The concept of community cohesion was established in the UK in 2001 and has gradually developed and become a key part of understanding and responding to the changing dynamics of diversity in many parts of the world.

Prior to community cohesion, various forms of multicultural practice attempted to mediate relationships between different community interests – generally based upon ‘racial’ differences. And  the ‘mediation’ largely depended upon policies of separation and separate development, with little or no attempt to build acceptance of the ‘other’, nor manage integration.

Community cohesion policy and practice demands contact and interaction to break down barriers, undermine prejudices and stereotypes and pro-actively tackle the grievances, injustices, divisions and segregation of ‘parallel lives’ – a term that was also first used to describe the deep divisions that undermine cohesion.

This fundamentally new approach – under the banner of ‘community cohesion’ – became a mainstay of race and community relations policy and practice after 2001 and  has now been extended to many other societal divisions, including faith, sexual orientation, disability, age and health.

The following sections set out the rise of community cohesion policy and practice

The birth of community cohesion

The concept of ‘community cohesion’ was established following a number of riots and disturbances in England in 2001 and the subsequent Report of the Independent Review Team (the ‘Cantle Report’, 2001).

While continuing to emphasise the need to tackle inequalities, community cohesion programmes were radically different in that they attempted to build understanding between different groups and to build mutual trust and respect by breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions about the ‘other’. There have now been many clear and measurable impacts of such programmes and these assessments are generally based upon attitudinal and behavioural change in the programme participants and in the wider local community.

In addition to the small scale programmes focussed on divided communities, community cohesion was also developed at a city-wide or area level to develop support a broader consensus in support of diversity. These often included high profile campaigns featuring people from a range of backgrounds who ‘all belong’ and contribute to the economic and cultural life of the area. These campaigns were important in that they tried to present a new positive picture of diversity and whilst recognising the value of cultural heritage and distinctiveness, it placed a new emphasis on the commonalities between groups and thereby contributed to a less defensive and more progressive form of multiculturalism .

Indeed, from the outset, community cohesion attempted to develop a positive vision for diverse societies, (which was turned into a formal definition – see below), in which people from all backgrounds would feel that they belonged and were valued, enjoyed similar life opportunities and interacted with people from different backgrounds to break down myths and stereotypes and to build trust. This contrasted with the development of multiculturalism, which was still conceptualised as being largely defensive and negative – to try to stop the worst effects of a racist and colonial past by keeping people apart and avoiding debate. It was difficult to find any positive vision for multiculturalism before 2001, other than the 1966 statement of the then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, which he suggested that ‘integration’ should not be ‘a flattening process, but as equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’ (Jenkins, 1966).

Community cohesion has then developed as positive vision of a diverse society and has been supported by a wide range of programmes to improve community relations. Unlike multiculturalism, these programmes have been introduced to challenge separation and segregation and  have used contact and interaction to build understanding and break down real and imagined barriers. Interculturalism has also emerged to provide a wider vision of ‘living together’ in which cultures are exchanged to create a shared society.

The concept of ‘Parallel Lives’

The concept of parallel lives was first established in the report of the Community Cohesion Review Team, which examined the causes of the race riots in Northern towns in England in 2001. This encapsulated the critique of multiculturalism and became a means by which both the theory and practice of community cohesion could be understood and developed. It has also been extended beyond the race and faith debate to other areas of difference.

The term “parallel lives” was very deliberately chosen to emphasise that the two principal communities (White British and Asian) that were the main focus of the report had little or no contact and had developed separately. The concept was neutral in that it illustrated that it was not a case of either community moving away from the other; both had remained in, or developed, separate spheres. Distinctive residential areas did not in themselves constitute parallel lives and were apparent only when supported by separate social, cultural, educational and employment patterns – the parallel lives did not meet at any point. The separation of communities by ethnicity and/or faith meant that there was a lack of shared experiences, with little opportunity for the emergence of shared values. (Note: The concept of ‘parallel lives’ was recently reviewed by The British Integration Survey  -The Challenge, 2019 – and unfortunately found a continuing relevance with 44% of  British people having no contact with people from different ethnic backgrounds; and that 90%  of White British people said that all or most of their contacts are also White).

While the focus was of the earlier reports were very much upon the Northern English towns, the term reflected findings in many different parts of the country and a wider concern about the many levels of both spatial and social segregation. The separation of communities into their parallel lives, even where this was less acute than in the Northern towns, created a situation in which many communities lived in ignorance and fear of each other, with each feeling that others were receiving preferential treatment, often as the result of regeneration and other programmes.

Little or nothing had been done to break down the barriers between the communities, to promote interaction and mutual trust and understanding – prejudices were allowed to fester with little leadership at either local or national level to promote a positive view of diversity. In these circumstances, it was relatively easy for the far right and other extremists to develop myths and misinformation and stir up race and religious hatred – and to maintain the conditions under which disadvantage and inequalities would persist.

Conceptual development

There have been at least three formal national definitions of the concept, each building upon the other over the six year period from 2002 to 2008. These are shown below. All refer, however, to the need for strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds, tackling inequalities and developing a positive climate of opinion to support diversity. There are also a large number of local definitions, which draw upon the formal national definitions but tend to add a local context.

The first formal definition built directly on the Cantle (2001) and Denham (2001) reports, and was constructed by representatives of the co-authors of the Guidance on Community Cohesion: the Local Government Association (LGA); the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; the Commission for Racial Equality and the Inter-Faith Network. This is the definition that has endured and remains the most well used and accepted today:

A cohesive community is one where:

  • – There is common vision and a sense of belonging for all communities;
  • – The diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances are appreciated and positively valued;
  • – Those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; and
  • – Strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.

Source: Local Government Association et al (LGA, 2002)

Some five years later the Commission for Integration and Cohesion (CIC, 2007) proposed a number of amended and additional points, which offered a more complex and somewhat convoluted definition and sought to add concepts of ‘trust’, ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ – perhaps owing more to ideas about citizenship which was a Government pre-occupation at the time:

The commission’s new definition of an integrated and cohesive community is that it has:

  • – a defined and widely shared sense of the contribution of different individuals and groups to a future local or national vision
  • – a strong sense of an individual’s local rights and responsibilities
  • – a strong sense that people with different backgrounds should experience similar life opportunities and access to services and treatment
  • – a strong sense of trust in institutions locally, and trust that they will act fairly when arbitrating between different interests and be subject to public scrutiny
  • – a strong recognition of the contribution of the newly arrived, and of those who have deep attachments to a particular place – focusing on what people have in common
  • – Positive relationships between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, schools and other institutions.

Source: Commission for Integration and Cohesion (CIC, 2007)

A further layer of complexity was added by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG, 2008) in response to the CIC report:

Community Cohesion is what must happen in all communities to enable different groups of people to get on well together. A key contributor to community cohesion is integration which is what must happen to enable new residents and existing residents to adjust to one another.

Our vision of an integrated and cohesive community is based on three foundations:

  • – People from different backgrounds having similar life opportunities
  • – People knowing their rights and responsibilities
  • – People trusting one another and trusting local institutions to act fairly

And three ways of living together:

  • – A shared future and sense of belonging
  • – A focus on what new and existing communities have in common, alongside a recognition of the value of diversity
  • – Strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds.

Source: Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG, 2008a)

It is doubtful that either of these later definitions added much to the original and have tended to blur the focus of cohesion as being based on belonging, equal opportunities and positive interaction. However, the policy domain has been particularly productive in producing supportive guidance and documentation. This in itself can be organised into three phases. First, those that followed the disturbances in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford in 2001 a range of interventions at a national and local level were generated. These included Ouseley (2001), Ritchie (2001) and Clarke (2001) as well as the Cantle Report (Cantle, 2001). The initial reports stemmed from inquiries into the various disturbances (though the Ouseley Report was commissioned prior to the disturbances in Bradford) and, together with the Government’s response (Denham, 2001), established a set of common themes that have framed much of the debate on community cohesion over the last decade or so. These reports are, hereinafter, collectively referred to as the ‘2001 Reports’.

