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The Prime Minister Is Right to Value Every Briton Speaking English - But That Alone Won't Bring Integration

22/01/2016 09:44 GMT | Updated 21/01/2017 10:12 GMT

The head of a prominent charity asked for help to develop young people as its leaders of tomorrow.

I replied that in a wonderfully diverse area like Bradford West the organisation must, naturally, involve women and men and Muslims and non-Muslims equally - because "integration" must be at the very heart of Equality Impact Assessments gauging the fairness of policies and practices.

In law the Assessments examine the impact of public services on minorities, so why not make integration a statutory responsibility? I accept circumstances exist when services reflect a gender or race; women's refuges being a very good example.

But asking what sneerers might call 'the stupid question' in this case, why integration isn't a statutory goal, sometimes gets the right answer.

I was asked during last May's election if I liked guacamole. I subsequently discovered it was a journalist's silly test on whether I was new or old Labour. I replied I had no idea what this guacamole was and a friend later told me it was avocado dip and, yes, I'd eaten it at her house.

Did this episode show that I'm stupid any more than not knowing how to make a Yorkshire pudding mean a woman Bradford born and bred isn't a Yorkshire lass? No, it doesn't.

We share values and we should share learning, which brings me to tackling radicalisation and using appropriate language.

The Prime Minister was right to value every Briton speaking English and restore a few of the language courses he set but wrong to link it to extremism.

In other circumstances there are two ways to educate a young person about the horrors of forced marriage. You can just say it's wrong, which it is, or you can show them what a good marriage looks like. Both can achieve the same outcome but both together is stronger.

But speaking English is primarily about participating in life, contributing fully to the local community and finding a job or setting up a business.

We have pockets of patriarchal cultures within society, that cross boundaries of race, religion and class. Not all Muslim women are victims any more than all other women are liberated. Cameron never made that clear. Indeed if he accepted that, the PM would never have made that ill-judged intervention.

The evil of Daesh and paedophiles are not that very different in how they groom young minds. It's all about power, control and exploitation. Victims are vulnerable whether due to lack of self-confidence, issues within the home or their own disturbing experiences.

But back to integration - English lessons on their own won't result in integration. As a former chair of an NHS Black Minority Ethnic Staff Network in my great city of Bradford, I've a very real understanding of issues around commissioning culturally appropriate services. Years of experience tell me we shared experiences and languages are crucial.

And in the voluntary sector there's no point sending 10 young black/white, religious/non-religious, male/female young people on leadership programmes unless we fix the wider issue of understanding and acceptance of differences as well as celebrating shared values. Every one of that 10 shares a basic human need for a home, food, clothes, love, safety, opportunity, security and 101 other things we have in common.

So I propose Equality Impact Assessment include integration as a conscious goal, a measurable outcome in workforces and communities.

Equality isn't about everyone notching up the same success. As much as I may aspire to run like Usain Bolt, I've belatedly recognised it's never going to happen. The equality I champion is people enjoying the same opportunities, when at the moment your gender, race and class largely predetermine where you'll finish in life's race.

When Muslims are as proportionately likely as non-Muslims to go to the best universities and to be chief executives in boardrooms we'll know Britain is an integrated country using all the talents of all its citizens. So too will non-Muslims serving you curry in a Pakistani restaurant and Muslims serving you partridge in a restaurant selling ye olde English fayre.

My daughter once asked me what feminism is. After I explained the achievements of women and hurdles put in their way, she grasped discrimination in a jingle and a fleet of ice cream men, never women!

Just as you don't need to be a women to understand feminism, you don't need to be Black to oppose racism or a Muslim to detest Islamaphobia.

Inclusion issues are pertinent to us all regardless of who, what, where, race, gender, disability, sexuality or religion we are.

David Cameron should recognise deploying the language of segregation doesn't build integration, regardless of the perfection of the English uttered. It builds barriers. If we want integration, which I do, we must all work hard for our goal.

Naz Shah is the Labour MP for Bradford West