Religious leaders to be trained in 'British values' with reform of marriage laws to be considered, as part of new government integration strategy


Faith leaders will be asked to help promote “British values” and laws on religious marriages could be reformed as part of a new government strategy to boost integration within the UK’s communities.

Ministers said the £50m Integrated Communities Strategy will focus on helping people learn English, encouraging more women to find work and promoting “meaningful discussion” between young people.

Sajid Javid, the Housing and Communities Secretary, said immigrants to the UK will also be given “practical information” to help them adapt to British culture.

The plan is the Government’s response to a review of integration carried out by Dame Louise Casey in 2016.

Ministers said the findings of the review, along with other evidence, suggest too many communities are divided along racial, religious or class lines.  

The new strategy was published as a green paper that will be the subject of a four-month consultation, concluding in June.

Mr Javid said: “Britain can rightly claim to be one of the most successful diverse societies in the world. But we cannot ignore the fact that in too many parts of our country, communities are divided, preventing people from taking full advantage of the opportunities that living in modern Britain offers.

“Successive governments have refused to deal with the integration challenges we face head on, preferring to let people muddle along and live isolated and separated lives. 

“We will put an end to this through our new strategy which will create a country that works for everyone, whatever their background and wherever they come from. Integration challenges are not uniform throughout the country, with different areas and communities having varying needs.”

Part of the £50m fund will be invested in new programmes to help immigrants learn English, including a network of “conversation clubs”. Councils will be given money to boost English language teaching.

Another part of the strategy will focus on helping women from minority communities into work. Job centres will use personalised skills training to help people find jobs.

The Government is also considering reforming laws on marriage and religious weddings, and will renew efforts to tackle hate crime. Religious leaders will be trained in promoting “British culture”.

At the same time, plans will be put forward to encourage young people to mix more with peers from other backgrounds, including through the National Citizen Service. “British values” will continue to be taught in schools.

Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary, said: “We want to make sure that all children learn the values that underpin our society – including fairness, tolerance and respect. These are values that help knit our communities together, which is why education is at the heart of this strategy.

“It’s also important that children are taught in a safe environment and that we can act quickly if children are at risk or being encouraged to undermine these values. Together, with Ofsted and communities across the country, we will build on the work already underway to achieve this.”

The strategy will initially be trialled in Blackburn, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall and the London borough of Waltham Forest.

In a damning report published in December 2016, Dame Louise accused successive governments of having failed to effectively promote integration.

“The problem has not been a lack of knowledge but a failure of collective, consistent and persistent will to do something about it or give it the priority it deserves at both a national and local level,” she said.

“The work that has been done has often been piecemeal and lacked a clear evidence base or programme of evaluation.”

Dame Louis Casey integration comments

She said attempts to bring communities together had suffered from spending cuts since 2010. The Coalition Government cut funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes, resulting in budgets plummeting by 50 per cent between 2008 and 2015.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, Ms Casey said:”I don’t care how we’ve got here, I don’t care who can’t speak English, I don’t care what’s going on but what I do know is that everybody of working age and of school age should be able to speak the language. And I think the public in particular would feel some relief. 

“And I would be quite old-school about this and I would set a target that says ‘By x date we want everybody in the country to be able to speak a common language’.”

It comes as the think tank British Future, which aims to boost integration, published new polling showing widespread public support for policies that are thought to help unite communities.

The poll, conducted by ICM, found 79 per cent of Conservative voters and 76 per cent of Labour supporters think “British values” should be taught in schools.

A similar majority believes the Government should do more to help people learn English.

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