The 2001 Reports also drew attention to structural inequalities and disadvantage faced by all communities. Whilst, poverty and deprivation clearly plays a part on in community divisions, this critique has failed in a number of respects. Firstly, assertions that poverty is responsible for poor community relations and, more generally for racism, do not distinguish between the concepts of relative deprivation and absolute poverty. Most commentators equate ‘poverty’ in the most general way with the competition between majority and minority communities over jobs and resources, although it is often presented as a function of people being deprived or ‘poor’. In some cases, the element of competition is a key factor in differences, but the level of hostility between groups can vary from place to place and in different contexts, even though relative deprivation of the different communities is the same. It would also not explain why the response to the relative deprivation of one group is to attack another relatively deprived group rather than seek common cause with them or take some other form of action. Competition between different communities was recognised in the 2001 Reports, as one of the ‘most consistent and vocal concerns’ (Cantle, 2001, p25) as a contributory factor and this view was reinforced in the later cohesion review (CIC, 2007) and has been found in other studies (Semyonov et al 2006). However, the perception of the unfair distribution of resources, public services and life chances, can be present at different levels in society and is not limited to the poorest of sections.

The suggestion that racism and other divisions are attributable to absolute poverty is equally spurious, with the implicit suggestion that poorer people are likely to be more racist, often based upon no more than stereotypes about poorer people, rather than on evidence. The support for the Far Right in the UK is certainly not limited to the poor in an absolute or relative sense and many ‘dissatisfied democrats’ have been rallied by the Far Right over ‘rising diversity and more culturally distinct Muslim communities’ (Goodwin, 2011, p 61) and widespread opposition to migration is evident (ibid, p62 -66). The Far Right parties like the BNP and newer EDL have very wealthy backers who, despite their wealth, are also willing to espouse racist views as well as support racist causes. However, the discussion of poverty and deprivation in this context also confuses the position of individual actors and those of particular communities. Laurence and Heath (2008) point to a connection between disadvantaged areas and lower cohesion scores, although they are careful to also point out that some of the most deprived areas have high cohesion scores and that living in an area with a broad range of diversity was positively associated with cohesion. Their findings reinforce the idea that poorer monocultural areas fare worse in this respect. Subsequent attitudinal research in England (DCLG, 2011, p9) also confirmed that the ‘ethnic composition of the households in the area was the most significant demographic predictor of respect for ethnic differences’ and that ‘in areas where five per cent or more of the households were ethnic minority households, the greater the likelihood that people felt ethnic differences would be respected’. Further, contrary to the simple link with poverty proposed by some, the research also indicated that lower socio-economic groups had ‘a greater chance of feeling that their local area was an area where people from different backgrounds got on well together’ (ibid, p9).

‘Differences’ are not confined to ethnicity or faith, and also encompass sexual orientation, age, special needs and disabilities, and other characteristics and therefore have deeply rooted socio-psychological roots which are also independent, though sometimes related, to the economic structure. It is seldom asserted that homophobic violence, inter-generational conflict, or hate crimes against disabled people are simply due to poverty. Rather, it is accepted that prejudice and ignorance play a strong part in discriminatory behaviour, including harassment and violent hate crime and intimidation.

Some of the critical response to the early stages of the development of community cohesion simply reflected the ‘defensive’ nature of multicultural policy discussed earlier, in that almost any discussion involving minority communities were always likely to be seen as a hostile attack. Further, they were part of a general, partly understandable, belief that any discussion of ‘race’ presented the Far Right with the opportunity to stir up trouble. Again, as discussed earlier, this is a rather out of date view and most people in Britain at least, no longer support the naked racist views of the Far Right. The political establishment and media clung to a ‘no platform’ position of the Far right in the media but on the few occasions that they given the ‘oxygen of publicity’ their ridiculous views are derided. However, it is much more difficult to contest the Far Right narrative on social media which has become based on ‘the threat to cultural identity’ and supposed Islamification, rather than simple racist narratives.

An important book by Paul Thomas soon validated the community cohesion concept and given credence to cohesion practice. In Youth, Multiculturalism and Community Cohesion (2011) Thomas describes a number of areas as having ‘profound ethnic segregation, and the separate, oppositional and potentially dangerous ethnic and religious identities’ and sets out ‘grounded evidence around the implementation of community cohesion…and the reality of ethnic tension’. (p 5) This was the first academic appraisal of community cohesion based upon empirical evidence. Thomas pointed out that community cohesion had been out of step with most previous academic analysis, but that analysis has been ‘completely free of empirical evidence, resting instead on national governmental reports and discourse’. (p 4). Consequently, multicultural theorists suddenly became very defensive and attempted unsuccessfully to critique the new agenda.

Social Cohesion and Community Cohesion.

Although the uses of the terms have varied and have sometimes been used synonymously, they should convey very different ideas.

Social cohesion generally refers to the way that economic inequalities create a sense of unfairness and undermine solidarity. These reflect  national social class and political divisions (most recently underpinned by Brexit in the UK and by Trump in the USA). Community cohesion, on the other hand, focuses on the problems between identifiable communities, based on ethnic, faith or cultural divisions and often involve a degree of racism or religious intolerance. While community cohesion recognises that these groups may sometimes have different economic positions, ‘social cohesion’ goes much further by suggesting that all societal differences are essentially determined by material inequalities – the classic and simplistic defence of  old style multiculturalism.

Community cohesion – key programmes

Tackling Inequalities

Community Cohesion has always embedded programmes which seek to tackle disadvantage and inequalities. Apart from the moral case, it is almost impossible to conceive of a cohesive society that has one section that is so deprived and alienated that it has no effective stake in it.

However, there has been a good body of experience and expertise upon which to build and many of the previous multicultural policies sought to either prevent discrimination, or promote equality of opportunity over many years. These are not therefore dealt with here and are discussed in detail and greater length in Ted Cantle’s book Community Cohesion: A New Framework for Race and Diversity published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.

Cohesion and interaction

‘Contact theory’ was invoked by community cohesion. Though it had been developed as a concept by Allthorp in 1954, this was the first real attempt in the UK to promote meaningful interaction between communities from different backgrounds and to promote trust and understanding and to break down myths and stereotypes . Cohesion programmes were introduced on a localised basis across the UK from about 2003, but with an initial concentration in England and a gradual development in Wales, Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Scotland, a few years later. Whilst most were developed by local authorities and voluntary agencies, there were some nationally recognised programmes, notably the school twinning programmes which brought together children of different backgrounds from monocultural schools. Guidance was issued nationally by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG, 2009a) and issued on the basis that:

‘The human need to connect with others is as important to our wellbeing as it ever was. Yet we all lead busy lives, concentrated around our immediate families and friends. We don’t always have time to get to know the people next door – let alone people living further afield. And where people are living individual, isolated lives, problems can arise. In the worst cases, people can become suspicious and hostile, especially towards individuals or groups they see as “different” or “not belonging”.

Encouraging interaction is one of the simplest, most straightforward ways in which we can we can overcome these barriers. When people have the chance to get to know each other, they focus on what they have in common, rather than their differences. This helps to break down prejudice and stereotypes, fostering instead mutual respect and understanding’.

Initially, these programmes were regarded as ‘cross-cultural’ interaction, though this began to give way to, or be used interchangeably with, ‘intercultural’. The notion of intercultural dialogue gathered pace as a result of the International Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008 but subsequently developed a broader approach through the  world-wide Intercultural Cities programme sponsored by the Council of Europe. Since the inception of community cohesion in 2001, contact theory has therefore become much more widely recognised in both practical and conceptual terms, (see for example, work by Professor Miles Hewstone of Oxford University). This is further discussed in the ‘Interculturalism’ section and, indeed, the promotion and use of contact theory has become a key factor in distinguishing interculturalism from multiculturalism.

Social capital theorists like Robert Putnam has also emphasised the importance of creating  ‘bridging’ social capital (Putnam, 2000 and 2007) to build relations between different communities and a specific research study of What Works in Community Cohesion (DCLG 2007) which reviewed the practical application of cohesion programmes demonstrated that cross cultural interaction could be used much more widely to address community level divisions and tensions. The impact of cohesion programmes has been, therefore, to directly challenge racist and xenophobic narratives and to demand a more positive portrayal of diversity, largely in the British context, through promoting a new local narrative of place.

(Note: The very early Race Relations legislation in the UK did include duties to promote ‘good relations’, particularly between immigrants and the host community, but these were largely ignored – see Cantle (2008) p 38-40)

Developing a commitment to cohesion and a new narrative of place.

From the outset, then, community cohesion programmes have been developed on a wider basis than one-to-one contact or cross-cultural interaction. The first formal definition (LGA et al, 2002) also recognised the need to ‘positively value’ the ‘diversity of people’s different backgrounds’ and to ‘promote a common vision and sense of belonging for all communities’. In other words, individual contact and interactions needed to be supported by wider social and political commitments – and actions.

