Community cohesion - the policy debate
Integration and community cohesion are issues high up on the public policy agenda, particularly since the disturbances in several northern English mill towns in the summer of 2001 and the terrorist attacks that took place on 11 September in the US, and in London in July 2005.
In response to the community conflict of 2001, the Home Secretary commissioned Ted Cantle to lead a review of community cohesion. The Cantle Report provided a national overview of the state of race and community relations. It drew attention to polarised and segregated communities and argued that many people were living 'parallel lives', with little contact across ethnic boundaries, with ignorance providing an easy breeding ground for fear of the 'other'. The report also argued that little attempt had been made to determine what values defined modern, multi-racial Britain.
There has also been considerable academic debate, both within the UK and internationally, between those who have promoted a policy of multiculturalism and have stressed the importance of minority rights and those who have argued in favour of a more explicitly integrationalist approach. Influential arguments have also been made about whether or not diversity reduces social solidarity and trust.
The case for integration was led by the Commission for Racial Equality who argued for the need to deliver equality for all sections of the community, interaction between all sections of the community and participation by all sections of the community. A meaningful programme of interaction remains to be developed however - despite 2008 being declared the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue - and many organisations are only now beginning to develop 'living together' projects to build understanding and trust.
There has also been an increasing focus on the concept of 'Britishness' and to define what it means to be British today. Much of the debate around Britishness has focused on attempting to define the values that underpin this identity with perhaps less attention given to the impact of diaspora communities, especially in respect of faith, and how, in an ever more globalised world, local identities might be formed and contribute to supporting community wellbeing.