The Green Paper

The UK government has released the ‘Integrated Communities Strategy’ green paper which sets out “an ambitious long-term plan of action to tackle the root causes of poor integration and create a stronger, more united Britain”. A twelve week consultation is being held (ending 5 June 2018) in order to discuss with individuals and communities the integration challenges the UK faces and the most effective ways to address them[1].

The two year initiative is based on evidence, including The Casey Review into opportunity and integration (December 2016), which “points to a significant number of communities being divided along race, faith or socioeconomic lines”[2].

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government states these divisions reduce “opportunities for people to mix with others from different backgrounds, allows mistrust and misunderstanding to grow, and prevents those living in isolated communities from taking advantage of the opportunities that living in Britain offers”[3].

£50 million has been committed to the strategy which “sets out a range of actions the government plans to take to bring divided communities together”. This includes promoting the adoption of the English language across all English communities, increasing economic opportunity (particularly for women) for people from some of the most isolated communities, and ensuring that every child receives an education that prepares them for life in modern Britain through facilitating the building of their relationships with those from other backgrounds and through promoting British values[4].

Five local authorities, or ‘Integration Areas’, are identified in the green paper as sites where the government will pilot supporting the development of local integration plans; Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, and Waltham Forest[5].

The green paper also makes a commitment to looking at making a civil marriage ceremony a necessary prerequisite to a religious ceremony as suggested in a recent review into the role of sharia courts in the UK chaired by Professor Mona Siddiqui. However, it does rejects the review’s recommendation that the councils are regulated by the state[6].

Reaction

On the same day as the green paper’s release, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) published a report entitled, ‘Our Shared British Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK’, which showcases “diverse voices on integration in the UK”, including contributions from Baroness Warsi and Rt Hon. Dominic Grieve QC MP[7].

The report “sets out a number of expectations of the government approach to integration”. These include recognising that the onus for integration must be on all communities, “with no specific or special onus on Muslim communities”; the removal of barriers to integration which are faced by Muslim communities (as identified by Muslim communities); understanding the diversity of Muslim communities; understanding the helpful role religiosity can offer in integration; and taking care not to conflate extremism with integration[8].

Writing in the foreword to the report, the Secretary General of the MCB, Harun Khan, said “Unfortunately, the debate on integration is skewed in one direction. It invariable involves Muslims and comes with the implicit accusation that Muslims are incapable of integrating into British society … Of course, we would disagree. In fact, as our Islamic scholars in this publication state, our faith encourages us to actively engage in this plural society we share. However, many Muslims do face challenges in partaking fully in British life. Youth unemployment, poverty, discrimination and issues related to identity crises and belonging, are challenges that transcend communities”[9].

He adds, “If any integration policy is to succeed, as the government plans to do in 2018, it needs to be inclusive. The same goes for ‘British values’, a relatively new term coined after concerns of extremism. Many are worried that such values have been conceived in a knee-jerk fashion because some people are considered ‘not quite British enough’ and therefore must be subject to a civilising mission”[10].

The MCB’s report was launched at the Houses of Parliament by Naz Shah MP. Khan, who was at the launch, writes in islamicate.co.uk that, “Much of the report highlights socio-economic conditions within pockets of communities, referred to as ‘Muslim,’ where it remains unclear as to why religious identity should be considered the significant factor in the debate on integration”. He writes that, “What is evident is that the shared identity of such communities are far more rooted in their ethno-cultural identity than a shared religious outlook, and often, rather than being one large community, an area may be made up of various ethnic communities (whilst sharing the same faith) with their own particular interests but superficially judged by those on the outside to be alike due to their ostensibly shared ‘brownness’”[11].

Khan writes, “Interestingly, organisations that exist to ostensibly serve a particular ethnic identity – be it a Pakistani cultural association or an Asian business association etc – they’ve managed to largely evade detection and responsibility towards integration. Arguably, by consequence, they’ve unnecessarily amplified heat on bodies that are ostensibly to do with religion such as mosques and Islamic schools etc.” The term Muslim is too readily conflated with ethnic-culture, and he implies that this is demonstrated in both the Government’s and the MCB’s reports.[12]

The green paper itself does emphasise the new migrant and minority communities in the UK[13]. Allen and Ӧgtem Young see this emphasis on communities, and by extension, segregation as “Regurgitating and rebranding the community cohesion agenda” that emerged in the early 2000s. This means “Segregation … is therefore blamed on those minority communities rather than it being causal or consequential of poverty, deprivation or any other social issue that one might care to put forward. As such, it is ‘them’ rather than ‘us’ that need to address the problem”. They use the examples of young British Muslims in Birmingham to demonstrate that, as they conclude, “If the Government is truly committed to tackling segregation as a means of ensuring a more integrated, fairer and equal society for all, we would suggest that it is these issues and the underlying causes that need addressing rather than continuing to blame and scapegoat minorities for a whole raft of constructed or imagined social ills”[14].