The evidence in support of this contention is overwhelming. All of guidance issued to public agencies reflected this wider approach, often supported by case studies and examples which displayed a surprising amount of innovation and determination. Despite the challenges in the UK in the first decade of  this century, including rising hostility to the then wave of inward migration, the demonisation of the British Muslim communities and the rise of the Far Right, attitudinal surveys showed that the proportion of people agreeing that their local area was a place where people from different ethnic backgrounds were respected had increased from 79 per cent in 2003 to 85 per cent in 2009-10 and the findings over this period also revealed an increase in strength of feeling. (DCLG, 2011, p9) – arguably, this success had been due to the investment in cohesion programmes. However, the new Government in the UK in 2010 downplayed the role of community cohesion and reduced funding and hy ‘gorad no national policy until rising concerns about cohesion led to the production of an Integrated Communities Strategy in 2018 – and by which time the number of people reporting that they ‘got on well with people from other backgrounds’ had fallen back to 81%.

In the UK, the formal guidance reflected the need for wide ranging measures that promoted an inclusive sense of belonging at the community and individual levels (LGA et al 2002). This was soon reinforced by a Government announcement that it would monitor progress on community cohesion at a local level and that this would be based upon a range of indicators including the perceptions of local people about the respect for difference, ass well as objective inequality indicators (Home Office et al, 2003). This gave an imperative to local authority and partner agencies, who were also exhorted, for the first time, to provide a visible commitment to diversity and clear leadership.

The leadership message was reinforced by other guidance (LGA, et al, 2004 and Home Office, 2005a) and with a specific guide for local leaders, supported by practical examples, on a cross party basis in 2006 (LGA, et al 2006). The emphasis on vision and leadership was particularly welcome and necessary given that the 2001 Reports were very clear in their criticism of the failure of local political leadership in this respect and the continuing absence of any real attempt to promote the value of diversity. However, the role of all local partners was stressed, with leadership and commitment demanded of all members of ‘local strategic partnerships’ (LSPs) which were emerging at the time as the driving force behind regeneration of local areas and included representatives of local businesses, faith and voluntary agencies, police and other public bodies, as well as political and civic leaders.

The production of practical guidance, support programmes and policy exhortations, extended over a good number of years. Guidance was issued for many professional areas, for example in respect of cohesion in relation to regeneration (Home Office, 2004), housing (Blackaby, 2004) and schools (Home office, 2004a). Some additional finance was also provided by Central Government to resource particular schemes and programmes, but more importantly, they began to emphasise the importance of ‘mainstreaming’ cohesion work, so that it became part of everyday practice, integrated into existing programmes and professional activity. The Government also made the very significant step of to trying embed cohesion practice into all 23,000 state maintained schools in England through the introduction of the ‘duty to promote community cohesion’, supported by formal guidance (DCSF 2007). This meant that every school age child, from entry into primary school at around four years of age to around seventeen years when they left, would be introduced to ‘others’ virtually or actually, and provided with more positive experiences of difference. (unfortunately the school duty to promote community cohesion was taken out of the inspection framework by the new Government in 2010 and resulted in a loss of focus and increasing school segregation.)

The support and guidance of national government and agencies was augmented to a considerable extent by the work of other professional and independent agencies. This included the scrutinising of performance (LGIU, 2005) and the countering of myths and misinformation about minorities (LGIU, 2006). It also included a range of practical measures, supported by case studies to ‘understand the stranger’ (ICAR, 2004); use ‘the power of sport’ to bring communities together (iCoCo, 2006); develop new communications strategies to promote inclusion and a sense of belonging (iCoCo, 2006a); to more effectively map and engage with diversity in local areas (iCoCo, 2006b); to anticipate tensions and conflicts within and between communities (iCoCo, 2007); to develop professional skills to understand and respond to cohesion issues (iCoCo, 2007a); and to improve the relations with, and integration of, new European Migrants (iCoCo, 2007b).

One of the key messages from the CIC report (2007) was that community cohesion had to recognise that local context was very significant and that highly localised initiatives were necessary to reflect the particular circumstance associated with each place. Further, the CIC emphasised that cohesion was also about differences of disability, sexual orientation, social class, health and disability, as well as faith and ethnicity. However, it represented a more profound change in that it underlined the shift from the promotion of civic values at a national level, to the development of ‘building a sense of commonality around real life issues, such as life ambitions and local problems’ (DCLG, 2007, p6). This meant that the focus of the ‘belonging’ debate shifted from the nationalistic and contested ideas about ‘Britishness’ to developing more benign forms of local identities.

The debate about Britishness has, of course, always been challenging for the British left, which has generally opposed nationalism and tended to fight shy of patriotism of any form., whereas in other parts of the world the left has often led struggles for national liberation or viewed the building of a national culture as a progressive project (for instance, as part of anti-colonial struggles across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean); the British left has tended to be wary of waving a flag historically viewed as symbolising empire and monarchy (Muir, 2007 p5). However, whilst the Far Right have no hesitation in jingoistic flag waving, based on past monocultural and exclusionary ideas about identity, centrist right parties have also found it difficult to articulate ‘common values’ which are British-specific and have often simply tended to counterpose more extreme forms of Muslim based community values with those of the West (see for example, Cameron, 2011). The development of local identities and belonging has therefore had a wide appeal and has been a mainstay of community cohesion programmes. This enables community cohesion to develop as a product of local relationships: it is about people being able to relate to one another in their everyday lives, in the street, in the newsagent, at the school gate and; particularly in ethnically mixed and diverse areas, where citizens from different backgrounds can feel they have something in common because they live in the same neighbourhood. (Muir, 2007).

The development of predominantly local belonging campaigns emphasised that cohesion is focussed on a bottom-up local agenda which reflected diversity and promoted an ‘all of us’, or ‘our shared future’ concept, exemplified by the CIC Report. (2007 and the development of local identity and belonging campaigns to garner a sense of solidarity may also be a recognition of the new reality of national identity. Whereas, feelings of solidarity and common values could perhaps have been taken for granted in a period of ethnic and religious homogeneity, they now apparently have to be promoted more actively by the state to emphasise common citizenship (Kymlicka, 2003a, p195). There have now been dozens of local ‘belonging’ campaigns covering every conceivable type of community in Britain, from Scotland’s ‘Many Cultures one Scotland’ to highly localised town specific ‘one community’ presentations (Cantle, 2008, p182) and more recently an ‘I Love Hackney’ campaign, in London appealing to people’s sense of civic pride and identification with the area in order to deal with a number of problems that require collective effort and public participation, such as raising recycling levels and reducing antisocial behaviour, as well as promoting cohesion (Muir, 2007). More recently the symbol of a bee has been used by the Manchester community to promote belonging and solidarity – this was in response to the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in 2017.

Muir (2007) has also pointed out that these campaigns have a number of spin-off benefits in that rates of local political participation are in part determined by the strength of attachment to local place, suggesting that by promoting local identities one can boost democratic engagement and the involvement of citizens in local civic affairs.

Belonging campaigns have a number of practical as well as conceptual advantages over those at the national level and present a new and positive picture of diversity without either attempting to define and institute a value system, nor raise questions about the contribution to national revenues and the use of expenditure programmes. Building belonging around local places may also be easier as it allows for more multifaceted identities, which reflect the present patterns of globalisation and super diversity. The concept of multiculturalism has been unable to adapt to these new ideas about identity and are rooted in the accommodation of migrants within host communities. Interculturalism is not limited in this way and builds upon the early work of community cohesion to provide a more international and dynamic view of identity which recognises that integration and solidarity can develop at a
number of different levels.

Beyond Cohesion?

The contribution of community cohesion has been profound and has challenged many of the shibboleths of old style multiculturalism, not because they were inherently wrong but simply that the defensive model provided was appropriate for the 1960s and 1970s and it failed to adjust to the emerging era of super diversity and globalisation.

Some early concern about the new concept of community cohesion was perhaps inevitable from those people steeped in an approach to race relations who saw any critique as another attack on minorities and diversity. In fact, it has proved to be exactly the opposite, promoting the value of diversity, encouraging a strong sense of inclusion and belonging, whilst continuing to tackle inequalities and injustices. It has challenged the host community to think about diversity in a more positive way and has improved tolerance, understanding and respect for difference. It has also recognised that ‘difference’ is no longer defined by simple black and white ideas about ‘race’ and is multifaceted and dynamic. More importantly, community cohesion programmes appear to have improved community relations at a time of considerable uncertainty and anxiety about ‘others’ at an international level and during a period of high levels of population change and churn.

