Whether we’re facing 2017 with a sense of possibility or trepidation – the tumultuous events of 2016 are challenging us all to see our world with different eyes – from the hellish outlook of people escaping their homelands and fleeing for their lives, to people whose image of themselves is disenfranchised or not cared about. We are also challenged to look unflinchingly at the prospect of a world shaped by people who exploit instability and ignite disharmony in their quest for power.
The glaring lesson from history is that insecurity and a sense of powerlessness inflame scapegoating and division. It was interesting to see that the recent Casey Review was greeted in the popular press as some kind of proof that we live in a fundamentally riven society, where religious divisions – or perhaps one religion in particular – impedes greater social progress. Sensational coverage neglected the actual focus of the Review – “integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities”. It would have been much less “interesting” – and barely earth-denting – to report that there is limited integration in the pockets of our society characterised by community isolation.
Various reports of the Review jumbled a lot of “so what?” statistics as evidence of deep national division: Wards where the Muslim population is over 49% now stands at 69….. out of a total of 9,456 wards in the country….. 11,000 honour crimes recorded ….. awful, but less than one percent of the country’s annual reported domestic abuse crimes….. 511 schools now have a majority of pupils from the Bangladeshi or Pakistani communities …. from over 30,000 schools. Less prominently reported was the fact that 89% of citizens think that their community is cohesive.
A lack of integration in some of our communities is a critical problem to address – for the health and prosperity of isolated communities, and for the well-being of our whole society. The fact that a tenth of the country does not feel their community to be cohesive is of real significance. The salutary lesson from the way the Casey Review was reported, is how easily the challenges faced by isolated communities are used to exploit the insecurity and sense of alienation of the wider population; and how quickly the focus on those communities becomes a focus on their “failure” to integrate – without recognising the responsibilities of that wider population, the discrimination that shapes the development of those communities, and the two-way street that integration occupies.
The Review did note two things which we often overlook in the search for structural solutions to community division. One is how people feel – not very scientific but central to the creation and perpetuation of division. Unless we seek openly to address the feelings that divide us, we will not change perspectives or actions. The other is compassion and its role in our approach to cohesion. We can only effectively address our own and other’s feelings and their consequences, if we can do so without creating blame and stigma. There is potentially a greater honesty and power to this combination that moves us beyond the myths, misinformation and misunderstandings that characterise words and views.
We want 2017 to be a year when we can highlight and promote the fabulous work many of our members are doing – to address the well-being of customers and employees enabling them to feel better about themselves and their place in their community; and to bring communities together so that they can learn and feel differently about each other. We look forward to working with all our partners to see the world through the eyes of those who most need our support, to resist and address divisiveness and to ensure that everyone in each of our communities can thrive and prosper.
Sallie Bridgen and Alison Burns, Joint Chief Executives, Housing Diversity Network