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The Three Tests Louise Casey Faces

30/11/2016 17:03 | Updated 30 November 2016
Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

The Government is expected shortly to publish the review it asked Louise Casey to carry out into integration in our country. Sadly, it is expected to confirm that we face worryingly signs of segregation and that our communities are in danger of becoming more - not less - isolated and divided along class, age and ethnic lines.

In the future, as we become a society where we increasingly seek the company only of those most like us, it is likely that many more will feel ostracised, that misconceptions about different groups will grow and, tragically, that many more will become radicalised or turn to extremism.

It is essential then that all of us start to tackle these deep and growing divisions on both a local and national level. Much of it depends on developing our relationships with each other. Although action and investment is needed, we can't just leave it all to politicians.

Take the Sacred Sounds Women's Choir in Manchester. It has achieved something that consecutive governments have failed to do. Its 35 members are from different religions, cultures and races. Together, through music, they have built a shared British identity and challenged their misconceptions of each other.

Sacred Sounds represents, albeit on a small scale, what we in Britain so urgently need and so desperately lack - a society in which we seek out and make meaningful contact with those different to ourselves and forge a common identity.

For generations, we have allowed and welcomed immigrants to the UK, but we have left them to find their own way in society. We have neither managed their settlement nor their integration. Remarkably, we have felt no need to.

Louise Casey's welcome and timely intervention will reinforce how important it is we act quickly to change this. But, as she has herself said, the recommendations of many similar reviews to hers have in the past been watered down or, worse, ignored completely.To stop this happening, there are three major tests Louise Casey's review must pass.

The first is does her review speak to all ethnic groups, all races and faiths, or does it just single out one or two?

Creating an integration strategy with just one or two groups in mind is a quick route to failure. It will only turn away from wider society the very people we want to include. We all have a responsibility to build an integrated society for it is in all of our interests for our towns and cities to be places where we trust one another. We must not ignore that long-standing white communities are moving away from ethnically diverse areas, just as we mustn't be afraid of investigating why some areas are becoming almost exclusively Asian British.

The second test is one of bravery. Louise Casey's review centres around the need to build common British values. This is an issue that has bee ducked for too long and in the past we have been frightened to suggest what these values might be. Now is the time to do so. Louise Casey must establish a new tone that allows us all to feel comfortable proposing the values we collectively stand for. Many previous reviews have advocated top-down solutions to integration. Casey's third test is not to fall into this trap.

Citizenship ceremonies and mandatory English lessons are of course part of creating an integrated Britain, but it is at the local level - in the workplace, at the school gates and in places like the Sacred Sounds Women's Choir - that integration is at its most powerful and effective.We've been here before. The industrial revolution brought people from rural villages and farms to urban centres to work in factories and mills. Suddenly, people with very different experiences and dissimilar ideas of how to live were living and working side-by-side. Through new institutions, such as the friendly societies, The Scouts, Guides and the Women's Institute, the Victorians brought people together.

Words won't be enough and hard choices will have to be made. Governments and communities need to recognise that strong and integrated societies require investment in social bridge-building of the kind championed by the Victorians. We need to take seriously the fact that schools are often more divided than their communities and that there are a lack of institutions, outside the education system, which bring different people together. We should recognise that housing developments which segregate the rich and poor are more likely to cause problems than those which integrate different groups.

Louise Casey's review needs to make the case for an integrated society more powerfully than ever before. We have to listen and to act on what she recommends - because choirs like the Sacred Sounds can only do so much.

Jon Yates is a Director of The Challenge, the UK's leading charity for building a more integrated society and the country's largest provider of the National Citizen Service.

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