Labour's Chuka Umunna in call to 'bridge the divides in our communities'


British communities are in danger of becoming increasingly ghettoised by ethnicity and wealth, a Labour MP is to warn.

Former frontbencher Chuka Umunna will say many affluent workers do not even know any benefit claimants and regard them as a "different species".

In a speech in London to launch a new All Party Group on Social Integration, Mr Umunna will also insist Labour needs to recognise that immigration can damage community cohesion unless it is properly managed.

"Levels of integration haven't kept pace with our growing diversity," the Streatham MP will say. "Too often, people from different ethnic, socio-economic and age groups are living side-by-side but aren't actually mixing with one another or leading interconnected lives.

"And there are worrying signs that the income and lifestyle gap between the rich and poor in our society may continue to widen.

"I believe that we are at a crossroads. If we don't take action now to bridge the divides in our communities, we run the risk that they will grow into gulfs."

Mr Umunna will say rising inequality is one of the "most pressing problems facing our nation", and is "compounded by the growing segregation of different class groups".

"It's no wonder we've wound up with TV programmes like Benefits Street - produced by well paid people who are not on benefits - which treat people who claim unemployment benefit like a different species," he will say.

"It's no wonder that so many more newspaper column inches are devoted to those who stand accused of cheating the benefits system than middle class bankers who dishonestly rig entire financial systems at everyone else's expense to line their own pockets on a grand scale.

"It's no wonder we have an utterly toxic political debate on social security, which too often ignores the impact of low-paid work and the cost of living, and ducks the challenge of addressing the real barriers which people face in getting back to work - zeroing in instead on the criminal minority who set out to scam the system."

Mr Umunna is to accuse ex-work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith of presiding over "the biggest programme of misery for the disabled, the poor and those in need for a generation".

He will add that, although Mr Duncan Smith now appears to recognise that he was implementing "arbitrary and unfair" policies, polls suggest the "harsh policy agenda he has pursued commands some considerable public support".

"Research by the Social Integration Commission provides an insight into why this might be the case. They show that middle class and working class people in this country are leading very separate lives, and that far too few people who are in work know anyone who is on benefits at all," he will add.

Mr Umunna will say Labour has too often "shut its ears" to concerns about immigration.

"Those of us who champion the benefits of immigration and diversity also need to recognise that rapid demographic change can put enormous pressure on local public services and threaten people's sense of security and belonging," he will say

"My own party has too often shut its ears to these concerns. Labour has rightly argued that immigration has brought real economic benefits, but this is an accountant's answer to a question which goes to the heart of how people feel about modern Britain."

Mr Umunna will say the party must be "wary of the threat posed by petty nationalism" but should not "lump all those who voice concerns about the consequences of immigration into the same basket".

"In order to detoxify this debate, we need to own up the fact that immigration can undermine community cohesion but that it doesn't have to, and recognise that there's a middle way between shutting our borders and shutting our ears to people's concerns," he will add.