The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.Although citizenship is a complex concept, what we term “the citizenship challenge” is refreshingly simple: how can an environment be created in which everyone feels a sense of belonging to the country of which they are a citizen, with a stake in it and a responsibility towards it? This is not a new question, but it is one that has received increased attention in the wake of recent events. These include the Brexit referendum, terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, and the fire in Grenfell Tower. This has focused attention on social fragmentation, divided communities, isolated communities, rising levels of anti-political sentiment and falling levels of political trust. These challenges are by no means unique to the United Kingdom, and this is reflected in the rise of populist nationalism and deep social anxieties across Western Europe.

2.Society has changed in recent decades. The United Kingdom has become more ethnically mixed; it has become more welcoming for LGBT people, and the status of some women in society has improved substantially. While these changes have caused many to feel confident in their identity, others have felt that their identity has been marginalised. Part of the citizenship challenge is to ensure that Britain is a country where all feel content in their identity and can play an active role in society.

3.There is no simple answer, no magic bullet, no perfect policy, quick-fix or pain-free solution to the citizenship challenge. Democratic politics cannot make “all sad hearts glad” as Sir Bernard Crick argued in his classic book In Defence of Politics over 50 years ago.1 And yet it is also possible to suggest that the citizenship challenge has itself become imbued with what might be termed “the politics of pessimism”, in the sense that we may have lost the confidence to promote fresh ideas, design novel solutions or approach issues with a sense of renewed civic or political purpose. This is a critical point. As already mentioned, the UK is not exceptional in having to cope with a range of social and political tensions, but it could become exceptional if it were to develop a response to the citizenship challenge in a coherent, inclusive and future-focused manner that offered a shared sense of those core values that unite and bind individuals and communities together.

4.Our Committee was appointed on 29 June 2017 with the broad remit “to consider citizenship and civic engagement”.2 In reply to our call for written evidence3 we received over 250 submissions. We heard oral evidence from 58 witnesses, and from some of them we received supplementary written evidence. Some who had already sent us written evidence would have liked to expand on their views in oral evidence; we were sorry that the constraints of time did not always allow this. The witnesses are listed in Appendix 2. The volume of evidence we received means that we are able to quote from only a small number of witnesses; but we are most grateful to all of them. Their evidence was invaluable, and forms the basis of our work. We are likewise deeply grateful to all of those who came to speak at an informal seminar, to the young people who came to talk to us informally, and to those we visited in Westminster City Hall, Clacton-on-Sea and Sheffield. Full notes of those visits are in the Appendices.4 We also tender our thanks to Professor Matthew Flinders, Professor of Politics at the University of Sheffield, who has been our specialist adviser, for his expert help and his refreshing approach to the subject.

5.Economic growth and social contentment are likely to flourish in those parts of the world that try to address specific challenges as opportunities rather than problems, and it is in exactly this vein that our report seeks to counter the dominant politics of pessimism and division with a politics of renewed optimism. This sense of optimism and civic pride, this belief in the collective capacity of all parts of society in the UK (including amongst those who wish to join), stems from the evidence we have received, the visits we have undertaken and the people we have met. There appears to be a strong appetite amongst all sections of society, and especially amongst the young, to play an active role in civic life. It is also clear that many organisations, religions and civic groups are already playing a major role in supporting the vulnerable, the lonely, the marginalised or those who simply feel—for one reason or another—that they have no stake in society.

6.It is not therefore hard to be optimistic about the future, but it strikes us from our research that what is missing is any clear, coherent or ambitious vision of why citizenship should matter in the UK in the 21st century, or what it actually means in terms of rights and responsibilities. In a period of history that appears almost defined by turbulence, change and flux, the great value of citizenship is that it should provide a real sense of belonging and clarity about the nature of that core underpinning relationship. By underpinning democratic engagement and reinforcing the effective working of civil society, active citizenship contributes to a healthy and functioning society. It can give meaning to everyday experiences and relationships, provide security in relation to equal rights, highlight exactly what is expected from all members of society, and identify those forms of behaviour that simply will not be tolerated. In short, it could provide clarity in a world increasingly devoid of clear boundaries.

7.The main aim of this report is to recommend a set of clear and ambitious reforms. We make these recommendations to the Government in the first instance and hope that many of our proposals will be taken forward with the energy and determination they deserve. However, it is also important to understand that citizenship revolves around the existence of multiple different relationships and therefore involves everyone in society acknowledging that politics is not a spectator sport, and that top-down governmental interventions are, on their own, unable to build a flourishing democracy. The Government has a crucial role to play (for example, in defining and regulating legal forms of citizenship, in ensuring that citizenship education is “fit for purpose”, in investing in civic activities that bring communities together and promote social understanding), but no Government can solve the citizenship challenge on its own. Its actions must be part of a nationwide effort where all people strive to become better and more committed citizens.

