Rather than viewing integration policy as something to be wheeled out when terrorism strikes, we should recognise the benefits in their own right
Yesterday’s speech on extremism and cohesion by the prime minister has received plaudits from a range of political voices, alongside some stinging critiques. In many ways the speech hit the right notes: highlighting the dangers of both Islamist and far right extremism; seeking the support of Muslim communities in battling extremism; and exploring the complex set of factors that can fuel radicalisation.
The speech also, refreshingly, talked about integration – from improving employment among ethnic minority women to encouraging schools to take in pupils from a wider range of backgrounds. Cameron even mentioned plans for a new ‘Cohesive Communities Programme’ of funding in 2016.
But here’s the rub: while Cameron’s efforts to tackle extremism are laudable and his focus on integration promising, his speech stuck them together as if they were two sides of the same coin.
Yet conflating integration and counter-extremism (and counter-terrorism) is destined for trouble. If supporting integration is conducted under a counter-extremism banner, this starts to provoke suspicion and scepticism – and integration won’t work if it’s underpinned by feelings of mistrust. The government’s counter-terrorism strategy Prevent has faced just this type of criticism – with a former chief superintendent describing it as a ‘toxic brand’.
Not only that – a counter-extremism led integration policy sucks the joy out of community efforts to bring people together. After all, who wants to participate in a counter-terrorism community event?
IPPR’s research with Coventry University on diversity in different cities across the UK (which will be published soon) has highlighted the importance of a community policy that feels organic and unforced. But what can be less organic and more forced than a programme of activities that – rightly or wrongly – gives the impression of being directed from a centrally controlled fund primarily intended to eliminate terrorist activity?
At the same time, if the government only ever talks about integration with reference to extremism, other local integration efforts that have nothing to do with counter-radicalisation risk being branded with the same label.
The end result is that the government’s underlying purpose – tackling extremism – is undermined by sheer heavy-handedness.
So what should be done? Rather than acting as if integration policy has only instrumental value, to be wheeled out when terrorism strikes, we should recognise the direct benefits of integration in their own right – stronger communities, greater tolerance, and higher levels of participation and inclusion.
Moreover, integration policy should be directed at these aims. At IPPR, we have focused on two strands of proactive integration policy to prevent exclusion, address grievances, and secure common ground.
First, an active policy levelling the playing field in education and employment. This means addressing the discrimination that results in talented young people from ethnic minority groups, including those who do well at school, continuing to under-perform in the labour market. (Recent research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 41 per cent of black African and 39 per cent of Bangladeshi graduate employees were overqualified, compared to 25 per cent of white graduate employees.)
One way government can do this is by using procurement powers to ensure that all government contractors include diversity targets in their recruitment and progression processes. In a forthcoming report we will be setting out a range of further actions that Local Authorities can take to support education to work transitions for ethnic minority young people.
Second, we have highlighted the importance of an active community policy. Our research at the local level has confirmed that the major cuts to DCLG and Local Authorities have had a considerable impact on integration provision. But some funding is still available, and there are creative ways to finance further integration work, such as through applications to EU programmes like the European Social Fund.
There are some promising signs for future funding from the government too – including the Controlling Migration Fund in the Conservative manifesto and the new Cohesive Communities Programme. Then there’s the question of how best to direct the limited resources available. In IPPR’s report ‘Shared Ground’, we recommended that Local Authorities focus some of their resources on incentive and outreach schemes to encourage parents from different backgrounds to send their children to inclusive preschool settings, in order to promote integration from an early age.
Cameron rightly touched on many of these areas in his speech yesterday. But he was wrong to place them within a framework of countering extremism and terrorism, particularly when integration policy has otherwise appeared to be sidelined in his government. If only Cameron had recalled the words of a former leading politician in 2007:
“But let us not in the process ever give the impression that this question of Britishness, this question of community cohesion, is all about terrorism … If we do, then we actually make it harder to beat the terrorist threat.”
The politician was, of course, Cameron himself.
Marley Morris is a researcher at IPPR