleepwalking to Segregation? Challenging Myths of Race and Migration (Bristol: Policy Press) (REF 2014) (AUR)


[E] (2008) Finney, N. & Simpson, L. "Internal Migration and Ethnic Groups: Evidence for Britain from the 2001 Census" Population, Space and Place 14(2) 63-83 doi: 10.1002/psp.481


Details of the impact

Context: By challenging conventional wisdom on racial segregation, through an explicit strategy of `myth busting', the research has helped to inform and shape policy debate within Government, improve public understandings of segregation, and transform thinking around ethnic and neighbourhood diversity. The evidence base generated has shaped the practices of prominent race equality NGOs, in campaigns promoting alternative frameworks for understanding race, segregation and migration — challenging the public concern with ethnic integration, and redirecting focus to the problem of ethnic inequality. At a more detailed level, local authorities are, adopting Finney and colleagues' methods for population estimation as they monitor and plan for population change.

(1) `Myth busting' in public understandings of segregation: The book that showcases this research [D] was deliberately titled `Sleepwalking to Segregation' after a speech by the (then) Commission for Racial Equality Chief Executive, Trevor Phillips. Crafted purposefully to target, as its key audience, individuals and organisations politically involved in race and diversity issues, the book directly examines (and rebuts) common myths about race and migration (e.g. `Britain takes too many immigrants', `Minorities do not want to integrate', `Minority White Cities'). Firstly, by providing an evidence-based challenge to common myths about segregation (including a `quick reference summary' of myths and counter-arguments), the book was designed to open up a space for public debate and to provide an effective tool in campaigns promoting alternative understandings of race, segregation and migration. Secondly, the book provoked considerable media and public interest on publication, including coverage in the international, national, local and community press; including BBC regional TV and radio, Channel 4 TV and online. The work also received coverage in magazine and popular journal articles, and in online commentary with public and policy audiences, including: Geography, for Geography teachers; Significance (Royal Statistical Society); and the Institute for Race Relations website [1].

(2) Informing political debate and shaping government policy: In the national policy context the work has been presented to a House of Commons Select Committee, during the current Parliament, by Jon Cruddas MP who used `Sleepwalking to Segregation...' to illustrate the paucity of evidence for problems of segregation, and to suggest that policy efforts be better directed to social concerns such as deprivation. He notes that he used the book's "robust and accessible" arguments in Committee to "highlight the dangers of political debate ignoring evidence in favour of popular opinion", and subsequent to his appointment to the Shadow Cabinet as Labour's Policy Coordinator (15th May 2012), notes that he has employed the research in order to address his `current concerns' around child poverty and `family wellbeing', within the Labour Party's Policy Review, recognising that the book: "illustrates the presence of ongoing disadvantage for minorities in Britain and demonstrates how myths about race and segregation stigmatise communities, which in turn exacerbates overall inequality...Your work showed me that, despite popular rhetoric that situates ethnic diversity as the cause of social problems, the evidence...demonstrates the reality of ethnic integration. These are particularly important insights, as in my view they demonstrate that our attention in Parliament is better focused on poverty and social inequalities." He adds that he also uses the book as a "resource in responding to local constituents and organisations who are concerned about increasing ethnic challenge inaccuracies in commonly held views about migration and ethnic integration" [2].

Andrew Stunell MP confirms that the book provides "an accessible, useful and robust summary of evidence about race and local population change. In May 2010 I was appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government... one of my specific responsibilities... was developing the Government's approach to integration and social cohesion, leading [to] the publication of the DCLG report `Creating the Conditions for Integration'. This has underpinned Government policy-making and funding programmes in social cohesion since. It is right to record that Dr Finney's book provided a valuable resource during that process... [subsequently] the Deputy Prime Minister has asked me to lead a working Party developing proposals on Social Cohesion, Integration and Migration for our 2013 programme for government. Once again it has been invaluable to have the facts and perspectives of Dr Finney's work available to inform my thinking," further stating that the book provides "an essential counter to the heated rhetoric on these topics that characterises current race debates" [3].

(3) Shaping the practice of prominent race equality NGOs in campaigns promoting alternative frameworks for understanding race, segregation and migration: Groups working on race relations and race equality have benefited from the work's prominent evidence-based intervention, as the basis for campaigns to challenge and redirect public and policy debate. The Runnymede Trust has used the work as evidence in their recent campaigns for a need to (re)focus policy debate and practice on ethnic inequality and discrimination rather than residential segregation. Runnymede's Director comments that "Having your evidence to hand has allowed us to challenge assumptions about trends in neighbourhood population change, such as about `White flight'", noting the work has "directly helped the cases we have put to high level political circles about appropriate policies for community cohesion and ethnic equality. Your research has become increasingly important in countering policy approaches which seek to privilege `integration' over equality... provided essential evidence, in accessible formats, for our campaigns to shift political and public debate from concern with segregation and self-segregation to more pressing issues of ethnic equality. Your work has made a central contribution to high profile debate around ethnic segregation and opened up the opportunity for us to stimulate further debate on Runnymede's priorities". The work has also been directly used as evidence in Runnymede reports [4].

