As a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the newly rebranded Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, I am lucky enough to see and hear first-hand the amazing work which Sajid, Dominic and the other ministers are doing in this important department.
Britain is a great place to live in and is a well-integrated society on the whole. However, we cannot ignore the fact that in too many parts of our country communities are increasingly divided along ethnic, faith or socio-economic lines. That reduces opportunities for people to mix with others from different backgrounds, allows mistrust and misunderstanding to grow, and can prevent people in isolated communities from taking advantage of the opportunities that living in Britain offers. If we want to build a stronger, more United Kingdom, we cannot allow that to continue.
The Secretary of State recently launched a green paper inviting views on the Government’s vision for building stronger communities. The paper sets out an ambitious programme of actions, including boosting English language skills and opportunities for women to enter the workplace, as well as promoting British values in education.
This Green Paper invites views on the Government’s vision for building strong integrated communities where people – whatever their background – live, work, learn and socialise together, based on shared rights, responsibilities and opportunities. It sets out an ambitious programme of actions we propose to take across Government to deliver that vision at the local and national level.
The integration challenges our communities face – as highlighted by Dame Louise Casey’s independent review into opportunity and integration – cannot be met through quick fixes. It will take generational change to tackle some of them. The Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper sets out a national framework of priorities for England to tackle those structural, social and personal causes of poor integration and highlights the importance of strong leadership – nationally and locally – to drive that change.
Key proposals in the Green Paper include: identifying a number of priority policies and services to review across government to determine how they might best drive integration; proposing to develop a new strategy for English Language in England, to improve the coordination of provision to learners and help improve their outcomes; empowering marginalised women, including exploring the legal and practical challenges of limited reform of the law on marriage so that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as religious ceremonies; testing a package of information for recent migrants to support them to integrate into their communities and to build understanding of life in Britain; addressing the segregation of schools along ethnic or faith lines that exists in some places, even where the local population is very diverse, so, for example, by promoting mixing and twinning arrangements between schools in areas of high segregation; and trialling new approaches through Jobcentre Plus to break down the barriers to employment and support people from isolated communities into work.
We expect leaders at all levels of government to make a step change and tackle segregation as they develop policy and design and deliver services. The faith, voluntary, community and business sectors, too, working in partnership, must have the confidence to champion our shared values and challenge policies, practices and behaviours which stand in the way of integration.
The Green Paper also sets out a new localised approach to delivering those policy priorities. That approach recognises that integration challenges are not uniform throughout the country so tailored local plans and interventions are needed to address the issues which are specific to a particular place. We will trial that local approach initially in five Integration Areas – Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall and Waltham Forest, each facing different types of integration challenges.
We must be prepared to be bold and innovative to get to the heart of some of the most persistent challenges. That is why we have chosen to work with local authorities which have already demonstrated a keen grasp of the challenges they face and shown a desire to try new things and learn what works. Integration Areas are committed to sharing their learning and experiences with other areas as the programme develops. We will also develop a clear set of measures to monitor progress in reaching the strategy’s outcomes.
The Secretary of State wants that consultation to kick-start an open and honest debate about how we do that and create the future society we all want. This is a genuine opportunity for people to shape and influence national and local policies.
The Integrated Communities Strategy sets out an ambitious programme of action that will set us on the path to building integrated, more united communities. Consultations on the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy will run for 12 weeks, closing on 5 June. If you would like to take part in the survey, a link can be found here:https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/7D2C89V