Britain, despite its status as one of the richest economies and one of the most diverse societies in the world, is still a place of inequality, exclusion and isolation. Segregation - residentially, socially, within schools and in the workplace - seems to be growing. Extremism, both political and religious, is on the rise as people become disillusioned and disconnected.
We live in a time with rapid and significant change generated by globalisation, demography and technology. Looking at Britain alone, the speed and scale of change is unprecedented. Society is grappling with changing notions of identity, belonging and citizenship as well as the rise of faith in the public sphere.
Britain is now characterised by what is termed 'super diversity'. Population mobility is on the rise and ease of international travel and communication means that we cannot any longer have fixed notions of what constitutes a 'community'.
Half of all our migrants arrived in the last generation and a third have come in the last decade. People come from a wider range of countries than ever before and new migrants often face difficulties accessing English language classes, lack practical knowledge about the UK, can face public hostility and lack opportunities to meet local people.
The role of Government is limited. The creation of the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) in May 2006 did help to provide a new focus for community cohesion. However, to really develop workable and effective solutions, rigorous research and policy development requires a degree of independence, which draws upon the expertise of the private and voluntary sector and one that transcends party political differences.
The work requires specialist knowledge and understanding, not just issue-based campaigning. We expect that the focus on equality issues will be maintained by local race equality councils and activist-led NGOs. However, solutions that will build a cohesive society require an organisation which can consider the wider context and develop a partnership approach. The challenge faced by our society is to develop policies which are flexible enough to simultaneously see the big picture and understand local needs.