The North of England Refugee Service (NERS) has used the work's demonstration of how myths about race and migration gain currency in its ongoing campaign to challenge negative and inaccurate media reporting of migrant populations. Their use of the research as "evidence to challenge myths of race and migration" has been "directly useful for NERS to provide accurate and balanced information about migration. The evidence provided by your work has helped us to challenge mis-reporting of asylum and refugee issues. The intervention of your work in race debates has provided a hook for our longstanding campaign to generate new thinking on asylum and raise the level of public debate". NERS has employed "the statistics and evidence in your book... in awareness-raising talks across the North East... [and] in multiagency meetings of migrant and asylum/refugee service providers from government, private, voluntary sectors in the North East to emphasise the broad processes of minority integration and mixing. I also ensured that key members of staff at NERS had copies of the mythbusters section of your book so they could equip themselves with the facts about population change and ethnic integration in Britain" [5].

(4) Assisting local authorities to assess the drivers of population change. Findings on the drivers of local population change and ethnic diversity were drawn upon by Salford City Council in the development of strategies for the management of neighbourhoods with high population turnover. Their Equalities Officer confirms that they "have... incorporated learning from publications such as 'Sleepwalking to Segregation'? into our consideration of community cohesion at the local level" [6]. Several local authorities, including Manchester, Glasgow, Bradford, Rochdale, Oldham and the Greater London Authority (GLA) have received invited presentations on the innovative demographic methods devised by this project, incorporating them into the monitoring and reporting procedures for population estimation which inform local service planning for diverse communities. For instance, an Intelligence Analyst at Manchester City Council (MCC) comments that "Your evidence about decreasing residential ethnic segregation and dispersal of minorities from settlement areas has informed us and helped to anticipate local population changes and thus contributed to the development of our strategies for addressing ethnic equality and managing local population change' and has provided "information about local population change that we did not previously have and that is not available elsewhere... The Census 2011 Briefings on Dynamics of Diversity and the accompanying local Area Profilers are an invaluable resource, summarising the recently released Census data on ethnicity for local areas. The availability of these expert analyses to local government is particularly welcome at a time when research capacity in local government is reduced" [7]. Similarly, a Senior Analyst working at the Greater London Authority Intelligence Unit, comments that: "Your analyses of national patterns and trends in ethnicity and migration have provided important contextual understanding for our work locally" and provided evidence about residential ethnic segregation and dispersal of minorities which has "helped to corroborate our own studies into ethnic diversity and support policy making" [8].

(5) Ongoing Impact: Finney and colleagues are now recognised as expert commentators on issues of race, segregation and diversity. This was evident when the 2011 Census data on ethnicity was released in December 2012, with early analysis published by CoDE. As an ESRC Centre, CoDE is anticipated to have substantial ongoing impact over the coming years, with an impact strategy that includes: media work (including around politically salient issues, such as `white-flight'); partnerships with non-academic organisations (including Runnymede); Cumberland Lodge seminars with politicians and policy makers; and involvement in political party conferences, etcetera. Finney has taken a prominent role in the CoDE Census Briefings (part funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) that have established CoDE as a voice of authority on matters of Census analysis, ethnicity and inequality. Some recent examples of engagement include Finney being invited to provide expert commentary by a number of media outlets including regional radio (BBC and independent) and national television (Channel 4 News), alongside speeches at policy seminars, such as by Just West Yorkshire (February 2013).

Sources to corroborate the impact

(all claims referenced in the text)

[1] Media coverage document (Radio, Press, Television and Online)

[2] Testimonial from Member of Parliament / Labour Party Policy Coordinator (21st May 2013)

[3] Testimonial from (former) Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, DCLG (15th July 2013)

[4] Testimonial from Director Runnymede Trust (2nd April 2013)

[5] Testimonial from Information and Communications Manager, NERS (19th April 2003)

[6] (2013) Letter to Finney from Equalities Officer, Salford City Council (29th April)

[7] Testimonial from Research and Intelligence Advisor, MCC (25th April 2013)

[8] (2013) Letter to Finney from Senior Research and Statistical Analyst (Demography) Intelligence, Greater London Authority (21st May)