We now have the opportunity for a real and contemporary
debate about integration in the UK.
‘Creating the Conditions for Integration’, as the Coalition Government’s first statement on an approach to cohesion and integration in England, has provided the context for communities learning to live together in an increasingly complex and diverse society. (Creating the Conditions for Integration: DCLG 21st February)
The Institute of Community Cohesion has welcomed this approach, albeit with some caution, and is providing one of the first opportunities to discuss and explore the Government’s approach, the UK’s social agenda and the wider context of increasing diversity in an age of austerity.
The conference will bring together policymakers, academics and those at the frontline of integration, taking place place in a central London location with a keynote speech by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
The Government approach suggests that integration happens locally and only ‘exceptionally by national government’ and places fresh emphasis on the importance of shared aspirations, a sense of responsibility, social mobility and active participation at local levels whilst at the same time encouraging robust responses to extremism and exclusion. The approach challenges no less than six government departments to put integration at the heart of their mainstream programmes’
However, little mention is made of the austere times that we are in when local funding, especially for voluntary organisations, is under pressure. We are already seeing local grassroots activity being curtailed and are concerned about how those at the ‘coal face’, having the biggest impact, will continue to achieve in this financial climate.
There is a lot at stake; the programme of community cohesion in England over the past ten years has had remarkable success, with significantly more people saying that they get on well with others from different background. Considering that we have seen the growth of the Far Right, rising hostility to new migration and an unhelpful pre-occupation with Muslim communities, this positive change is one of our best achievements to date.
Whilst the Government is right to place this fresh and positive focus on integrating local communities in its mainstream work, success to date has been achieved largely through specially funded programmes. Many worry that if action is not taken to continue progress and protect what might be lost, the tension and conflicts in our communities may well overtake any gains made in the last ten years.