8.This report therefore approaches the challenge in a distinctive manner that is designed to unite both ‘politics as theory’ and ‘politics as practice’ through a focus on two core issues: (1) the civic journey; and (2) barriers. These two issues form the main spine or backbone of this report and allow us to demonstrate the links between a number of topics that are too often viewed in isolation.

The civic journey

9.One way of thinking about citizenship in a clear and coherent way is to think about what we call the “civic journey”. By this we mean that the manner in which an individual’s relationship with the state and with their fellow citizens, where they might live or how they view their position in the world, tends to change with the passage of time. For some people the citizenship journey might primarily relate to life stages—registering a birth, leaving school, starting work, reaching voting age, caring for others or retiring. What you might want from citizenship in terms of rights and protections in some periods of your life may be very different compared others. In the same way your responsibility to put back into society will change in different periods of your life depending on your capacity. The value of thinking more explicitly about the civic journey is that it generates fresh conversations about specific transition points and whether more might be done to celebrate specific civic milestones or whether more needs to be done to support individuals to navigate their way through those points. One benefit of mapping the civic journey and thinking in terms of transition points is that it rapidly reveals the manner in which people might join the journey “mid-stream” in the sense of people who have chosen to move to and make a life in the UK and who want to cultivate a deep sense of belonging and attachment through an understanding of what citizenship means to them and why it matters.

10.Thinking in terms of the civic journey should also have significant benefits in terms of joined-up Government and clarifying the currently somewhat chaotic citizenship landscape in terms of political leadership, government planning and strategic policy-making. One of the main insights which came through very clearly from the evidence we received was the lack of grip within Whitehall of the citizenship challenge. Strategies and policies tend to emerge from a number of government departments, often as a result of a new ministerial appointment—several initiatives came out within the period this inquiry was underway—with very little clear recognition of how they should all fit together to form a coherent strategy, or of the evidence on which future assessments of success and failure will be made. No minister has overall and undiluted responsibility for the citizenship challenge, leading to fuzzy accountability, blame games and unrealised civic potential. This leads to new initiatives being created with each reshuffle of Government and then quickly abandoned with the next change of Minister. Initiatives are too often not deep rooted and are pursued with insufficient vigour.

11.Another benefit of thinking about the civic journey is that it facilitates a very clear focus on the barriers or obstacles that individuals or communities might face in terms of fulfilling the expectations and opportunities of engaged citizenship. Barriers might relate to specific issues concerning educational provision, to English language provision, rules relating to volunteering or the costs associated with naturalisation. Barriers might be cultural in the sense of a failure to understand the importance of values such as tolerance or equality in British society. Finally, barriers might also be material and societal, ranging from income to mental and physical health, from capacity to engage through to practical challenges such as access to transport and a lack of available time. The citizenship challenge was often expressed by witnesses in the language of barriers, blockages or obstacles, and our recommendations seek to address many of them in a manner that forges positive new links and builds bridges between communities and individuals that might otherwise remain divided.

12.Active citizenship, together with civic engagement, is a primary focus of our inquiry. It has two key elements, and Dr Henry Tam5 emphasised to us the important distinction between the two:

“the term civic engagement is often used to refer to two quite different things. One is volunteering and helping strangers. The other sense, quite different, is about democratic participation. You can do one without the other. Many analysists tend to conflate the two, and a lot of policy development tends to give support to one in the name of helping the other.”6

13.What became increasingly clear through the course of this inquiry is that the United Kingdom’s approach to citizenship has in many policy areas become synonymous with an arguably over-narrow and individualised emphasis. Active citizenship is too often defined purely in terms of volunteering, social action or learning facts, and too rarely in terms of learning about and practising democracy in the sense of political engagement and democratic participation.

14.The citizenship challenge revolves around the cultivation of shared British values, respect for diversity and an understanding of what British citizenship entails—rights and responsibilities, giving and taking, talking and listening, putting in and taking out—in the 21st century. It is not a challenge that can be ignored or filed in the drawer marked ‘too difficult’. Nor should the citizenship challenge be seen as one that focuses purely on the integration of ethnic minorities, the position of those who feel marginalised or the reduction of terrorist threats. The citizenship challenge is a shared challenge across the UK just as citizenship is a shared social responsibility. We live in an age of shared and overlapping identities and our framework for cultivating a sense of belonging, for defining and supporting a model of citizenship that emphasises what we have in common rather than what separates us, is possibly the defining challenge of our present times.

