Fiyaz Mughal OBE, founder and director of Faith Matters welcomes the bottom-up community approach of the recently released Integration Strategy.
The recent release of the Integration strategy by the Department for Communities & Local Government is a welcome change from the centralised top down approach which was taken by the last government and there are five strands that are listed as the cornerstone of the strategy. These include (i) tackling extremism (ii) social mobility (iii) common ground (iv) participation and (v) responsibility. The paper suggests that social mobility and opportunity allied with countering the ideology that feeds extremism, can be good antidotes to extremism and violent extremism. All of this seems fairly straightforward, though the real difference is in the sub-text. The paper suggests that local communities should come together and find solutions to their problems and that government will merely act as a facilitator when requested. However, what is also clear is that the government will do less and not more and that local decisions, raising of funds and innovation have to be driven from a bottom-up approach.
To some degree the current economic downturn is driving the approach of the government to do less. Yet the policy of this coalition government has been to dictate less to communities and in opposition, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats repeatedly accused the previous Labour government of being autocratic in its approach to communities. They repeatedly suggested that government under Labour had become 'big government' and that local communities were being dictated to through funding opportunities and through raft upon raft of new policy and legislation that followed. The current integration paper which stands at 28 pages is merely a drop in the ocean when compared to the 100 plus pages around cohesion policies that the previous government put out.
There are some unique areas in this Integration Strategy that should also be welcomed. The development of work themes on countering anti-Muslim hate crime and the co-ordination of a committee to look at Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime are new but much needed areas. The driver here within the Integration Strategy is to reduce grievances which anti-Muslim attacks are known to cause. By reducing grievances, it suggests, people can be brought into the mainstream, they can be more productive and thereby feel that they have a role to play in this country. The paper also makes clear that hate crime in general will be countered and once again, this is very welcome, particularly if individuals and communities are to feel that they have an equal stake in their local areas.
Last but not least, the role of entrepreneurism is highlighted in the paper. This again is welcome and in particular, the paper talks about supporting Black and Minority Ethnic entrepreneurism. Today, we have diverse communities throughout our country and all of us agree that this diversity is a strength of our country. Ensuring that people have the chance to take hold of their lives and develop income streams from which they can become socially mobile and empowered is fundamental to building social skills and kick-starting our economy. That is why support for micro-businesses in the integration strategy is welcome. Overall, this is a welcome change which provides opportunities to communities, but there are also potential weaknesses. With an economy that is flat-lining, the slow-down of investment into the Third Sector may leave areas of desertification in the provision of social services. We need to watch out for these whilst on the slow road to recovery.