I’ve come from and interesting gathering in Bradford to talk about the government’s integration strategy. The group was made up of Muslim women, people representing refugee communities, disability groups, council leaders – in fact an impressively diverse range of people representing Bradford communities. These are my unedited notes.
The first question to the group what about what we mean by integration. The first answer was tolerance of other beliefs. Bradford is certainly a pace of many faiths. Integration was felt to be an observable fact for many people at local level where faith groups already work together – but it must be said that the groups represented at the meeting were biased towards integration through their work.
Financial pressure and council cuts are causing a lot of anxiety and some thought that this made people resentful and likely to look for scapegoats – leading to some racism.
The government definition of integration was thought to be idealistic. These are high ideals but people are being left to deal with very basic, ordinary problems.
“Understanding difference and discovering similarities” is a two way process.
When we talk about integration we first think about racial integration, but we need a broader view of what integration means. There are issues to do with the age, gender and wealth which separate people. Geographical segregation is a serious problem inhibiting the movement and aspirations of people.
There are 25,000 people on Bradford who speak poor English. 62% of those are women and 38% men.
A consequence of poor integration is the impact on people’s confidence and aspirations. People need to feel that they have an opportunity to do what they want to do and go where they want to go. We don’t want to dictate that people will integrate but we must give people access to opportunities which are not constrained by status, faith culture or financial means. There are gated communities, for example in Ilkley – so what can we do to enable a broader territory for integration? Can we make moving around the district a viable choice?
Trust is an important value. Many people in our communities have low levels of trust towards the police and authorities. Local organisation that can build trust within the communities can provide valuable pathways towards new opportunities.
Some of the barriers towards integration include, cuts in services, language abilities, employment opportunities, prejudice fuelled by the media. There are links between education, employment and opportunity.
Public events like sport provide a valuable opportunity to bring people together.
Many people said that there was low awareness of what opportunities and services exists. Even though Bradford does better than most, effective communication and information sharing remains a challenge.
Working with children and young people appears to be a key area of work if long and lasting integration can be achieved. The Schools Linking Network brings children of different backgrounds together.
Many small project like Shine in West Bowling provide an opportunity for people to come together but also an opportunity for service providers to drop in.
We discussed the subject of leadership and in particular among women. There were an number of Muslim women present who spoke well. I did feel that while the men in the group were not intentionally dominating, the women did have to find some courage to speak.
There are strong family influences which can inhibit or liberate young people to integrate. There is a need to challenge the attitudes of some men.
To measure integration efforts we might look for improved employment rates, learning new skills, language proficiency.