Dame Louise Casey’s long awaited report has highlighted a number of alarming areas and with one predominant feature. That at the heart of Government, a more robust and focussed approach needs to be taken on integration policies which have been previously ticked off by successive Governments by sponsoring interfaith work, as though the ‘tea and samosa’ or photoshoot interfaithers really had any major pull in a fast moving and challenging electronic environment.
So let us look at the core findings of the Casey Review. Having met with 800 members of the public, community groups, front-line workers, academics and politicians, Casey also took over 200 submissions for the Review that had been set up under the Premiership of the Rt. Hon David Cameron MP. This has not been an easy process for her and her team, with a change in the premiership and a new leadership that has probaby wanted to distance itself from the past.
Clustering of Communities
The core findings of the Casey Review are going to make for uncomfortable reading for some. She cites that whilst Britain is becoming more diverse, there are a number of local areas where minority and faith communities are increasing in both segregation and concentration, both at a neighbourhood and at a school level. The report cites that,
“Between 2001 and 2011 in England – the number of wards in which more than 40% of the population were of Pakistani ethnicity grew from 12 to 24 and that the number of wards in which more than 40% of the population were of Indian ethnicity grew from 16 to 20…….In 2011, Blackburn, Birmingham, Burnley and Bradford included wards with between 70% and 85% Muslim populations.”
The report goes onto state that,
“Segregation and ethnic concentrations in schools followed different patterns. In 2015, there were 511 schools acros 43 local authority areas with 50% or more pupils from Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic backgrounds….No other single ethnic or faith group has residential concentrations as high as Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi ethnic or Muslim faith groups.”
Casey’s whole ethos has been that if communities do not talk about sensitive matters, then extreme groups and those looking to create divides in society will. She is absolutely right on this and whilst immigration is an area that needs to be tackled sensitively and appropriately, Casey highlights the failure in integration policies over successive Governments. She stresses that this Government must take action by supporting greater integration and dialogue and through approaches which are not based on soft interfaith sessions which speak to the ‘converted.’
She talks about “the impact of the unprecedented pace and scale of recent immigration on communities.” With annual net migration figures being over 300,000 and with a ‘churn’ of 1 million people who enter and leave the UK, local perceptions are impacted by the scale of change, Casey argues. She suggests that a ‘level-headed’ discussion has to be had on immigration and recommends that Central Government should support a new programme to help improve community cohesion through local authority area based plans and projects.
Targeted Assistance & Challenging Cultural Practices that Hold Back Women
Casey eloquently makes the case for targeted assistance to ensure that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have access to English language skills so that they can access the Labour market. Allied to this, she calls on the Government to further re-enforce and bolster core values and that people need to confront misogynistic and patriarchal views, which hold women back. She states that “regressive or harmful practices justified in the name of culture or religion”, must not be tolerated.
She also goes onto state that Hindu and Muslim women are twice more likely than Hindu and Muslim men to not speak English and this creates a strong barrier to the workforce, further holding back these women for the rest of their lives.
Strong on issues of equality, Casey advocates for cultural practices to be challenged where they hold back equality and that both the Government and society need to be more confident and determined in challenging such practices where they come across them.
Perceptions Within Communities and Prevent
Casey’s findings will also challenge some within Muslim communities. She iterates that British Muslims are increasingly identifying with a ‘global Muslim Ummah’ and that regressive, intolerant, less integrated and sometimes more conservative versions of Islam strengthen the intolerant and extreme far right, when events take place. For example, statements on women and LGBT groups given by some imams, have been pounced upon by extremist far right groups as evidence that Muslims are a threat to society, whilst deflecting the fact that both Islamism and far right extremism have strains of intolerance and autocracy about them.
Casey goes onto state that there needs to be honest conversations about these matters which are to be welcome, though detail in this area seems to be missing as to what Government, civil society and other actors can do. Furthermore, such issues have led to rises in anti-Muslim hatred and hate incidents and Casey’s suggestion that British laws and values are the anti-dote to such issues, seem vague and blunt.
What was needed was a more specific detailed framework through which local authorities could build stronger local action plans including this core area of work within them. In fact, this area is one of the key areas that has led to polarisation as extreme far right groups have promoted web-site and social media texts around speeches made by imams and other individuals within Muslim communities.
Casey rightly makes the point that the growth of unregistered schools and home schooling, put the safeguarding of young people at risk and also exposes them to poor education opportunities. She suggests stronger safeguards need to be in place and also supports the continued delivery of the Prevent, (Preventing Extremism), agenda that has been implemented within statutory authorities as part of the Government’s safeguarding agenda.
Casey goes onto vocally support Prevent and suggests that it needs to be more strongly promoted and defended in communities. What Casey does not mention, has been that successive Governments since the Coalition Government, took a laissez-faire approach in defending the Prevent programme and for years left Prevent open to attacks from groups whose sole purpose was to highlight potential flaws, promote a post-factual world around Prevent and state that Prevent was a ‘mass-spying exercise against Muslims’.
For years these narratives were targeted towards Muslims by groups who had no alternative and who rarely talked about the need for the country to be protected by some form of a community based counter-extremism strategy. The latter was never mentioned in debates apart from consistant attacks on Prevent.
Additionally, the slow tortoise like approach from the Government in admitting, acting upon and highighting actions regarding Channel referrals on far right extremists re-enforced for some, the bizarre belief that Prevent was a ‘mass spying exercise against Muslims’. So whilst Casey makes the case for Prevent, some responsibility needs to be taken by the last two Governments in their monumental failure to defend the Prevent and counter-extremism strategy, to the point that within many in Muslim communities, it is seen through an overwhelmingly negative lens.
Casey’s report highlights structural employment related inequalities, the need to challenge views that undermine equality, greater advocacy for safeguarding measures and the need to build in greater mixing at local community levels through activities and better urban landscaping. She talks about the need to get women trained in English and the need to break down inter-cultural barriers through targeted assistance and classes. She also introduces an ‘Oath of Integration’ with British Values for those who arrive in the UK, as a means of signing up and adhering to a set of British principles.
The real proof of change will be in the desire of this Government to resource, upskill and stand up to challenges against its programmes which support women from Black and Minority Ethnic communities. For far too long, successive Government’s have also been passive in defending their policies and have wavered when supporters from political fringes within them have lobbied and harried the Government. If we are to truly strengthen core values and principles, then there is a time to stand firm, defend good integration projects and make the case for investment within them. Saying this, the Government must stop funding projects that show faith leaders smiling at cameras and where there are no tangible outcomes apart from people of the same views meeting and self-promoting themselves. It must also have clear impact indicators that measure each and every integration project which the Government supports and which are in line with this national review.
Overall, the Casey report is to be welcomed and Casey undertook the work tirelessly and diligently, meeting with over 800 people in this task of work. She was open, probing, highly informed and clear that something needed to be done to kickstart integration work. Integration she felt, had been left to develop a life of its own and had never really happened in parts of our country, a view that we fully subscribe to. Furthermore, Casey felt that core values needed to be protected and defended, something that we wholly agree with. For far too long, we have allowed views that reduce the human rights of people, to be passively and actively promoted without challenge. For far too long, we assumed that the momentum of ‘good’ triumphing over evil, would naturally happen. Sadly, life and the dynamics of life do not work that way. Maintaing integration and cohesion needs solid hard work on an hourly, daily, monthly and annual basis. Without this consistent energy, we open ourselves to the forces of separation, hatred and extremism.