Nebulous Concepts

Fatema Ahmed · The Casey Review

The Casey Review into opportunity and integration was published last week. Among the platitudes (‘integration is a nebulous concept’) and non-sequiturs (it quotes opinion polls extensively without explaining why they are important or relevant, or considering if the questions were worth asking), Dame Louise Casey asks: 'Why conduct an integration review?' Because 'numerous reports on community cohesion and integration had been produced in the preceding fifteen years but the recommendations they had made were difficult to see in action.’

The documents she lists include a 2001 'Community Cohesion' report by Ted Cantle; Herman Ouseley’s 2001 report on the Bradford riots; the government’s ‘Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society’ strategy (2005); ‘Your Shared Future’ from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (2007); Trevor Phillips’s final Equalities Review (2007); ‘Face to Face and Side by Side’ (2008); the Independent Riots Panel report (2012); the coalition government’s ‘Creating the Conditions for Integration’ paper; and a 2015 Social Integration Commission report.

Policy Exchange’s Unsettled Belonging: A Survey of Britain’s Muslim Communities, written by David Goodhart et al. and published at the beginning of December, seems to have come too late for the Casey Review, though Goodhart’s observation that some people born in this country have mothers who were born in another, and that this phenomenon is likely to continue, gets a look in.

The Casey Review was commissioned by David Cameron and Theresa May (then home secretary) in July 2015 – in the wider context of the government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy – and an interim report setting out its initial findings was meant to have been published in early 2016. But in April this year, the Department for Education announced that a study of the effect of migration in schools would also come under Casey's remit. It has finally been published after May, having succeeded Cameron as prime minister, told the Conservative Party Conference that there is ‘division and unfairness all around … perhaps most of all, between the rich, the successful and the powerful – and their fellow citizens.’

That isn’t the kind of division the Casey Review has in mind, however. The report’s confused origins and murky remit are evident on nearly every page (as is the word ‘Muslim’). It is rarely afraid of uncontextualised facts, the implications of which are never quite spelled out. We are told, for instance, that (of those who have jobs) 'one in four Pakistani men are employed as taxi drivers and two in five Bangladeshi men work in restaurants (although a number of these will be in family-owned businesses)’. What is the force of ‘although’ there? Is it approving (entrepreneurs: hooray!) or not (segregated entrepreneurs: try harder)?

The report exaggerates small differences and deploys them in emotive pull quotes: 'The White British population in Great Britain shrank … All other ethnic minority groups grew.’ This is the language of ‘swamping’ updated. ‘Segregation’ is another hard-to-pin-down (or ‘nebulous’) concept, described in a series of dangling statements: ‘White British and Irish ethnic groups are least likely to have ethnically mixed social networks, while people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnicity are least likely to have friends from outside their neighbourhood.’ Casey makes the point that ‘simply looking at the size of a minority group in a community gives no indication of how segregated they are’, but doesn't explore it further. There’s no comfort for London, either: ‘Londoners, despite socialising more with people of different ethnic groups were proportionately less integrated by social grade, ethnicity and age than the rest of Britain.'

The report is at its most evasive when it comes to education: after making point after point about the lack of diversity in all faith schools, it concludes that ‘we consider the popularity of faith schools with parents to mean that the abolition of state funding for faith schools would be unproductive.’

But after years of frank and honest conversations about the need to have frank and honest conversations, and a pile of recommendations that are never acted on, what makes this report different from its predecessors? It was released by the Department for Communities and Local Government – it seems to have been forgotten that it was co-commissioned by the Home Office – and the focus throughout the report on the percentages of ethnic minorities in local authority wards offers a clue as to who is to gather the ‘local indicators of integration’ the executive summary recommends.

In 2015, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills cut all its funding (£45 million) for English for Speakers of Other Languages, just before David Cameron started worrying aloud about the poor English of ‘Muslim’ women. The Casey Review is also worried about (mainly Muslim) women (not) speaking English. It doesn’t mention the ESOL cuts, but does talk about the ‘appropriate prioritisation of adult skills budgets’. Since adult education budgets are going to be ‘devolved’ to local government, and the education of 19 to 23-year-olds is meant to be the priority, the future of further education looks even bumpier.

There are tentative references at the end of each section to the effects of the recession and the ‘strain’ or ‘squeeze’ in public services, but the word ‘cuts’ appears only once, in a list of things people are worried about. If this report’s recommendations are acted on – which seems unlikely if you take a long view – integration (or counter-extremism) policies will be yet another burden for local government, the ‘backbone of British democracy’ as the report calls it, hobbled by cuts and ever less able to provide the services that all communities should be able to rely on.


  • 16 December 2016 at 8:12am
    PfPorlock says:
    Whatever the merits or demerits of the Casey Report, Fatema Ahmed seems hellbent on rubbishing everything about the report, as if by ignoring its central findings, we might all become distracted. That surely cannot be her intention. She bombards us with links to convey her grasp of the comprehensive, master of her brief, yet links are proof of nothing. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Her style of writing assumes we will agree with her, and her subjective rendering of objective facts assumes the status of truth. She certainly is persuasive. Assuming she knows better than Casey, can we know what she (Ahmed) thinks about integration, which is what the report is about.