The levels of investment in community based programmes have however fallen recently and local authorities and voluntary agencies are finding it difficult to sustain the programmes which have contributed to the building of capacity and confidence in communities and the local and professional bodies which provide services. Bearing in mind that the Far Right continue to champion a backward looking agenda, capitalising on peoples fear of change and difference, more investment will be needed to respond to an ever changing world. We also need a new paradigm to underpin cohesive societies and whereas community cohesion has largely been a response to local divisions and tensions within nation states a new model of interculturalism will be necessary to replace our ideas about multiculturalism with a more outward focussed and internationally orientated model in response to globalisation and super diversity.

The Community Cohesion Resources Section: From 2001 to date


The concept of community cohesion emerged in the UK in 2001, following the disturbances in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham. The independent Community Cohesion Review Team, chaired by Ted Cantle, reported at the end of 2001 (Community Cohesion, report of the Independent Review Team, 2001 – The Cantle Report). The ‘Cantle Report’, as it became known, provided a national overview of the state of race and community relations, following visits to a wide range of towns and cities, including both riot stricken areas and those that had not experienced any tensions.

The Cantle Report also drew attention to polarised and segregated communities, in which people led ‘parallel lives’ and made some 67 recommendations. Whilst still highlighting the need to tackle inequalities, the recommendations were much more wide ranging and included measures to bring communities together, tackle fear and prejudice and to promote unity and a positive vision of diversity It amounted to a new approach to race and diversity with a focus on community inter-relationships, whilst maintaining a concern for inequalities. It was the first policy report to draw upon the concept of ‘contact theory’ and to advocate its practical application.

Three other reports emerged at roughly the same time and these dealt with the individual areas affected by the riots. These were:

The Government immediately responded to all four reports. John Denham MP, a Home Office Minister, on behalf of a ministerial group, produced ‘Building Cohesive Communities’ (The Denham Report) which broadly accepted the general approach of the Cantle and other reports.

The Government reserved judgement on some of the specific proposals but established a cross departmental ministerial group and a team of civil servants to consider the issues in greater detail and to develop practice.



A number of agencies began to consider the recommendations and to develop responses to the emerging community cohesion agenda, most notably the Local Government Agency (LGA), the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), The Home Office, The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Inter Faith Network.

Their ‘Guidance on Community Cohesion’ LGA 2002, was issued a year later in December 2002 and did much to take the agenda forward in practical terms. It also provided a four point formal definition of community cohesion, which has been widely adopted since that time.

Meanwhile, the Home Office had asked Ted Cantle to lead an implementation group. The Community Cohesion Panel was established and at various times involved about 200 people from a range of professional, community and other organisations, to develop more in depth guidance, much of which was theme based. By 2003 they had a number of outputs, perhaps the most notable of which was the guidance in respect of Area Based Initiatives (ABIs). Regeneration schemes had been identified as a major source of tension between communities, largely due to the way in which different communities had been in competition with each other in respect of regeneration monies.

Two reports were published on the practice of regeneration:

In addition the Home Office, in liaison with the Panel, developed a performance framework for community cohesion. This was aimed at local authorities and their partners and was designed to try to establish some ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ indicators of the state of community cohesion in any given local area. The publications was –

Building a picture of community cohesion, Home Office et al, 2003

By this time the Home Office had established a substantial Faith and Cohesion Unit who were able to take forward the agenda without external support. Resources were also beginning to be made available for a range of initiatives, particularly in respect of cross-cultural interaction. A ‘Pathfinder Programme’ was established in early 2003 and 14 authorities received government funding (another 14 were established without funding) and after six months their progress was reported:

Community cohesion pathfinder programme, The Home Office and VantagePoint, 2003


Another important Panel output was in respect of advice to schools about their contribution to community cohesion. The Panel’s Education Practitioner Group developed a set of standards which could be easily adopted by schools. These were published as –

Community cohesion standards in schools, The Home Office Community Cohesion Unit, 2004

The Community Cohesion Panel produced its final report in July 2004, in which it commented on the progress made since the first Cantle Report and indicated a number of areas in which, in their view, further development was required. The second Cantle Report picked up on the central question of the first report, that of ‘parallel lives’ –

The end of parallel lives, report of the Community Cohesion Panel (the 2nd Cantle Report) Home Office, 2004

The Local Government Association also continued to be active in this area and produced updated guidance on all aspects of community cohesion in 2004. This took the form of –

Community Cohesion – an action guide, LGA, 2004

Local authorities led many of the community cohesion strategies for their area, supported by a range of public, private and voluntary sector partners.


In the following year the strategic role was emphasised and LGA provided a sister publication to focus on leadership. It was targeted at Chief Executives and Leaders of Councils and advocated a corporate or ‘whole council’ approach. This guidance was:

Leading cohesive communities, LGA, 2005

Practice was also continuing to develop and the Community Cohesion Unit developed a more practically orientated guide which identified seven steps towards improving cohesion and was based on case studies:

Community Cohesion, seven steps – a practitioners toolkit. CCU 2005

Meanwhile, the first book devoted to community cohesion was written by Ted Cantle and published by Palgrave Macmillan in late 2005. This dealt with both the theory and practice of cohesion and brought together ‘the journey to community cohesion’ with the theoretical underpinning and included a substantial chapter on the emerging practice. This was subsequently updated and re-printed in 2008 –

Community cohesion: a new framework for race and diversity, Ted Cantle, 2008 (Palgrave Macmillan)

During 2005, Ted Cantle established the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) to provide support to the burgeoning practice of community cohesion and to develop evidenced based interventions. Meanwhile, the Government also continued to promote the community cohesion agenda but decided to bring it together with their race equality strategy. The result was
‘Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society’ published in early 2005.


A year later, the Government followed this up and reported on the progress made, again both in terms of tackling inequality and promoting cohesion.

Improving opportunity, strengthening society – one year on, a progress report, The Home Office, July 2006

The Government set up the Commission on Integration and Cohesion in 2006, as an independent advisory body ‘to explore how different communities and places in England are getting along, and what more might be done to bring people together – respecting differences, but developing a shared sense of belonging and purpose’. They issued a consultation document in September 2006 and an Interim Report in early 2007. The Interim Report drew attention to the ‘increasing complexity of relations within and between communities’ and advocated more shared experiences, emphasising the importance of the use of English as a shared language.

Our interim statement, Commission on Integration and Cohesion (issued 2007)

The Government also issued a White Paper with a chapter devoted to community cohesion. This signaled the Government’s intent to make cohesion part of the performance framework for local government through the use of Local Area Agreements (LAAs) and the Corporate Assessment. It also indicated the Government’s growing concern about extremism and terrorism following the bombings which had taken place in London on July 7th 2005.

Strong and prosperous communities, Local Government White Paper, DCLG, October 2006

The Government extended the performance framework to schools, through the Education and Inspections Act 2006. This imposed the ‘duty to promote community cohesion’ on all state maintained schools in England and this came into effect from September 2007. Initial guidance was issued as follows:

Guide to education and inspections act 2006, DFES


The London bombings in 2005 and later incidents and events caused the Government to focus more and more on extremism in the Muslim community. This sometimes had the unfortunate effect of linking ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ with the wider Muslim community, rather than the small minority who supported such views. To try to ensure that its efforts were focused on Muslim ‘extremists’, rather than with other groups such as the far right, the Government introduced the term ‘violent extremism’ – see below. This replaced an earlier approach of ‘preventing extremism together’, but made little difference in practice. Whilst this new approach did promote broader shared values, it was used solely in connection with the Muslim community and local authorities and others were able to apply for additional resources to a specially constituted ‘preventing violent extremism’ fund. The single focus on the Muslim community, however, proved to be problematic (see later years, in particular Paul Thomas’s article in ‘2014’).

Preventing violent extremism – winning hearts and minds, DCLG, April 2007

The Government also set out some possible interventions, in the form of ‘pathfinder’ case studies in a companion publication and this also set out the ‘priority local authority area’ that would be eligible for funding. The areas were determined by the size of the Muslim population in the local area.

Preventing Violent Extremism – Pathfinder Case Studies DCLG, 2007

A review of equalities policy was conducted by a specially constituted panel chaired by Trevor Phillips in early 2007. The report (see below) was commissioned by the Prime Minister and suggested that ‘Britain has more advanced and effective equality legislation than most other states’. However, it took the opportunity to review policy and practice in the run up to the bringing together of the then current equality Commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) under the new Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Fairness and freedom: final report of the Equalities Review, Cabinet Office, HMSO, 2007

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion produced its final report ‘Our Shared Future’ in June 2007 (see below). This took a very wide view and did not solely focus on the current concern about ‘extremist’ activity. Rather, it attempted to see the cohesion debate as part of wider social changes, especially in terms of migration patterns and population dynamics. The Report made over 50 recommendations which were mainly of a practical nature. It also attempted to establish a new typology for cohesion, identifying different areas where the challenge of cohesion could be characterised as: ‘changing less affluent rural areas’; stable less affluent areas with manufacturing decline’; ‘stable less affluent urban areas (without manufacturing decline)’; ‘changing less affluent urban areas’; and ‘areas with tensions arising from a single issue’ (these were not pursued in policy terms, but did serve to emphasise the importance of local context).

