By Dr Benedict Wilkinson and Professor Jennifer Rubin.1
To say that the recent publication of the Casey Review into integration and opportunity in our most isolated and deprived communities has divided opinion would be to put it mildly. The Review has been widely picked up for its hard-hitting findings – amongst them, that there are ‘worrying levels of segregation and socioeconomic exclusion in different communities across the country and a number of inequalities between groups’, that ‘too many public institutions… have gone so far to accommodate diversity and freedom of expression that they have ignored or even condoned regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices’, and that previous ‘cohesion or integration plans have not been implemented with enough force or consistency, they have been allowed to be diluted and muddled, [and] they have not been sufficiently linked to socio-economic inclusion’.
These are deeply sensitive issues. As the report has landed, it has divided opinion – and not just along party lines. It has opened up a raw scar in British politics. At one end of the opinion spectrum were outlets like The Sun, for whom the report was an outright success, commentators like Douglas Murray of the Spectator, who thought the Review highlighted ‘the segregation and illiberal attitudes which are the direct result of the mass migration of recent decades’, and Chuka Umunna, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, who welcomed the report; and at the other end were commentators like Oliver Kamm, who thought the Review was an ill-conceived intervention, and Aina Khan of the Guardian, who saw it as none-too-fairly depositing the root of the problem at the feet of British Muslim women, rather than focusing on the more fundamental issue of discrimination. Somewhere in between were those, like Julia Rampen of the New Statesman and former Communities Minister Sayeeda Warsi, both of whom thought that the Review contained some good news, such as the improvement in the educational attainment of ethnic minorities and correctly highlighted some serious challenges, while also making for uncomfortable reading.
Of course, this is just a snapshot of responses since Monday’s publication, but they give a sense of the breadth of widely varying opinions the Review has provoked. For both of us, they are also emblematic of the very divisions the report highlights, as well as the reasons why the work behind the report and its publication have been difficult. Amidst the interest, hype and hyperbole, we have gathered some of our own reflections on the Review.
- The Brave Review: Casey tells us some uncomfortable truths, which needed to be said. The Casey Review was always going to be controversial. It shines a light on numerous issues which are deeply contested, and some even distasteful. But these aspects which make the report difficult are also the product of the very issues it is focusing on. It is precisely because of the divided landscape in which different identities are emerging and coalescing that the Review is both uncomfortable and so needed: there are crucial truths that had to be set out. Isolation and segregation of some groups is not conducive to growing opportunity for the segregated groups; nor is it conducive for building the trust and understanding of the many values, aims and aspirations that diverse communities may share and work towards together.
- Fodder for the scaremongers. As noted, the Review tells some uncomfortable truths that require some focus and effort, but of course there are always risks in doing so. Not least, that the Review could be used to support narratives about the failure of multiculturalism. First, proponents of anti-immigration views can use the prestige of an independent, Government-mandated Review on isolation and segregation to bolster their narrative that multiculturalism was a pipe dream and is a failure. In fact, the report is actually nuanced and careful about the dynamics of segregation, acknowledging that integration is a two-way process, and that ‘concentrations of ethnic communities can have both positive and negative effects, and that outcomes do not appear to be uniform for all groups’. However, this nuance can be readily stripped away in the wider public debate – indeed, Nigel Farage tweeted to say that the Review represented a vindication of his views. In a world where it seems much harder to make straightforward truths ‘stick’, it is important to ensure that the nuances of the review are not lost, and it is not appropriated only to support claims that underpin intolerance and segregation rather than undermine them.
- Regressive victim-blaming? Those most supportive of liberal and progressive stances on immigration and multiculturalism see raising these issues as regressive, as not adequately sympathetic to those already experiencing difficulties and disadvantage.
- Too heavy a focus on British Muslims? One of the challenges for the review is that the findings focus heavily on challenges associated with isolation, segregation and opportunity for Muslim communities in particular. Some Muslim groups have argued – rightly, we think – that these communities are not the only ones where segregation and isolation are occurring, where cultural practices that are antithetical to, or seem not to fit well with, those we see as fundamental to liberal democracy have been allowed to flourish, or where women are being held back. The Muslim Council of Britain, for instance, argued that ‘we need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims’. On the other hand, the review had to home in on those areas where people are being held back, whether by lack of human or social capital, by their community’s practices, or by discrimination they experience from other people and communities outside of their own.So the real challenge in focusing on how Britain can be brought together as one nation and opportunity for all can be enhanced, is to ensure that readers of the review recognise the fact that this never set out to be a review of how integrated some communities are – nor, crucially, where they are. It did, however, set out to be a review of how to boost opportunity; it wanted not only to explore examples of isolation and segregation, but to uncover interventions that are successfully tackling these problems.
- What next for Casey? The review makes a number of valuable recommendations. In our view, the most important of these, as Casey herself notes, is to look more systematically at where and how inclusion and diversity are flourishing, and to rigorously assess what transferable lessons there may be for improving outcomes in other communities. As those familiar with the field will be aware, existing research provides many useful pointers, but there remains much to be done to highlight and test potentially scalable measures to address isolation, segregation and lack of opportunity in all communities, including those which feel threatened by or unhappy about diversity. Without progress, this risks becoming an entrenched and ever-more divisive state of affairs in many areas, appropriated to support simplified and regressive narratives about the kind of country people in Britain would like and how to get there or sustain it.
What, then, of the review itself? Is it uncomfortable reading? Deeply. Is it timely? Absolutely. Is it perfect and does it have all the answers? No. But does it paint an accurate picture of what is happening in some of our communities and genuinely seek to find ways to open the discussion and make progress? Yes, and appropriately so.
1 Both authors jointly submitted evidence to the Casey Review.