Social Cohesion: A Policy and Indicator Framework for Assessing Immigrant and Host Outcomes

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Abstract

Social cohesion as a social policy goal has recently appeared in policy statements in relation to outcomes associated with immigrant settlement. This paper explores some of the literature on social cohesion, and how the concept might operate in a New Zealand policy context. The latter part of the paper focuses on a proposed indicator framework as a way of measuring settlement outcomes for both immigrant and host, and providing an indication of whether social cohesion is being achieved.

INTRODUCTION

As immigrant-related diversity has grown in New Zealand since the change to immigration policy in the late 1980s, the question of ensuring positive outcomes for immigrants has become increasingly important. However, this is not simply an issue of outcomes for immigrants; there are important issues for the host society and for the relationships between host and immigrant. "Settlement Strategies" have been developed in New Zealand, at both the regional and national levels, (2) that emphasise the need for evidence that settlement policies are effective in ensuring that both migrant and host communities are experiencing positive outcomes. The New Zealand Government needs better information to monitor the impact of settlement policy on outcomes for migrants, refugees, their families, and the wider community.

Settlement policies that contribute to a cohesive society require a focus on both the immigrants and the hosts. Although there are significant and ongoing debates about social cohesion and inclusion and the relationships between immigrant and host communities, the focus here is on identifying an initial framework as a contribution to these debates. On the one hand, government has an interest in policies that enable new settlers to develop a sense of belonging to the wider community, participate in all aspects of social, cultural and economic life, and be confident that they are coming into a country that is able to accept their difference and value their contribution. On the other hand, there is a policy interest in the responsiveness of immigrant groups to the institutions, organisations and people who have already made their lives in New Zealand, and who need to have confidence that their ways of life will not be compromised or jeopardised by the arrival of new settlers.

The national Immigration Settlement Strategy (New Zealand Immigration Service 2004) identifies six goals for migrants and refugees, including that they are able to:

* obtain employment appropriate to their qualifications and skills

* be confident using English in a New Zealand setting or can access appropriate language support to bridge the gap

* access appropriate information and responsive services that are available to the wider community (for example, housing, education and services for children)

* form supportive social networks and establish a sustainable community identity

* feel safe expressing their ethnic identity and are accepted by, and are part of, the wider host community

* participate in civic, community and social activities.

The New Zealand National Immigration Settlement Strategy, because it is focused on migrants, refugees and their families, implicitly identifies an inclusive and cohesive society as one which accommodates new migrants and recognises the contributions that migrants make. Other high-level government goals also seek to reinforce public confidence amongst migrants and host communities alike that New Zealand is a diverse, tolerant, creative and supportive place to live. Regardless of the conceptual debates, measuring either or both of these facets of cohesion and inclusion from a government perspective is complex. This paper summarises the key conceptual debates as they relate to New Zealand, and also (briefly) proposes a framework that identifies the factors and issues that need to be addressed by indicators and measures. …