The Commission drew attention to the positive views of multiculturalism with 79% of people across the country agreeing that ‘people from different backgrounds get on well together’. It recommended more action to create genuine shared experiences and places (and even more positive views were recorded in later years). It emphasised that more needed to be done to build shared values, mutual respect and civic responsibilities, especially in an era of ‘super-diversity’.

Amongst its principal recommendations were proposals to set up an agency to manage the settlement of migrants, to reduce the amount of documents translated into minority languages (to ensure greater use of the English language) and to similarly reduce the support given to single identity funding.

Our shared future, final report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, DCLG, June 2007

The Commission also produced a series of other documents and evidence in support of its conclusions. The most interesting of these is ‘What Works’ and this gave a good deal of practical examples and supporting material.

What works in community cohesion, research study for the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, DCLG, June 2007

The Government also reported on the progress being made towards achieving equality in the key public services and in building community cohesion, in their annual update of the ‘Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society’ strategy.

Improving opportunity, strengthening society – two years on, a progress report, DCLG, August 2007

The CRE conducted a formal investigation into regeneration practice, with particular regard to the race equality duty. The report’s findings were disappointing with the CRE criticising the extent to which race equality issues in regeneration were understood and developed into practice and they also found that those responsible for regeneration schemes seemed to have paid little regard to previous advice in respect of community cohesion.

Regeneration and the race equality duty, CRE, Sept 2007

The last report by the CRE, before it was merged into the EHRC, was A lot done, a lot to do, our vision for an integrated Britain, CRE, Sept 2007. This provided an overview of race relations over the last 30 years or so (since the inception of the CRE in 1976) and set out how many things had changed for the better. However, it also points to the remaining inequalities and argues for a more determined approach which can also tackle cohesion and integration at the same time.


The early part of 2008 was dominated by the aftermath of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s report (see above), with the Government issuing its various responses, often in the form of new guidance, all of which supported the change of direction inspired by the early reports on community cohesion.

In fact, the CIC report did a great deal to consolidate the cohesion agenda, providing the confidence that, as a new framework, cohesion was here to stay and that it would continue to be built upon.

Other developments too, particularly the introduction of the new Guidance on ‘duty to promote community cohesion‘ in schools, rolled out in 2008 at the start of a new inspection regime; a new community cohesion and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) policy; and the new Local Area Agreement (LAA) framework for local authorities and their partners (with nearly 100 making cohesion their first priority) have also helped to consolidate the agenda. iCoCo was asked by DCSF to prepare a practical cohesion toolkit for schools (available from the iCoCo and TeacherNet websites) to help schools to get to grips with the new Duty and produced a number of good practice examples.

Education continued to be a key focus for cohesion with the levels of ethnic and faith segregation in some parts of the country continuing to cause concern. The Runnymede Trust completed its two year – and critical – investigation into the particular impact that faith schools have on community cohesion.

CLG continued to add to the guidance around cohesion throughout the year, including the debate about the Translation of Publications (DCLG) into English, tension monitoring and a very benign view of interfaith relations with

‘Face to Face and Side by Side’ (DCLG).

iCoCo added a much more useful practical guide to Tension Monitoring which has now been widely adopted. A second edition with a number of additions was published in July 2010:

Tension monitoring guidance (iCoCo 2010)

As the year progressed, there was an increased interest in the role that community development and empowerment could play in promoting cohesion. In June, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published research which looked in particular at the challenges to be addressed if government policies to promote community engagement are to be genuinely inclusive of newcomers as well as more established communities.

Community Engagement and Cohesion Joseph Rowntree 2008

The contribution of health to community cohesion also began to be considered and iCoCo launched a review which was sponsored by the NHS. The result was Community Cohesion Health Toolkit ‘Better Together’ (iCoCo 2008), which developed the advice and guidance to professionals involved in health and this was supported by a range of case studies.
A key area of debate following the CIC report was about funding with the move away from single identity groups to those that encouraged greater integration in their activities.

DCLG Consultation on Cohesion Guidance for Funders in the summer of 2008 was largely in support of this. iCoCo set out its position iCoCo Response to Cohesion Guidance for Funders 2008 in response. The policy advocated by the CIC seemed to be under threat when Southall Black Sisters won a case against Ealing Council which had denied them funding. However, the resultant outcome appears to be that this is now largely left to local determination and changes have been made on the ground to encourage greater collaboration and ‘bridging’ work by local groups. Indications are that single identity funded has been greatly reduced.
Migration continued to be a hot topic and the CLG Select Committee conducted an investigation into the relationship between migration and community cohesion and the Select Committee’s final report outlined some of the challenges facing local authorities in dealing with the fast pace of change, including the lack of available data and clumsy funding mechanisms.

The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned iCoCo to research the local impacts of migration, with a particular emphasis on financial costs, to support a bid for more resources for communities involved in the settlement of migrants. The result was Estimating the scale and impacts of migration at local level, iCoCo 2008.

For many, the dominant theme continued to be the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism agenda. This strategy was now based around five key objectives: challenging the violent extremist ideology and supporting the institutions where they are active; supporting individuals who are being targeted and recruited to the cause of violent extremism; increasing the resilience of communities to violent extremism; addressing the grievances which ideologues are exploiting. The single-minded focus on the Muslim community however came under widespread criticism, not least from the Muslim community itself who resented the association with ‘terror’. The approach seemed to contradict the Government’s earlier concerns about single group/identity funding (see above) and was to become the focus of a House of Commons Select Committee (see below) and has been incrementally revised.

In April, DCLG published its Prevent Strategy guide for local partners (DCLG, 2008), aimed primarily at local authorities, police and education institutions. A further £12.5m was announced, to be spent to counter violent extremism and identify and support those individuals at risk across a range of key sectors, including prisons, among youth offenders, and through community and police led projects. This was augmented by guidance for specific parts of the education sector by DCSF and DIUS. Progress was highlighted in a summer report and then a further tranche of funding under the Pathfinder Scheme was announced at the end of the year.


2009 began with a new set of guidance and initiatives from DCLG which aimed to take forward the cohesion agenda. These initiatives showed a gradually evolving approach from Government which was aimed at embedding cohesion in delivery and practice. This was led by the DCLG Cohesion Delivery Framework 2009 and supported by the first attempt to set out what Community Cohesion and ‘meaningful interaction’ DCLG 2009 might mean in practice and how to promote positive relationships.

In what turned into a prolific year for guidance, the DCLG produced guidance on building a local sense of belonging. This suggested how councils, voluntary groups and other organisations can encourage a local sense of belonging as a means of delivering improved cohesion. This was developed alongside the power of general wellbeing which was placed on local authorities and many saw as a good way to mainstream cohesion into their work.

The capacity of local partners to initiate and implement cohesion programmes had grown steadily, led by iCoCo, which carried out over 60 local reviews and support programmes. Lessons from the Local Reviews was published in February 2009.

This coincided with the publication of the third annual progress report Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society 2009. This was soon followed by the eagerly awaited publication of the Equality Bill which became law in the form of the Single Equality Act 2010. This set out to harmonise existing anti-discrimination legislation across all areas of difference. The Act would also replace the existing duty to promote good race relations with one to promote good relations, enforceable by the EHRC. Towards the end of the year, the EHRC published an iCoCo Good Relations report on what this might mean conceptually. This was followed up with a guide to good relations measurement (EHRC 2010).

The schools duty began implementation in its first year and was to be inspected from September onwards. To this end, Ofsted produced its guidance for school inspectors on the duty to promote community cohesion. The new Coalition Government however, withdrew cohesion form the Ofsted regime in 2011, but the duty remains on schools and the advice is still very relevant.

The Citizenship Survey and Place Survey were published each year, providing rich data for the monitoring of national and local trends on community cohesion. (see latest – and the last – survey results in 2011) The findings helped to establish cohesion as part of mainstream service delivery. Local authorities continued to be the main focus for cohesion initiatives and DCLG published guidance for mainstreaming community cohesion in to other services and with other local organisations. As part of the process of building cohesion competence the DCLG also produced what frontline staff and activists need to know to build cohesion. The business case for cohesion was supported by new research which was provided as ‘the economic case for cohesion’, reviewing evidence for crime, fear of crime, education, employment, health and economic investment.

