Commentary on Dame Louise Casey’s cohesion and segregation review, due out next week
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It’s almost been as long delayed as the government’s decision on the construction of a third runway at Heathrow but Dame Louise Casey’s report into cohesion is finally due out on Monday.
The review, commissioned by then prime minister David Cameron in July last year, has been subsumed by the political long grass at least since the political turbulence that followed the Brexit vote.
Dame Louise’s report had been expected in March, then in the early summer, and then when the new prime minister had bedded in to her job. The indication that the review will finally report on Monday almost comes as a surprise.
As with Heathrow, the findings are likely to make uncomfortable reading for many. The decision to entrust an almost uniquely combative civil servant with reporting on a subject as delicate as extremism was intended to ruffle feathers. Dame Louise is unlikely to disappoint.
Mr Cameron announced the scope of the review in a speech on extremism. He said Dame Louise (as she had not yet become) would “carry out a review of how to boost opportunity and integration” in isolated and deprived communities: namely areas experiencing high levels of immigration and losing out on economic growth.
Among the issues she has been asked to address is ensuring people learn English; how to boost employment outcomes, especially for women; how the state can promote integration and stopping the state from working with self-appointed ‘community leaders’ who do not represent the whole community.
Dame Louise has summarised her brief as looking at social integration and opportunity; segregation, social exclusion and economic disadvantage; community cohesion; racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; preventing extremism and hate, and “bringing the country together as One Nation”.
Lessons from the report would influence wider government plans for a “new wider Cohesive Communities programme”, also due this year, Mr Cameron said. The programme also has not yet emerged.
Dame Louise gave strong hints to her review’s contents in her speech to the Local Government Association annual conference in July.
She urged public servants to “be a lot braver, to talk about the really hard stuff” and criticised political correctness. The ‘festive tree’ she had encountered at a community centre was among her targets.
“It wasn’t the Asian or Muslim staff who’d asked for that. It was the incredibly well-meaning white manager, who just didn’t want to cause offence,” she said.
“But what offence did he think he was causing? What did we ever think would be offensive about celebrating Christmas with a tree?”
More gravely, she attacked public officials in Rotherham who were “in denial” because they “didn’t talk about the fact that some of the child sexual exploitation that was occurring there was perpetrated by Pakistani heritage men”.
As a result of this, “race relations weren’t protected, they got worse”, Dame Louise said. “The ordinary majority felt badly let down. The far right was encouraged and Islamophobia increased. The vast majority of good Muslim men were wrongly branded as abusers.”
She also specified that “it is not racist” to feel unease at the pace of immigration.
LGC gained an understanding of what was in the review, at least as it had been written in the summer.
Insiders said it would constitute a “stocktake of the tougher end of Britain”, examining issues such as high birth rates, incidence of domestic violence and the low status of women in certain communities. It was also going to defend the government’s controversial Prevent programme against violent extremism, which some people have said stigmatises Muslims.
It was also due to criticise the ‘softer’ end of the Department for Communities & Local Government’s cohesion strategy, such as different faith leaders sharing the food of different cultures rather confronting hate. More controversially, it was expected to lambast the government’s education policies as promoting segregation.
In short, Dame Louise was not expected to mince her language about aspects of government policy. It was going to be uncomfortable reading for the government, councils and minority communities.
Perhaps it was unsurprising the report was delayed. The national media have reported on bids to silence the report, with the Sun claiming “Home Office officials are attempting to censor Dame Louise Casey’s review which highlights damning failures”, some of which related to Theresa May’s six-year stint in charge of the department.
Dame Louise has been no stranger to controversy. She has recently had to defend her work on the Troubled Families programme amid doubts over its effectiveness and value. Now she will be presenting a report to Theresa May that is expected to criticise the PM’s past performance.
If ever there is a person to refuse to bow to political pressure by removing less palatable passages from a report then it is Dame Louise. Monday will surely be a day when hard truths are confronted, the PC brigade is aghast and political bravery is required all round.