So after a year of investigation Louise Casey has come up with no real surprises or big ideas on integration—nor a phrase to match Ted Cantle’s popularisation of “parallel lives” 15 years ago—but in language and analysis this is by some distance the most serious and unblinking work on the subject to emanate from a quasi-official source.
Britain’s integration efforts in recent years have been “well meaning but grossly insufficient to cope with the scale of the challenge” and “nowhere near enough emphasis has been put on integration in communities to match the pace and scale of change in population.” This is not the usual nervous, hedged-about language of official integration-speak.
In terms of recommendations there is nothing very meaty but a sensible focus on data collection by local authorities, English language teaching and ethnic mixing in schools.
(Recommendations are always, necessarily, the tricky part on this subject. We are a liberal society and cannot tell people where to live or who to be friends with, indeed as choice becomes increasingly important in liberal societies it becomes even harder for public policy to do much beyond nudging and exhorting more mixing.)
There is a strong focus on the South Asian Muslim minority—the most separate of all the major ethno-cultural minorities—and the “mill town” heartlands of segregation. “The rise in religiosity… and more regressive and socially conservative versions of Islam is being felt in communities but not discussed openly… This in turn helps to feed a grievance narrative promoted by extremist groups.”
There is a good discussion of the special problems created by a single dominant minority in an area—one of the mill town problems with their predominantly Kashmiri Pakistani minorities. And while recognising problems of poverty and discrimination Casey does not shy away from the self-inflicted segregation of certain communities – exacerbated by, among other things, the continued importation of spouses from Pakistan.
And there is a powerful stress on gender equality— those imams who, apparently, refused to shake Casey’s hand on some of her many mosque visits have got a dusty response in this review. “Where women are being held back by misogynistic and patriarchal attitudes, or regressive or harmful practices justified in the name of culture or religion, we must be robust in our challenge.” Muslim and Hindu women are more than twice as likely as Muslim and Hindu men not to speak English well or at all.
The report is sprinkled with interesting statistics such as the above—though I could do without the usual facile attempt to put a price on the annual cost to the country of segregation, which somehow turns out to be the paltry sum of £6bn. (One of the problems for those of us concerned about integration and reduction in levels of trust is that the harms are often rather intangible and long-term and difficult to convert into the normal currency of loss.)
One of the most striking statistics in the report is that 50 per cent of the population now live in areas with relatively high migration flows. Also—31 per cent of Pakistanis and 28 per cent of Bangladeshis live in the 10 per cent most deprived areas in England; women living in Britain but born in Bangladesh or Pakistan are more than twice as likely to speak poor or no English (43.8 per cent and 35.6 per cent) compared to men in Britain who were born in those countries (19.6 per cent and 13.2 per cent); in 2015 there were 511 schools (mainly primary) across 43 local authority areas with 50 per cent or more pupils from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds.
Some judgments seem a bit sweeping and perhaps out of date. For example the claim that British Muslims are increasingly identifying with the global Muslim Ummah should be seen alongside Policy Exchange’s recent report “Unsettled Belonging” which points out the large overlap in political priorities between the Muslim minority and mainstream Britain.
A newer concern raised by the report is about the tens of thousands of children at apparently unregistered schools. On school integration more generally Casey wants more mixing but recognises the difficulties in an era of school choice so focuses as much on extra-curricula mixing between schools.
One of the most eye-catching proposals is the oath of allegiance for newcomers. Casey has spotted the fact that the current symbolism surrounding the acquisition of citizenship comes only five years or more after someone has lived in the country so some basic symbolic act when they first arrive is a good idea.
One positive trend that may have been underplayed in the review is the recent success of younger Bangladeshis who are now almost as likely to go to a Russell Group university as the white British.
The review concludes bleakly, but realistically, that no one they talked to said there was not a problem and that no one provides a model for getting it right.
A more informed and honest national conversation about these issues is a necessary condition of progress and Casey has certainly contributed to that.