At the beginning of December Louise Casey published a document entitled “A review into opportunity and integration” which attracted a lot of press attention. A large part of this was because it seemed to focus on issues to do with faith groups and in particular Muslims. It is ironic in the light of the lack of integration in some quarters between the Remain and Leave voices that wider issues were not covered as a breakdown of cohesion can be a problem wherever it takes place. As she states “we hope that this review will stimulate a national conversation and debate”. To the best of my knowledge there is no such thing as a national conversation but hopefully my reflections will help in fulfilling those objectives. I began the process of reading through the document which is 200 pages long and wrote my comments at the time as I was keen not to try to do a superficial critique of the report as a whole. This review reflects the ideas and arguments that are being read and possibly applied at the highest levels within our government. Here are some more responses taking up where I got to in December in the section on leadership.
1.71 Programmes and Projects have followed the easiest paths, talking up the ‘positives’ but not addressing the ‘negatives’. We have relied on inter-faith groups and faith leaders to take the initiative in dealing with many of the challenges but lacked the courage to set the values and standards we want the nation as a whole to uphold and unite around.
This seems deeply concerning, the idea that it is the work of Government to set the values and standards for the nation as a whole. Had the language been more reflective and collaborative in nature, it might well have made sense. Equally if there was a call by Louise Casey to demand a greater sense of coherence amongst the Government itself so that at the very least their values and standards are clearer and they are showing leadership themselves. However it is not the job of Governments in my view to set values for society to uphold. That is how dictators work and we are not living in a dictatorship.
In the next paragraph Louise goes on to challenge the idea of community groups undermining the prevention of terrorism and alienating other communities. Clearly this is not acceptable, but I do have my own concerns around the Governments own programme called PREVENT which was initially the work of the Police and has now been reshaped and become something to be delivered by local government. If what she means is that some groups have undermined the PREVENT programme, that for me is less of a concern. It has been used in places and on occasions as a heavy handed focus on the Muslim community and left members of the community feeling alienated and victimised. We clearly need programmes that will disrupt thinking and behaviour that leads to terrorism. However that must not become simplistic and a threat to integration in the way it is delivered.
We then finally after 16 pages get to the recommendations that she has made and which she hopes the Government will adopt. These begin with one that is something I have a great deal of support for. However it is part of a section which includes two others and the three are headlined with “Build local communities’s resilience in the towns and cities where the greatest challenges exist” On so many levels this is deeply flawed. Of course we need to apply greatest focus where there are problems, but resilience and integration is needed as much in rural areas, indeed potentially more so than in places where challenges can already be measured. I previously worked with a Senior Police Officer called Martin Walker who is now training to be a Priest. When Louise Casey introduced her Troubled Families programme I worked with Martin in West Sussex and he refused to focus just on the families with measurable acute needs, but instead chose to look at how the Police could ensure support was provided to families who needed a small amount of support to never become one of Louise Casey’s ‘Troubled Families’. We need the same peripheral thinking here. However on to the recommendation:
- Providing additional funding for area-based plans and projects that will address the key priorities identified in this review, including the promotion of English language skills, empowering marginalised women, promoting more social mixing, particularly among young people, and tackling barriers to employment for the most socially isolated groups.
My awareness of this issue, particularly around the promotion of English language skills arose at the end of the Labour Government and beginning of the current one. The need to promote such skills amongst hard to reach families and in particular Mothers who were home based began to be addressed in East Sussex with a small amount of funding from the Government. Just as this began to show some value, the coalition Government cut off all of the funding and the whole project ground to a halt. This recommendation, providing it is not just focused on troubled towns and cities is for me a real winner. The question has to be where is the funding and how much and when it be used to extend the good work already taking place in many of our communities?