Housing also continued to be a focus for cohesion work, with the Government publishing research on the connections between housing market renewal and community cohesion.

The Prevent Agenda continued to dominate much of the cohesion programme, but criticism increased as the year went on, with many local delivery partners being more willing to voice their opposition and suggest how the programme could be changed. An influential New Local Government Network report, Stronger Together, provided a forum for this. In the autumn, the CLG House of Commons Select Committee announced an enquiry into the Prevent programme and this provided an opportunity for many critics to make their points to the MPs. iCoCo’s submission of written evidence called for a very different approach and had an impact, as The Select Committee report of its findings on Preventing Violent Extremism demonstrated in March 2010.

This criticism also appeared to be having an impact on Government thinking with speeches by the then Cohesion Ministers, Shahid Malik and John Denham indicating a more nuanced approach and also began to respond to concerns about the Far Right and its influence on the White working class.

(See Paul Thomas’s article in the 2014 Section below, which provides an excellent critique of Prevent)

The white working class were not only subject to increasing tensions and resentment, research also showed that white working class boys were now the least successful academically. A major Runnymede Trust publication, Who Cares about the White Working Class?, set out some of the key issues. Concern translated into Government policy in October when John Denham, at an iCoCo seminar, announced a major new initiative called ‘Connecting Communities’. Ted Cantle’s paper to the connecting communities seminar welcomed the new approach and set out some of the future challenges. The Government targeted areas (then numbering 160) where the recession had impacted most and job losses were most acute. Many of these areas were traditional manufacturing areas and the programme aimed to investigate the issues for those communities and to see whether traditional cohesion work had perhaps missed some of these people. The programme was initially for one year but DCLG indicated and was curtailed by the new Coalition Government.


The beginning of 2010 was overshadowed by the inevitability of a General Election and thus attention turned to the possibility of a change in thinking on community cohesion.

The General Election in May 2010 marked not only a new type of coalition government, but also a new policy direction – iCoCo’s Cohesion and Society Journal provided a full examination of the then current policies on:

  • cohesion
  • prevent
  • the big society

The coalition government launched its flagship Big Society programme, with the aim of empowering local people and communities, and building a Big Society that takes power away from politicians and gives it to people. This has remained controversial with opponents suggesting that it is simply a means of cutting public sector budgets and jobs. It did succeed, however, in re-emphasising the importance of community and of social capital.

The Equality Act 2010 scraped in prior to the election with all-party support. The Act replaced a range of previous discrimination legislation, bringing a much simpler and more accessible approach to the application of equality law and confirming the legal use of the key term ‘protected characteristics’. These are so comprehensive that everyone will have at least one characteristic and should be part of the new diversity.

The issue of identity in modern Britain continued to receive attention. IPPR produced a key work on diversity in Britain and how people identify themselves: ‘You can’t put me in a box’ (2010) built on past work such as The New Identity Politics (2007, Rick Muir), while ‘The English Question’ surveyed MPs to shed light on continuing debates over the constitutional position of England, and ‘Global Brit’ made recommendations for the Government’s engagement with the global British diaspora.

Work to promote ‘cross-cultural’ interaction gradually became understood as ‘bridging’ between cultures and some adopted the term ‘intercultural dialogue’ which had begun to emerge in other parts of Europe. iCoCo completed its second (of three) set of Baring Foundation sponsored ‘Awards for Bridging Cultures’ (ABCs) at the end of 2009 This attracted hundreds of applications each year. It was later built upon with the launching of a new iCoCo InterCultural Dialogue (ICD) Resource Pack in association with the British Council.

iCoCo pioneered a new programme of activity – the role of business in Community Cohesion. This was supported by employers, trade unions, the EHRC and central government. A new iCoCo workforce cohesion toolkit  launched in February provided practical guidance and access to case studies. The EHRC’s inquiry into a section of the food industry – showing horrific and widespread maltreatment of migrants in the UK’s meat and poultry packing industry – underlined the urgency and the importance improving and developing a response by the UK’s employers. However, few did so and there was little further interest until 2015, when the British Council produced a report on Intercultural Skills in the Workplace – see About Interculturalism’.


As the new coalition government approached its first anniversary, government bodies, NGOs and individuals began to get a clearer idea of what cohesion and equality meant for the new administration, and the implications of the much-vaunted ‘Big Society’ approach to community development and relations.

Efforts to reform the government’s handling of and approach to migration – including the controversial immigration cap – continued to dominate headlines, but did not seem to play a great part in May’s local elections. The BNP lost ground, and while UKIP took control of its first town council (in Ramsey), it failed to make anything like the breakthrough the party itself had predicted. However, the Far Right have been growing year on year and iCoCo set out the Far Right Electoral Activity and the Challenge to Cohesion and the way in which they have broadened their appeal over the last ten years.

Far right activity on the ground also continued to be a critical and costly issue for local authorities across England, with a range of English Defence League protests and marches causing ugly disruptions across the country. The start of the year, however, saw a greater level of resilience growing against this form of extremism, with councils creating channels of dialogue between one another to share their experiences on how best to mobilise resources and engage local communities. Leicester City Council and partners have been particularly active and imaginative in this respect (see and drawing upon some classic community cohesion techniques, they developed some excellent examples of methods of combating extremist rhetoric, including peace vigils and intercultural dialogue.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) presented their key periodical picture of Britain’s rapidly increasing diversity and shifting migration patterns, a crucial benchmarking opportunity after the enlargement of the EU. The ONS report began to challenge notions of ‘essentialist’ identities as the number of ‘mixed race’ people in England and Wales became the fastest growing group, increasing to almost one million between 2001 and 2009.

The Coalition Government delivered against one of its main priorities: the review of the 2007 Prevent Strategy. iCoCo responded during the select committee review, providing evidence around two essential focuses: the need for a broadening of the strategy to focus on wider extremism and the need for a clearer distinction between the concept of cohesion and the prevention of violent extremism. The new HM Government Prevent Strategy was published in June 2011, though the heavy focus on the Muslim communities has remained (and largely reflected the principal subject of the Prime Minister’s earlier speech in Munich in February 2011).

The future response to migration and intolerance has been a particularly prominent topic in the UK and across Europe with a series of reports published nationally and internationally. Perhaps most crucially, the Council of Europe’s ‘Living Together’ report which presented 17 ‘guiding principles’ for Europe’s response to the growing threats of intolerance and discrimination. The report also signaled increasing disillusionment with the concept of ‘multiculturalism’ as it had become understood and declined to use the term.

The summer riots in London other cities came as a very unwelcome surprise. They led to a large number of reviews, with a particular focus on young people. But race had a limited role and views about the causes – and responses – were accordingly divided, as Ted Cantle’s comment on the riots explains. The subsequent report of the Communities and Victims Panel 5 days in August’ Interim Report reflected the dichotomy of views and the lack of simple answers.

At the end of 2011, the Government published a series of Citizenship Surveys which seemed to reflect the reduction in racial tensions – and whatever the causes of the summer riots, they certainly did not reflect the straightforward black-versus-white antipathy of previous disturbances. The DCLG Citizenship Survey for 2010 and 2011 indicated the enormous success of community cohesion programmes over the last few years. The number of people reporting positive views about diversity and that ‘people from different backgrounds get on well with each other’ had risen to 86%. This was despite the rise in support for the Far Right and continued anti-migrant sentiment. A similar DCLG Citizenship Survey 2011 of race religion and equalities also indicated that perceptions of racial discrimination and prejudice and harassment had reduced. The latter document also gave an indication of just how far faith had moved into the public sphere.

A further and significant boost to community cohesion was provided by a new and important book by Paul Thomas. In Youth, Multiculturalism and Community Cohesion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) Thomas provided the first academic appraisal of community cohesion based upon empirical evidence. Thomas points out that community cohesion has been out of step with most academic analysis, but that analysis had been ‘completely free of empirical evidence, resting instead on national governmental reports and discourse’.

Thomas dismisses the charges that cohesion was in some way a return to assimilationism, or a shift away from tackling inequalities. He found that ‘community cohesion practice accepts and works with distinct ethnic and social identities, whilst augmenting them with overarching identities based on common connections, needs and experiences’ and was simply ‘a critique of particular forms of multiculturalism policy formation and operation that have focussed exclusively on the needs, identities and concerns of each separate ethnic group without consideration of relations, links and experiences shared between those groups’.
The challenges remain however, and as Ted Cantle explains, particularly in respect of the Far Right, with the Rumours About Their Death are Premature (Cantle, 2011). The Far Right continue to stir up race hatred and to promote fear of any ‘difference’ and their negative views do have to be constantly countered.


