We believe that the way to approach the challenges we face is through an agenda based upon a developed notion of community cohesion.
To achieve a cohesive society, we need to encourage civic engagement and a richer notion of British citizenship with its attendant rights and responsibilities, promoting greater interaction within and between communities. The best and fairest societies are those in which people share experiences and common ambitions whatever their racial, religious or cultural backgrounds. In essence, we need to reassert the need for a society based on solidarity in which everyone's life chances are unaffected by what or where they were born.
Cohesion does not ignore the ongoing challenge of the structural inequalities in our society. A cohesive society is one in which the statistical chance of any member of society gaining access to a service, acquiring a job or achieving educational success is not related to his or her race, faith or cultural background - only to his or her talent, ambition and desire.
There has been much debate over an exact definition of cohesion. We believe it is both a process and an outcome, comprising at least six facets:
- Interaction between individuals, communities and wider society to promote trust and common understanding
- Active citizenship: participation in civil society, in public institutions, the workplace and in political life
- Equality of access to the labour market, housing, education, healthcare and social welfare. Evidence of progress towards equality of outcome across society
- A society at ease with itself, with a real sense of security, welcome and belonging
- Respect for the rule of law and the liberal values that underpin society
- The possession of civil, political and social rights and responsibilities
We believe that cohesion enshrines the relationship between the individual and their community with wider society. It is important to stress that cohesion is a process and condition that applies to every member of society, not just migrant or minority households.
We consider cohesion and integration takes place within different domains: the institutional domain of the workplace and places of learning; the social and socio-spatial domain of the community and neighbourhood; and political domain of trade union, political party and civil society organisation.
The Institute of Community Cohesion will not only develop this holistic view of what cohesion means, but also address some of the most important current challenges surrounding integration:
- Cohesion in the context of super diversity: with migrants from a wider range of countries than ever before, the old assumptions about integration based upon several well-defined, ethnic minority communities may no longer hold.
- Segregation: there is considerable debate over whether Britain is becoming more or less segregated by ethnicity and faith. Understanding patterns of segregation is complicated by the coincidence of income and ethnicity, and by differences in birth rates between communities. One key issue in this area is whether segregation in education leads to wider
patterns of segregation.
- Citizenship and social capital: much intellectual energy and some small-scale policy initiatives have developed in recent years that look at ways of increasing civic and civil engagement. However, these have suffered from being piecemeal and often distanced from mainstream policy. Work is needed to understand how greater levels of mutuality and civic responsibility can be generated.
- Economic issues: economic activity rates among BME groups remain lower than among the white British population. The most striking case is that of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, whose employment rates lag a long way behind that of their white British counterparts.
- The rise of extremism: the 7 July 2005 terrorist attacks on London have cast light on religious extremists operating in the UK and seeking to recruit British-born Muslims in order to carry out attacks on the wider community. There has also been a rise in the share of the national vote won by extreme nationalist political parties such as the British National Party, particularly in deprived areas.
- Language issues: government policy has been contradictory in this area - for example the cutbacks in ESOL provision came at the same time as calls to make English language ability a condition of entry for some migrant groups and a questioning of automatically translating documents into community languages. A common language is crucial in our view for both social integration and participation in the labour market.