15.Some might respond by suggesting that the challenge is too difficult or the costs of addressing the citizenship challenge are too great. We would argue that the challenge is too pressing to be ignored. The recommendations we offer generally revolve around increasing the efficiency and maximising the social impact of the public money that is already being spent. This is not therefore a report that can be easily located within contemporary debates concerning big-state or small-state, left or right, open or closed, hot or cold—it is a report that calls for a genuinely smarter state in the sense of adopting a clear, coherent and ambitious approach to citizenship and civic engagement. The role of the modern state—as the evidence we were presented with demonstrated in a variety of ways—should be less about the direct imposition of a blunt model of citizenship and more about the creation of a vibrant civic space in which different communities and organisations (sporting, cultural, artistic, religious, voluntary, etc.) can flourish. It is also about setting down and being very clear about the civic journey, and not least what is expected of everyone in terms of shared British values and standards of behaviour.

16.This is a critical point. The citizenship challenge is less about dealing with a problem and far more an opportunity to restore and rebuild a sense of collective confidence in our sense of citizenship. We offer a focus on the civic journey, on removing barriers and on re-balancing the nature of citizenship as a starting point for a national conversation about the citizenship challenge. We provide positive case studies of innovation, social change and inter-community co-operation. And we also propose recommendations in relation to shared British values, education, civil society, volunteering, democratic engagement, integration, the teaching of English and naturalisation as a way of developing this agenda. Just as in forestry, where a tree might have to be given 25 years to become fully established, so these initiatives need to be nurtured by successive administrations over many years.

The Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper

17.Integration within and between different communities is a central topic of our inquiry. A majority of us live in large conurbations, and even more work in them. Yet within a comparatively short distance will be isolated rural communities, and coastal communities which, though they may not in fact be isolated, will nevertheless feel so. At one extreme are communities with practically no inhabitants from ethnic minorities; at the other are places where ethnic groups which are overall minority groups are locally in the majority. LGBT communities flourish in most areas, but there are places where custom and faith fight against them. In the largest cities some of the most affluent areas are only a few miles from the most deprived. And over all hangs the great economic divide between London and the south east, and the rest of Britain.

18.Dame Louise Casey’s Review into Opportunity and Integration,7 which had been commissioned in July 2015 by the then Prime Minister and Home Secretary, published its report on 5 December 2016. On 2 February 2017 Marcus Jones MP, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DCLG, replied in answer to a written question: “It is right that Government should take the time necessary to consider her findings. In the spring, we will come forward with our plans for tackling the issues raised by Dame Louise, so that we can continue to build a country that works for everyone.”8

19.We therefore expected to have seen the Government’s response to the Casey Review at the latest before we had properly embarked on our inquiry. However the Government’s written evidence, which we received on 5 September 2017, said: “We are currently considering the findings of Dame Louise Casey’s independent review into how to boost opportunity and integration in isolated communities published on 5 December [2016].”9 The following day, when we took oral evidence from officials, we asked whether the Government was preparing a response. The reply was: “this autumn.”10 In evidence to us on 13 December 2017 the Minister, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, told us that “the integration strategy we are taking forward and the Government response to Casey we can expect early in the new year”.11 In the middle of January we were told by officials that it was expected to be issued “shortly”.

20.On 14 March 2018, as the Committee was discussing the third draft of our report and a year after it was first promised, the Government published a paper entitled “Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper”.12 It might have been thought that the delay was caused by the need to finalise the finer points of a settled strategy but, as the title “Green Paper” suggests, this is only a consultation paper. It puts questions on which it seeks the views of readers by 5 June 2018. The Prime Minister says in her Foreword: “We will listen carefully to you and will respond later in the year.” We hope that the Government will then have a true Integration Strategy to offer. We shall be disappointed, to put it no higher, if we have to wait much beyond June for a Government response to this Committee’s report.

21.One reason for the delay in the publication of the Green Paper is likely to have been that a large number of departments are inevitably involved in this complex subject. Officials and ministers from four departments gave evidence to us, and even more departments were involved in the preparation of the Government’s written evidence. We have given examples in paragraph 10 of some of the problems caused by the lack of continuity.

22.We believe that coordination of policy would be helped if a single minister in a single department, presumably the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, was given responsibility for coordinating all matters related to citizenship and civic engagement.

23.There is much in this Green Paper to welcome. Many of the proposals put forward cover matters on which we had received evidence, reached conclusions, and decided on the recommendations we would address to the Government. We have not of course been able to seek from witnesses their views on the Government’s specific proposals, but nothing in the Green Paper has changed our views. Where these differ from the Government’s initial views we have explained our reasons more fully.