One of the ‘Integration Areas’ identified in the green paper is Bradford, which infamously experienced race riots in 2001 in which youth from Asian and white communities clashed on the streets. £10 million of damage was caused and almost 300 people were arrested. Fifteen years later, The Casey Review showed that the city “had one of the worst records in the country for people being unable to speak English and children going to schools that were effectively segregated by ethnicity”[15].

The leader of Bradford Council, Susan Hinchcliffe, welcomes the opportunity to be involved with the Integration Strategy, saying it will build on the good work already underway in the area. She said, “It’s in all our best interests to make sure that the whole district works well together. Achieving that goal underpins economic success and we want to achieve that for the widest number of people possible”[16].

However, Delroy Dacres, former player and manager of Campion AFC, the football club in Manningham, whose large population of Muslim Pakistanis saw it named as “one of the top ten areas in the country where a minority faith or ethnic group made up the majority of its population”, said that although the government’s strategy contains some sensible ideas, its announcement of new funding is bitterly ironic”[17].

Dacres is the director of Manningham Mill Sports and Community Association, which ran weekly classes, including English lessons, before the Financial Crisis which caused their funding to be slashed. He says, “Because of Government austerity, places where people could turn up and get to know each other are going to the wall … Community groups and individuals could access opportunities like help with speaking English and getting educated and getting out into the workplace. Now those budgets have been cut, there is nothing, the people running them have moved on … If they are going to give this new money to big organisations like the university of the council, then that might not get to the heart of the problem. People aren’t going to be willing to travel to the other side of Bradford, so things have to be done locally”[18]. This is a sentiment echoed by Allen and Ӧgtem Young[19].

Formal submissions to the Consultation can be expected to be made in the coming weeks, including from the Church of England[20].

[1] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Hinds, and Javid, 2018.

[2] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Hinds, and Javid, 2018.

[3] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Hinds, and Javid, 2018.

[4] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Hinds, and Javid, 2018.

[5] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Hinds, and Javid, 2018; Burn, 2018.

[6] Cranmer, 2018.

[7] Muslim Council of Britain, 2018b.

[8] Muslim Council of Britain, 2018b.

[9] Muslim Council of Britain, 2018a, 1.

[10] Muslim Council of Britain, 2018a, 1.

[11] Khan, 2018.

[12] Khan, 2018.

[13] University of Birmingham, 2018.

[14] Allen and Ӧgtem Young, 2018.

[15] Burn, 2018.

[16] Burn, 2018.

[17] Burn, 2018.

[18] Burn, 2018.

[19] Allen and Ӧgtem Young, 2018.

[20] The Church of England, 2018.

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Sources

Allen, C. and Ӧgtem Young, Ӧ. (2018) ‘If we are to address segregation, we need to go beyond blaming and scapegoating communities’. [online] 16 March. https://superdiversity.net/2018/03/16/if-we-are-to-address-segregation-we-need-to-go-beyond-blaming-and-scapegoating-communities/. [Accessed 20 March 2018].

Burn, C. (2018) ‘Bradford and other segregated towns and cities hope new cash can improve racial integration’. [online] 14 March. https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/bradford-racial-ethnic-integration-segregation/. [Accessed 19 March 2018].

Cranmer, F. (2018) ‘The Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper and sharia’. [online] 14 March. http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2018/03/14/the-integrated-communities-strategy-green-paper-and-sharia/. [Accessed 20 March 2018].

Khan, M. (2018) ‘It’s not Muslims who need integrating but Asians’. [online] 18 March. http://islamicate.co.uk/its-not-muslims-who-need-integrating-but-asians/. [Accessed 19 March 2018].

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Hinds, D., and Javid, S. (2018) ‘New government action to create stronger, more integrated Britain’. [online] 14 March. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-government-action-to-create-stronger-more-integrated-britain. [Accessed 19 March 2018].

Muslim Council of Britain. (2018a) ‘Our Shared British Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK’. [online] http://www.mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Our-Shared-British-Future-Report_Integration-14-March-2018.pdf. [Accessed 19 March 2018].

Muslim Council of Britain. (2018b) ‘We Need and Equal Integration Strategy for All Britons’. [online] 14 March. http://www.mcb.org.uk/we-need-an-equal-integration-strategy-for-all-britons-muslim-council-of-britain/. [Accessed 19 March 2018].

The Church of England. (2018) ‘Statement on the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy’. [online] 18 March. https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/statement-governments-integrated-communities-strategy. [Accessed 20 March 2018].

University of Birmingham. (2018) ‘Has time come for integrated communities? IRiS response to DHCLG green paper’. [online] 16 March. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/superdiversity-institute/news/2018/has-time-come-for-integrated-communities.aspx. [Accessed 20 March 2018].