The Coalition Government eventually produced their statement on community cohesion. However, in order to try to avoid giving any credit to the former Labour Government and to be able to present a new approach, the new Government did not use the term ‘cohesion’ and instead preferred the term ‘integration’, which perhaps has more baggage and difficulty associated with it, because it has often been used as a proxy for assimilation. The Government launched ‘Creating the conditions for Integration’ , with the clear intention of downplaying of the agenda and reducing the role of Central Government. This has been unfortunately supported by a reduction in expenditure on all types of community based activity. The new Government also stopped the school inspections on the duty to promote community cohesion, which means less pressure on schools to promote the agenda, although the duty remains in force. It is also more than possible that the Government’s free school programme and the further endorsement of faith schools and academies will continue to divide children from an early age. However, the Government’s promise to ‘mainstream’ the agenda is welcome.

Ed Miliband MP, the Leader of the Opposition also gave his first speech in 2012 on ‘integration’ and in so doing attempted to re-position the Labour Party as being concerned about the impact of immigration and thus trying to respond to the more general popular resistance. He went as far as apologising for the Labour Government’s record on this issue and their failure to ensure integration and to make adequate services available. In his speech on the 14th December 2012 – (copy of speech)  – he also sought to establish a new framework for identity, in that ‘a Britain where people of all backgrounds, all races, all ethnicities, all cultures, can practise their own religion, continue their own customs, but also come together to forge a new and better identity’. In other words people can have more than one identity at the same time – a step away from the essentialised identities of multiculturalism. However, rather like the current Government, his integration mechanisms were not spelled out with a focus only on reinforcing English as the common language.

The London 2012 Olympics were a great success in many ways, not least because they helped to promote a truly intercultural view of the world and a positive view of diversity. The Jubilee also showed that it is possible to be proud of being British, without in any way excluding others and whilst acknowledging the diversity inherent in contemporary Britain.


As globalisation challenges our traditional understanding of international, national and community relations, the ability to successfully navigate global structures and cultures becomes not only important, but essential. In this interdependent world, where changing demographics shape the societies we live in, interculturalism offers a new approach to effectively manage the challenges and harness the opportunities provided by diversity and difference. Ted Cantle wrote the first book devoted to  Interculturalism and this was published by Palgrave Macmillan in September under the title of Interculturalism: the era of cohesion and diversity. Interculturalism can provide a national and international framework for community cohesion that allows us to not only be comfortable with difference, but also learn to live together in ever-changing and diverse societies. See ‘About Interculturalism



The early concerns that community cohesion might be a return to assimilation or some sort of politically motivated campaign to move away from the equalities agenda have now all but been dispelled. The practice of community cohesion continues in the UK, particularly in Wales where the Welsh Government maintains a cohesion strategy and programme. In Northern Ireland, cohesion work has developed under the ‘shared future’ programme and whilst activities in England have been reduced by Government expenditure cuts, some local projects continue. The Department of Communities and Local Government has also supported a ‘Near Neighbours’ scheme led by the Church of England.

A new book by Hannah Jones reviews past practice and again demonstrates that the ‘evidence free’ critique of community cohesion developed more than a decade ago by avowed multiculturalist academics was completely unfounded. Ted Cantle’s review of this book is available here Book Review ‘Negotiating Cohesion, Inequality and Change’ by Hannah Jones

Paul Thomas has looked back on the history of the separate community cohesion and Prevent programmes, the tension between them to the detriment of both. This excellent article in British Politics illustrates perfectly the flaw in the Prevent programme, which due to insistence on a Muslim-specific policy undermined the very principles of community cohesion.

The  new Social Integration Commission asks ‘How Integrated is Britain?’ and suggests that the ‘parallel lives’ identified by Ted Cantle in 2001 are still very evident:

1. First, we lack a clear understanding of current levels of social integration in Britain. Most of the existing research on integration has focused on where different groups of people live, rather than on how they interact within those areas. Previous research and policy has also predominantly focused on ethnic minority groups and especially immigrants. What is missing is a clear picture of the level of social interaction between all groups of people by social grade, ethnicity and age.

2. Secondly, Britain is becoming increasingly diverse by social grade, ethnicity and age. For example, the proportion of British residents who are members of an ethnic minority group is projected to rise to 38 per cent by 2050 (an increase from 16 per cent in mid-2012). This development means that any existing lack of integration across these lines will impact increasingly large numbers of people.

3. Thirdly, structural and institutional segregation shows signs of increasing. Residential segregation between British white and other ethnic groups appears to be increasing, and the OECD rated our school system as the fourth most socially segregated for recent migrants.

4. Fourthly, a lack of social integration is likely to make it harder to address the various challenges that modern Britain faces. These challenges include long-term unemployment, blocked opportunities/access to talent, social isolation and a lack of community wellbeing

The Commission supported the above report with another as ‘a wake up call‘ on social integration

The present Coalition Government in England, unlike Wales, however has failed to heed this message and concentrated on Prevent and the security agenda – a decision which, in the light of the Social Integration Commission’s report and many other factors – surely now needs to be re-considered. This is best illustrated by the list of so-called ‘Integration Measures‘ published via a Ministerial announcement at the end of the year. These are very limited in both scope and volume.


The year began with the tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. This led to many calls to defend free speech (for which no proposals have been forthcoming) and for the re-doubling of security measures, (which were heeded in most Western countries). In the UK, there has been demands for a greater focus on ‘British Values’ has built upon the previous ‘Trojan Horse’ affair and other highly public concerns. However, there have  been little by way of proposals to improve community cohesion and nothing by way of education programmes to help people to come to terms with plurality and diversity. This led Ted Cantle and Paul Thomas to suggest that, rarther than simply concentrate on security, there is a pressing need to put   Trust in Education  and to provide anti-extremist education in all schools as part of the curriculum and to improve the resilience of young people.

In June Demos launched their ‘integration hub’ which is a major new resource showing the extent of segregation – or ‘parallel lives’ in many parts of the UK. This looks at several aspects of segregation, especially residential areas and schools. For example Demos reports that ‘In 2013, over 50 per cent of ethnic minority students were in schools where ethnic minorities were in the majority (and over 90 per cent in London year 1). This compares to over 90 per cent of White British pupils who are in majority White British schools’. They also provide details of residential segregation on a local area basis.

Demos Integration Hub is found at

On the 20th July, Prime Minister David Cameron re-discovered the need for community cohesion. In his speech in Birmingham (Prime Minister’s Speech 20 July 15), which primarily referred to the controversial anti-extremism policy, he announced a change of direction:’The fourth and final part of our strategy must be to build a more cohesive society, so more people feel a part of it and are therefore less vulnerable to extremism’.He went on to repeat the sentiments of ‘parallel lives’ found by Ted Cantle in 2001: ‘It cannot be right, for example, that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths. That doesn’t foster a sense of shared belonging and understanding – it can drive people apart’

He also went on to promise to tackle segregation, especially in schools and announced ‘plans for funding a new wider Cohesive Communities Programme next year, focusing resources on improving integration and extending opportunity in those communities that most need it’

It remains to be seen whether these plans will amount to very much and his speech stopped short of any specific details. However, he announced a review by Louise Casey to report in 2016.


The Casey Review of Cohesive Communities begun collecting views and evidence with a closing date of 22nd January. The outcome of the review was long awaited, though the then Prime Minister made a prior announcement that English language classes would be made available ‘for Muslim women’ at some point.

The Review was finally published on-line on  December 5th in the form of a long report and a separate Executive Summary (below)


The Casey Review undoubtedly represents a new era in the development of community cohesion and, while the Government has yet to accept the recommendations, the robust style and call for action to tackle divided communities and growing intolerance, cannot be ignored

Their summary of recommendations is as follows:

‘Build local communities’ resilience in the towns and cities where the greatest challenges exist, by: (1) Providing additional funding for area-based plans and projects that will address the key priorities identified in this review, including the promotion of English language skills, empowering marginalised women, promoting more social mixing, particularly among young people, and tackling barriers to employment for the most socially isolated groups. (2) Developing a set of local indicators of integration and requiring regular collection of the data supporting these indicators. (3) Identifying and promoting successful approaches to integration.

