In July 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron and then Home Secretary Theresa May (now Prime Minister) commissioned a senior civil servant, Dame Louise Casey DBE CB, to lead an enquiry into “opportunity and integration in some of our most isolated communities.” Her report, “The Casey Review: A review into opportunity and integration” was published by the UK’s Department of Communities and Local Government on 5 December 2016.
The full 199-page document can be downloaded free from the UK government’s website. It contains a wealth of data and makes a number of policy recommendations. In appendices, it summarises some important past enquiries into integration in the UK, as well as looking at the approach of some other countries in Western Europe. It merits careful reading.
Since publication, many Muslim commentators have complained of an excessive focus on Britain’s Muslims. As a simple illustration, in the report there are 249 instances of the word Muslim(s), compared with only 22 instances of Hindu(s), 10 of Sikh(s) and 22 of Jew(s) or Jewish.
However, having read the full report, I consider that the extensive coverage of Muslims is warranted. The report contains large amounts of data showing the heavy geographical concentration of British Muslims in small parts of the country, which is much greater than the concentration of other faith communities. For example, of the 10 most religiously concentrated wards in the UK, nine are predominantly Muslim, while only one is predominantly Hindu.
The report states: “In total, by 2011 there were 42 wards across 16 local authorities where a minority faith or ethnic community had become a local majority of more than 50%...There were no wards in which any other single minority ethnic or faith group other than Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi ethnic groups or Muslim or Hindu faith groups exceeded 50% of the ward population, and only 1 where such concentration exceeded 40% (Kersal in Salford, with 41% of the population of Jewish faith).” Accordingly, in ethnic terms the concentration issue primarily concerns Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis, and in ethnic terms primarily concerns Muslims and Hindus.
Like Dame Louise Casey, I consider such high concentrations to be a serious impediment to integration. If most of your interactions socially and at school are with others of the same faith and ethnic background, that severely narrows your perspectives and impedes your ability learning how to interact successfully with people who have a different background to your own. For example, I have met young people born in Britain who speak English with South Asian accents, because they have spent most of their lives within an “ethnic bubble”.
While the report contains voluminous data on the aggregate performance of groups such as British Muslims, and to a lesser extent Hindus and Sikhs, I could not see much, if any, disaggregation. The reality is that some groups of British Muslims (for example Ismaili Muslims) are, on average, very well educated and very successful in career terms, while other groups living in concentrated Northern communities are much less successful. Similarly, there are major differences in outcomes between those who came to the UK from East Africa compared to those who came to the UK directly from the Indian subcontinent, and between those who came with existing education from large cities and those who came from the countryside with little prior education.
The report makes 12 recommendations. I welcome these, especially the emphasis on learning English, empowering marginalised groups of women, ensuring school pupils learn alongside those from other communities, and much tighter controls on home schooling which is often suspected of being used to circumvent the rules against unlicensed informal schools.
It is disadvantaged communities, such as British Muslims, who have the most to gain from policies that successfully promote integration and advancement. Accordingly, I am disappointed by the negative reactions of some British Muslims, although it is always the critics who shout the loudest.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, a voluntary grouping within the British Conservative Party. He is writing in a personal capacity.