The Casey Review: Great leap forward or a missed opportunity?

Chris Shannahan

Sometimes life in multicultural Britain can be confusing. On the one hand politicians and journalists celebrate ethnic and religious diversity and insist that immigration has been good for Britain. On other occasions the same political leaders and reporters depict multiculturalism as a failed experiment that inhibits social cohesion, fosters segregation and burdens hard-pressed local councils. On 6th December 2016 the ‘Casey Review’ stepped assertively into this discussion, immediately creating a stir. Fifteen years has passed since Ted Cantle published his influential but widely criticised ‘Community Cohesion’ report in 2001. So does Dame Louise Casey’s report represent a great leap forwards or a missed opportunity?

What is the Casey Review and what does it say?

Louise Casey is a senior civil servant who has worked with both Labour and Conservative Prime Ministers. In July 2015 she was asked by Prime Minister Cameron to ‘undertake a review into integration and opportunity in our most isolated and deprived communities.’ The exhaustive ‘Casey Review’ arose from over 800 discussions with members of the public and 200 written submissions. Casey (point 1.8) helpfully links segregation and lack of social mobility with social exclusion (section 6). She reminds us that interaction between people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds benefits society as well as enriching the lives of individuals (1.12). In the toxic atmosphere created by the ‘Brexit’ vote this is an important point for a government official to re-assert. Casey goes on to argue that, ‘respect for the rule of law, democracy, equality and tolerance – are inhibitors of division, hate and extremism…’ (1.13) and shines a light on the corrosive impact of Islamophobia. This commitment to social inclusion and social justice promises much but ultimately the report represents a disappointing missed opportunity for three reasons.

Dubious claims about segregation

Whilst acknowledging that residential segregation amongst ethnic minority communities continues to decline Casey makes questionable claims about growing segregation, which bear a striking resemblance to similar assertions in previous years by Ted Cantle and Trevor Phillips. The report notes that 682 electoral wards in England have a ‘non-White’ population of more than 40%, that in 69 wards 40% of people describe themselves as Muslim and in 4 wards more than 80% of people belong to what the review calls a ‘minority religion’. Such figures seem stark until we realise that there are almost 9,500 local government wards in England. In fact just 7% of wards have a ‘non-White’ population of more than 40%, a tiny 0.7% have a Muslim population of more than 40%  and a minute 0.04% have a ‘minority religion’ population of 80% – hardly compelling evidence of creeping segregation. Given its focus on integration, the ‘Casey Review’ had the opportunity to shine a light on the only ethnic group that has become more segregated in the 21st century – the White-British community but just 1 page in the 199 page-long review is devoted to White identity. Rather than asking if patterns of White flight are the drivers behind segregation Casey devotes most of her review to arguably unrepresentative examples of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish segregation. Jon Fox suggests that the report’s overwhelming focus on immigration makes it difficult to think constructively about integration – ‘By turning up the volume on immigration rhetoric we’re drowning out the possibilities for integration.’

Confusing ethnicity and religion

In light of this, it is troubling that the report consistently blurs the lines between ethnicity and religion and has a tendency to rely on generalised assertions about complex religious traditions (mostly Islam).

“it is troubling that the report blurs the lines between ethnicity and religion and relies on generalised assertions about complex religious traditions (mostly Islam)”.

Such generalisations appear to betray a surprising lack of understanding (or ‘religious literacy’). Casey shines a light on abusive cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage but unreasonably labels these ‘religious’. It is true that some people of faith (Christians as well as Muslims) promote such abuse. However to unreasonably confuse cultural practices with Islamic values runs the risk of heightening and not reducing Islamophobia. As Aina Khan suggests Casey appears to use the phrase ‘cultural practices’ as a synonym for ‘Muslim’.

What about class?

Casey comments extensively on the relationship between high levels of social exclusion and low levels of integration. However the report does not explore the link between class and social exclusion in any depth, preferring instead to couple social exclusion and ethnicity. The lack of any serious discussion about class diminishes the report’s welcome reflections on social exclusion and could, even if only unconsciously, imply the social exclusion is more to do with ethnicity and religion than economics, employment or class. An exploration of the experience of people living on socially excluded White-majority urban housing estates and the growing suburbanisation of parts of the Black-British, Indian-British and Pakistani-British communities could have helped to correct this weakness within the report.

Great leap forward or missed opportunity?

The ‘Casey Review’ has much to commend it and shines a light on the important relationship between social exclusion and community cohesion. The report pays greater attention to the cultural significance of religion than most previous government reviews, which is to be welcomed.

“the ‘Casey Review’ fails to deliver on its promise due to its over-emphasis on immigration, dubious analysis of segregation, reluctance to explore White identities and neglect of the link between class and lack of social mobility.”

However the ‘Casey Review’ fails to deliver on its promise as a result of its over-emphasis on immigration, its dubious analysis of apparent segregation, its reluctance to explore White identities in any depth and its neglect of the link between class and lack of social mobility. What could have represented a great leap forward should, unfortunately, be seen as a missed opportunity and a review that might even hinder the community cohesion it seeks to foster.

To cite this article, please use the following: Shannahan, Chris (2017) ‘The Casey Review: Great leap forward or a missed opportunity? Public Spirit (January 2017:…ssed-opportunity)

Chris Shannahan is Research Fellow in Faith and Peaceful Relations at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University.

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