24.The Green Paper has too narrow a definition of integration. It focuses almost exclusively on the integration of ethnic minority groups, with scarcely a mention of the challenges faced by disabled people, LGBT people, people in rural and some coastal communities, working class communities and all those who feel marginalised in our society. At the same time it is insufficiently clear on the red lines that define acceptable behaviour in modern Britain, especially in relation to the treatment of women and LGBT people. The Government seems not to appreciate the fundamental point that integration as a British citizen cannot take place without an understanding of what it means to be a British citizen. This clear lack of citizenship vision is most strongly exemplified by the failure to mention citizenship education anywhere in this Strategy. We discuss these failures in more detail in the chapters on Values, Education and Integration.

25.A strategy of this kind inevitably requires funding additional to any that is being made available under existing schemes. The Green Paper itself says nothing about additional funding. The Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, in his oral statement on the afternoon of the launch of the Green Paper, also said nothing about funding.13 However the press notice issued that morning refers to “The Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, to which £50 million will be committed over the next 2 years …”.14 It is not made clear whether this is in fact additional funding. Even assuming that it is, we agree with Dame Louise Casey when she said that it would take more than £50 million over 2 years.15 We return to this issue in Chapter 8 where we consider the funding of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

26.The Green Paper proposes to trial a new localised approach to integration initially in five Integration Areas,16 and subsequently to “undertake a programme of evaluation research in the Integration Areas to generate evidence of what works in different local area settings.” No details are given of the method or timescale of this evaluation, or of how the Government intends to take what it has learned from these areas and apply it to the rest of the country. These are matters which must be addressed when the Government responds to the Green Paper “later in the year”.

The devolved administrations

27.Many of the matters we refer to in this report are devolved in at least one of the countries of the UK. Education, for example, is devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Where we have made recommendations which apply only to some parts of the UK, we hope that the devolved administrations will find them useful and will follow them where appropriate. Some of the statistics we cite relate only to England, or to England and Wales; there are not always comparable statistics available for other parts of the UK.

A note on terminology

28.Any consideration of this topic has to refer to, compare and contrast different social groups: their backgrounds, their achievements, the challenges they face, what prevents them from moving forward, or holds them back, and how they can achieve prosperity and wellbeing. We are well aware that when we refer to the white working class, or ethnic minorities, or socially disadvantaged people, these are generalisations which embrace large numbers of different people and communities whose characteristics are far from identical. References to a faith embrace adherents whose views can differ widely and whose differences sometimes outweigh their common values. Even references to men and women sometimes need qualification. References in this report to different groups should be read with this in mind.

And finally …

29.We have received a considerable amount of evidence stressing how important equality and social mobility are to civic engagement, and how the financial crisis has increased socio-economic stress and division. It has had a disproportionate impact on the socially disadvantaged and on rural communities. There is no doubt at all that increased resources aimed at alleviating these inequalities would have a beneficial effect on civic engagement. There is equally no doubt that in these times of austerity such resources could be made available only by decreasing resources made available for other matters regarded by many as equally important, or perhaps by raising taxes. These are major economic arguments outside our terms of reference, and on which we have received no evidence. We have therefore concentrated on making recommendations which can be implemented without major shifts in the distribution of resources.

30.Dame Louise Casey17 told us: “You can always do things, and not everything costs money.”18 We ask the Government to bear this in mind.


1 Bernard Crick, In Defence of Politics (Penguin, 1962)

2 See Appendix 1 for the names of the members of the Committee, and their declarations of interests. The detailed terms of reference from the Liaison Committee are in Appendix 4.

3 See Appendix 3.

4 Respectively Appendices 5, 6 and 7.

5 Formerly Director of Cambridge University’s Forum for Youth Participation and Democracy, and prior to that the Government’s Head of Race Equality.

7 We refer to this hereafter as the Casey Review.

8 Written answer by Marcus Jones MP (2 February 2017) 59394

9 Written evidence from HM Government (CCE0249)

10 Q 16 (Hardip Begol)

12 HM Government, Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper (March 2018): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/689944/Integrated_Communities_Strategy_Green_Paper.pdf [accessed 15 March 2018]

13 Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, the Under-Secretary of State at MHCLG, did however refer to this when repeating the statement in this House the following day.

14 MHCLG, New government action to create stronger, more integrated Britain (March 2018): https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-government-action-to-create-stronger-more-integrated-britain [accessed 15 March 2018]

15 On the Today programme on 14 March 2018.

16 Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall and Waltham Forest

17 Author of the Review into Opportunity and Integration (the Casey Review), published in December 2016. See further Chapter 7.




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