As the Integration Strategy Gets the Final Touches We Need to Go Back to Basics
What are the basics? Well, over the last 2 decades much investment has been placed into dialogue and engagement projects, many of which have done some great work, though on a stop and start basis where groups have come in, organised sets of people together and then left, having ticked off a box. Or, depending on a specific theme, campaigns have been run which are based on shared experiences and shared interpretations of life experiences. So far so good, though have they made a real and long lasting difference to the integration of communities so that they feel a part of their local environment and communities?
Even after all of this investment, the pressures of austerity, global political instability, the rise of hatred and intolerance on social media and other factors have placed extreme pressures on communities in Europe and the UK. Add to this, the poison of Islamist extremism and their very adept social media tactics and the bully-boy anger and poisonous social media tactics of far right groups and it is easy to see why communities feel such pressure.
Any Integration strategy needs to reflect on life chances and opportunities and in giving young men and women hope for future employment. It needs to give women the options of having training, the chance to learn English, develop personal confidence and most of all, support perceptions that they have opportunities which can allow them to do something that builds a sense of self-worth in them, if they have not worked for years. Integration also means feeling part of a shared set of values, of belonging and of engagement with other communities and individuals at an equal level. Many of these things may seem aspirational, but they are the cornerstones of a holistic integration strategy, showing how complex and subtle this work is.
Then there are the more difficult elements of supporting institutional independence meaning that the use of public services come with them, a set of core values and ideals that need to be respected. If an institution believes that certain religious or cultural beliefs and practices may impinge on the rights of the user or on the rights of others, should they challenge them? More of these cases are coming to light and no doubt, there will be a greater frequency of such cases where schools may object to religious clothing. Such contentious issues are part of the Integration debate and no doubt, will elicit further responses. Within that public debate, there is no room for groups who attempt to bully and intimidate institutions. If we allow this to happen, we allow thuggery to become the norm and that must be resisted at all costs.
Lastly, we must always stress that integration is a process that can affect many communities. For example, is there a discussion to be had around the integration of some disaffected white men who feel that they have reduced life chances and who have not worked for many years? Such individuals may well feel marginalised and therefore, we need to get away from the immediacy of thinking that integration only affects migrant or Black and Minority Ethnic communities. It potentially affects all communities.
So, as the Integration Strategy is in the process of being released, we hope that it covers a range of such issues and is not seen as a strategy just for specific communities. If it does that, it will be counter-productive.