 ‘Improve the integration of communities in Britain and establish a set of values around which people from all different backgrounds can unite, by: (4) Attaching more weight to British values, laws and history in our schools. (5) Considering what additional support or advice should be provided to immigrants to help them get off to the best start in understanding their rights and obligations and our expectations for integration. (6) Reviewing the route to British citizenship and considering the introduction of an integration oath on arrival for immigrants intending to settle in Britain.

‘Reduce economic exclusion, inequality and segregation in our most isolated and deprived communities and schools, by: (7) Working with schools providers and local communities to promote more integrated schools and opportunities for pupils to mix with others from different backgrounds. (8) Developing approaches to help overcome cultural barriers to employment. (9) Improving English language provision through funding for community-based classes and appropriate prioritisation of adult skills budgets. (10) Improving our understanding of how housing and regeneration policies could improve integration or reduce segregation. (11) Introducing stronger safeguards for children who are not in mainstream education, including those being home schooled.

‘Increase standards of leadership and integrity in public office, by: (12) Ensuring that British values such as respect for the rule of law, equality and tolerance are enshrined in the principles of public life and developing a new oath for holders of public office.

it is fair to say that the Casey Review was criticised for focusing on the stereotypical view of the Muslim communities and not developing a more rounded view. This is supported by Ted Cantle’s initial response to the Casey Review is here:



The UK government’s focus on ‘integration’ rather than community cohesion continues but they delayed responding to the Casey Review and this is now expected some time in the Autumn.

Meanwhile, an all-party group in the House of Commons has reviewed the Government’s approach to integration and published two reports. The final report was published in August: APPG Integration not Demonisation Report 2017

The impact of segregation and division on the hopes and fears of communities has also been subject to new research, including an ‘on the ground’ assessment, by Thomas et al 2017, ‘Hopes and Fears: Community cohesion and the White working class in Sociology. This, in many ways makes grim reading, as it points out that the idea of ‘parallel lives’ first developed in 2001 is still a lived reality for communities and that segregation remains a key issue.

Concern about continuing and worsening segregation has also continued, with three new pieces of research published, in respect of

a) residential patterns (Cantle and Kaufmann) see ‘Publications’ section.

b) schools (Cantle et al 2017),  see ‘Publications’ section

c) universities (IPR, 2017) Universities Diverse places of learning Unis (IPR 2017)

All of the above show that far from improving, segregation is becoming more ingrained.

The debate about the efficacy of the Prevent programme has also continued for much of the year and this has primarily revolved around the way in which the Muslim community in the UK has been cast as ‘suspect community’ and whether this has helped or hindered has the reduction in tensions and extremism.


In the UK, a major new initiative has been launched by the Government to build a more integrated and cohesive society. The Integrated Communities Strategy (MHCLG UK 2018) is a response to the earlier ‘Casey Report’. It represents a very real shift in approach in which the Government will support practical action to promote cohesion and integration.

In the Foreword to the Strategy the Prime Minister said:

‘This strategy sets out ambitious goals to tackle the root causes of a lack of integration – including a lack of social mixing in some of our neighbourhoods and schools, unemployment and poor English language skills. It calls on leaders across central and local government, civil society, business, and communities themselves to do more to promote integration and tackle the practices, attitudes and behaviours which isolate people and stand in the way of the society we want to build.

The Secretary of State added:

In too many parts of the country, communities are now divided. This reduces opportunities for people to mix with others from different backgrounds, allows
mistrust and misunderstanding to grow, and prevents those living in isolated communities from taking advantage of the opportunities that living in
Britain offers.

The Government is piloting their new strategy in five areas in England, but a number of policies and interventions have a national reach, especially those relating to education, housing and employment.

The Government has also launched a £7 million Innovation Fund to encourage  new ideas and  develop good practice.

In addition a new Cohesion and Integration Network was set up to act as a resources hub for policy makers and practitioners with the intent of becoming ‘a champion of change to develop a new era of professional practice to build the capacity and confidence of all those thinking about and doing this vital work’. A long overdue development! Please visit The Cohesion and Integration Network



The pace of change begun to pick up in 2019 with the new Government policy framework beginning to provide some overall leaderships and context. Major  new reports by both the Local Government Association  and The Challenge also proved to be very significant.

The Integrated Communities Action Plan 2019 takes the Government’s  2018 strategy forward by providing practical details of the schemes it is developing and supporting. These include strengthening leadership, support to migrants and local communities, educational programmes, boosting English language, new employment opportunities, and developing the five integration areas.

The Local Government Report Building Cohesive Communities LGA 2019 combined policy, advocacy and practical application. It also gave details of a good number of schemes undertaken by member local authorities.

The Challenge, a national charity promoting cohesion and integration published the British Integration Survey 2019  which gave details of a ‘more divided’ UK and called upon the Government to ‘commit to healing the country’s divides’. It reinforced the notion of ‘parallel lives’ in Ted Cantle’s 2001 Report, stating that 44% of Brits have no friends from a different ethnic background and that 90% of White British say that all or most of their contacts are White.

In October, Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network , a national charity based in Manchester was formally launched to bring the resources of private, public and voluntary sectors together and share resources and promote good practice –

The Covid19 Pandemic inevitably constrained the development of community cohesion but it soon became clear that people were willing to rediscover the sense of community and began many local connections, especially through the safer route of digital engagement.
The Beyond Us and Them report clearly demonstrated that relatively modest levels of investment in cohesion  measures improved neighbourliness and volunteering in communities and reduced the potential for tension and hostility – and ‘we have also strengthened some of the ties that bind us, with neighbours and communities reaching out with acts of kindness and generosity to protect and support those who are the most vulnerable’.
This became subject of much research, including a major new report published by Belong, tilted ‘Beyond Us and Them’, early in the following year.
With many countries under ‘lockdown’, or where interpersonal connections were severely limited, it was clear that priorities had changed and may alter patterns of life in the longer term. Beyond Us and Them Belong Report 2021
The Together Coalition added to this body of knowledge with the publication of their report on the 1st March  –
Despite the rise in hostility and abuse on social media and the growing divisions and polarisations of political and cultural views, it is still hard to find any real programme of activity that seeks to tackle stereotypes and prejudice. Most work on cohesion continues to be undertaken at a local level and often through voluntary and non-governmental organisations.
The seminal work of Jon Yates – Fractured: How We Learn To Live Together – published this year by Harper Collins, substantially builds the body of evidence in support of cohesion.
However, the riots in Leicester in September 2022, largely between Muslim and Hindu communities served as a reminder that the failure to constantly invest in cohesion could easily give rise to tensions and conflicts.
With little by way of Government support or strategy, cohesion programmes became thin on the ground. The problem was further exacerbated by the continuing reductions in local government finance as local government was the main agency attempted to get to grips with problems in communities and they in turn reduced their funding to  voluntary organisations. This may go some way to explaining the Leicester riots in the previous year – Leicester was once a beacon council for community cohesion but had clearly lost its focus.
Nevertheless, committed charitable trusts continued to promote schemes that brought communities together – for example the School Linking Network has provided school programmes in many parts of the Country. Belong – the Cohesion and Integration national charity, also continued to research and develop new approaches and has provided updated guidance in a number of important sectors, including sports, business and community settings. These are available on the Belong Network website.
The Independent Khan Review was published in March. It was a devastating commentary on the Government’s approach to cohesion. The Khan Review Exec Summary 2024
Dame Sara Khan began by reminding us that the many previous reviews of cohesion carried out since the original Cantle Report in 2001, had all reached similar conclusions and made similar recommendations, yet had been ignored by Government.
Khan painted a very ‘worrying picture’ of cohesion yet concluded that:

‘there is no strategic approach within Whitehalls machinery to deal with these threats to social cohesion and our countrys democratic resilience. It is disappointing that today there exists no strategic approach, or comprehensive analytical capability and framework to assess social cohesion trends and to ensure a robust and resilient response in the face of evolving risks.’

No response from the Conservative Government was forthcoming and it is unclear whether the new Labour Government, elected in July, will rise to Khan’s challenge – despite the Labour Government backing the original Cantle Report in 2001 and establishing the concept of community cohesion, there was little by way of commitment to a new programme in their election manifesto.
For a full discussion of ‘the journey to community cohesion’ see:
Cantle T., Community Cohesion: A New Framework for Race and Diversity(2008)  
And see our Publications page for more articles and resources on cohesion
Community Cohesion is gradually gaining support around the world with many countries now adopting policy and practice – see below for some examples

The principal repository of good practice and resources  is now Belong The Cohesion and Integration Network