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We cannot truly improve integration without first addressing poverty, deprivation and unemployment for all races and faiths - a priority that isn’t central enough to the Casey review on integration.
The Casey report usefully pulls together a range of evidence about the extent to which black and minority ethnic (BME) communities continue to experience disproportionate levels of unequal outcomes as shown by a recent report by the equalities watchdog.
Afocus on social attitudes shifts attention away from the responsibility of the British Government to use the policy levers at its disposal to improve equality and combat race discrimination or respond to calls by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to set a comprehensive race equality plan.
Failure to recognise regional, generational and other differences within communities risks perpetuating stereotypes about whole communities.
The EHRC report mentioned above alsoshows that BME and Muslim communities feel more British than some settled white communities. Rather the discuss the swearing of an oath of allegiance, implying that certain communities are not as committed to Britain as others, we should devote more attention to tackling the fact that black men are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts and that Muslim women face high levels of workplace discrimination, as highlighted by the Women and Equalities select committee earlier this earlier this year.
Finger-pointing does not help the process of integration. There has been talk of communities leading ‘parallel lives’ for two decades now. Much of this debate has failed to reach consensus on policy solutions. This sort of analysis is far removed from the reality of most people’s lives and from the balance of evidence, muddling through important distinctions between race, faith and integration, or between ethnic segregation and ethnic diversity.
We must look at the evidence without prejudice. Which communities are least likely to mix in social circles with people of different backgrounds? Who are most likely to self-segregate out of a multicultural area or move because they wish to game the system to win a place at a good school for their children? Which managers are least likely to hire someone who does not look like them? This is not about blaming any section of society, this is about looking at the facts and taking the emotion out of the debate.
We need a conversation about British values not a lecture. Through conversation we learn how much British values are shared by immigrants from across the world. The EHRC researchshowed how closely aligned British Muslims are to such values. Other reports have demonstrated that there is no great divide on social attitudes. The key division of ideas is around the experience of racism and how seriously Britain should take it.
We reject the idea that focusing on robust research and evidence is equivalent to ducking hard truths. It is important that all points of view are heard in this debate and that no section of society feels they are being silenced or pressured into silence.
If we are to make progress on integration we must first understand precisely what we mean by integration. Who are we asking to integrate into what?
Second, we must recognise the various areas where integration operates and that it is, as David Cameron even once said, a ‘two-way street’. And third, we need to speak to a society that has experienced the post-Brexit spike in hate crime, which Casey’s review failed to do.
Fear and alarm at our changing society can lead to knee-jerk reactions and bad policy-making. A major challenge to integration today is the mainstreaming of an increasingly hostile discourse around race and faith, of labelling certain communities as ‘problems,’ despite them being the ones that face the greatest challenges to overcome barriers to employment and housing, as recent reports from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the United Nations have shown.
The Runnymede Trust’s submission to the Casey Review stated: “In order for integration policies to be successful they need to focus on entire geographical communities rather than any one group. Focusing policies on just one community runs the risk of excluding other groups from the community cohesion debate as well as placing a disproportionate responsibility on the target community to address wider social issues. It also doesn’t adequately address racial inequalities that other communities continue to experience, and may inadvertently make those communities feel their concerns are an afterthought.”
This important drilling down of evidence by socio-economic status, ethnicity, geography and generation is crucial to understand the truth of disadvantage and integration, and to avoid simplistic analysis and gimmicky solutions.
There are aspects of the Casey report – such as the fact that it acknowledges the economic justice as a key factor in successful integration - that Runnymede wholeheartedly supports. However, we need a national conversation not centred around difference, but on the harder questions of encouraging behavioural change to eliminate racial discrimination, helping create greater economic equality and bringing communities together on a social level.
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