Britain can no longer hide from the “uncomfortable truth” of ethnic segregation after a major new study found that public institutions sometimes condone “regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices” for fear of being branded racist.
Dame Louise Casey’s year-long study, which was commissioned by former prime minister David Cameron found divisions within communities is growing in some places.
Casey said: “We can no longer duck difficult issues.” Public bodies were accused of going “too far to accommodate diversity and freedom of expression”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, Casey said pockets were developing in the UK in places such as Oldham and Bradford where one ethnic group or religion is dominant.
“We cannot hide away from an uncomfortable truth and one of those uncomfortable truths is that some religions.. are pulling away and I think in some ways we are pushing some people in the Muslim community away,” Casey said.
The author of the report said she had visited communities where women who have lived in the UK for years are not allowed out of their house without a man’s permission.
Casey said there were areas which were struggling to cope with the pace and scale of change they faced as a result of immigration while there were still large social and economic gaps between different ethnic groups.
In particular she highlighted the plight of women who found themselves marginalised through poor English language skills while being subjected to “coercive control, violence and criminal acts of abuse, often enacted in the name of cultural or religious values”.
Casey said: “At the end of the day it is not the women in those communities that I have a problem with it is the men in those communities. It is the misogyny and the patriarchy that has to come to an end.”
When questioned about the niqab, Casey said she was “tired of the debate about women’s clothing” and said that people should be allowed to wear what they want.
“You can get as many right on people on the radio today you can get as many communities leaders saying that I am wrong but they cannot deny an uncomfortable truth which is inequality within certain communities, in these highly segregated areas, is getting worse not better,” Casey added.
The review was originally commissioned by Cameron in 2015 as part of a wider strategy to tackle the “poison” of Islamic extremism.
Faith Matters welcomed many of the report’s findings, saying that for “far too long, we have allowed views that reduce the human rights of people, to be passively and actively promoted without challenge”.
In a wide-ranging set of recommendations the review called for more English classes for isolated groups, greater mixing among young people through activities such as sport, and a new “oath of integration” enshrining British values for all holders of public office.
“Social integration is about closing the gaps that exist between people and communities,” Casey said.
“To help bind Britain together and tackle some of the division in our society we need more opportunities for those from disadvantaged communities, particularly women, and more mixing between people from different backgrounds.
“We need more effort to be put into integration policies to help communities cope with the pace and scale of immigration and population change in recent years.
“But we also need more of a spirit of unity, compassion and kindness that brings people together under our common British values of tolerance, democracy, equality and respect.”
The report found that while Britain has benefited hugely from immigration and the increased ethnic and religious diversity it had brought, there had not been sufficient emphasis on integration.
It called on the Government to back a new programme to strengthen cohesion through promotion of the English language, raising employment levels among the most marginalised groups and “emancipating” women trapped in social isolation.
It highlighted the “huge national, cultural and symbolic value” of British citizenship, urging the promotion of British laws, history and values within the core school curriculum to build “integration, tolerance, citizenship and resilience” in children.
For those coming to the UK seeking citizenship, it said the Government should consider requiring them to take an oath of integration with British values and society on arrival in the country rather that awaiting their final citizenship test.
The review highlighted how isolation can begin at a young age and called on the Government to step up safeguarding arrangements for children who are taken out of mainstream education by their parents – or never enter it in the first place.
It said central government and local authorities should develop a range of indicators of potential breakdown of integration in an area – such as hate crime incidents or deficiencies in English language – with councils required to collect this information regularly.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said the report was a “valuable contribution” and that he would be studying the findings closely, the Press Association reports.
“This Government is building a democracy for everyone and our country has long been home to lots of different cultures and communities, but all of us have to be part of one society – British society,” he said .
“So while it’s right that we celebrate the positive contribution that diverse groups make to British life, we also need to continue making sure that nobody is excluded from it or left behind.”