Rita Chadha: The Integrated Communities Action Plan does not live up to its potential

Although it does well to acknowledge the challenges, this is a confusing document that still gives civil society the responsibility of creating a fairer country

Rita Chadha
Rita Chadha

Successive governments have always struggled with the concept of "integration". It's fraught with political complexity and they have continually confused it with diversity, cohesion and equality.

On Saturday the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government quietly and without the usual fanfare of a ministerial announcement published its Integrated Communities Action Plan. Even on Monday there was no further communication and you have to do a hard search online to actually find it. It's almost as if the government was ashamed of it.

To its credit, the Integrated Communities Action Plan does well to acknowledge the challenges that have led to its development, citing the Windrush scandal and the Cabinet Office's Race Disparity Audit as key drivers.

The ICAP talks about faith and ethnic communities being assets that make places safer and stronger, not problems that need fixing. It continues to offload integration as the responsibility largely of civil society, charging it with the creation of a fairer society. This fails to recognise that civil society actually spends most of its time trying to resolve the problems that arise from institutional discrimination and bias.

The strategy boldly commits to learning from and developing the five place-based pilots it has already committed to, by the end of this parliament, but with the current level of political uncertainty that is hardly reassuring.

All local councils will now have to publish integration objectives alongside their equality plans. Business in the Community will be charged with sending volunteers into deserving communities to help with the integration process and the whole plan will be reviewed by the newly established Coin (Cohesion and Integration Network), funded by the housing ministry.

The action plan starts by outlining it’s vision for new migrants and local residents. There were suggestions that it would change the name of the hugely toxic Controlling Migration Fund. Surprisingly, despite the title, the actions reference only supporting refugees, not European migrants, and there is definitely nothing about dealing with the tensions arising from Brexit.

The next section, on young people and education, is more stick than carrot, focusing heavily on the inspection of education facilities and heavily reliant on the National Citizen Service as a means of engaging with all young people.

English language continues to receive the same focus it usually does in such plans, with nothing much on the need to invest in adult literacy for those who are not refugees or migrants.

There then follows a series of actions related to place and communities. It suggests ministers believe civil society has never existed because it proposes a new Community Guide to Action, more asset transfers and, in that ever-confused cross between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the rest of the world, a focus on libraries, parks and sport. There is no mention, surprisingly, of volunteering. One welcome inclusion is the subject of commercial properties used by civil society. Presumably this means going beyond the usual offer of high-street charity shops.

There is a welcome commitment to increasing economic prosperity by ensuring a better understanding of race and ethnicity, improving childcare and acknowledging the limitations of universal credit.

One of the most confused sections is on rights and freedoms, conflating hate crime (only Islamophobic and anti-semitic) with restrictions on bringing in overseas minsters of faith who can’t speak English.

As civil society stalwarts know, all funders ask how this will be measured and evaluated. The housing ministry's response is that it will watch and learn.

The action plan fails to live up to its potential. It is heavily prescriptive in tone, and abdicates responsibility to local councils and civil society without a clear idea of additional funding. It fails to acknowledge the diversity between local areas economically and politically. Most worryingly, with Brexit on the horizon, it fails to create opportunities for communities to heal and come together. It is integrated in name only.

Rita Chadha is chief executive of Localising Equality and chair of Barking & Dagenham Council for Voluntary Services

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