News and Comment

Why it’s vital to remember that all communities share ‘British’ values

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Anyone who heard or read about Home Office Secretary, Theresa May’s announcement of the official review of the Prevent strategy is sure to have picked up on the Government’s emphasis on the role of integration and British values in ‘defeating extremism’ and ‘stopping radicalisation’.

We’re definitely expecting to hear more about ‘integration’ and ‘British values’ in the coming months, perhaps even a ‘national integration strategy’ as promised in the Conservative Party manifesto. Perhaps its time we stopped to have a deeper think about what these terms mean?

‘British’ values or ‘values’ in Britain?

There’s a need to tread carefully here. On the one hand identifying the types of shared values that should form the fabric of a society or of a nation is a straightforward enough task – respect for human life, appreciation of difference, honesty and integrity, equality, justice and democracy. In fact, the Ministry of Justice reported that, based on their findings from a series of deliberative events across the UK, there was broad agreement about what constitutes ‘shared’ values.

The danger lies in defining these as inherently or predominantly ‘British’. This implies that such values have their roots in British society – which can all too quickly come to mean particular ‘British communities’ – whereas in fact they are values that many communities, societies and nations are likely to lay claim to.

Instead it’s much better for them to be identified as values that are practised by and adhered to by all communities in Britain – not imposed by the state, but cherished by communities. There’s a definite risk that in defining what all communities share as ‘British’, the very people that are at the greatest risk of marginalisation come to feel further excluded.

Integration and cohesion

‘Integration’ too may pose problems. Regardless of the fact that the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, in Our Shared Future, emphasised that integration is not about assimilation, the association between the two terms remains – both for practitioners and communities.

If this is the case, integration may serve to undermine some of the great work that has been delivered under the cohesion agenda over the last few years, just as the Prevent agenda was criticised for doing. As we move forward it will be vital, and the sooner the better, for policy-makers to give thought to how the concept of integration will be defined, communicated and branded.

If we’ve learned anything from Prevent it’s that the agenda was rolled out in such a hurry that insufficient thought was given to the language used and how it would be interpreted by and impact on communities. What resulted was a continuous struggle to try and undo the damage that had been done to relationships with Muslim communities. With shrinking budgets, rising unemployment and rapid policy changes, this is not the time to be repeating old mistakes.

Want to learn more? We’re holding a one-day learning event (this links to a PDF) on the role of Big Society in building integrated and resilient communities on December 14th.