Government needs to rethink its commitment to citizenship, says Lords committee
The House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement is today calling for significant and timely change to enhance and protect democratic participation and engagement, and to promote integration. It asks the Government to reverse its lack of commitment to citizenship policies in the UK, and commit to making changes for a more cohesive and vibrant society. Citizenship policy has been incoherent, unfocused, and too often subject to short term, short lived initiatives.
While the Committee welcomes the publication of the Government's Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper, published on 14 March 2018, it was disappointed that 15 months after the Casey Review was published the Government was publishing only a consultation document. The Committee does not believe that the Green Paper recognises the multi-dimensional nature of the challenges faced, and notes that consultations cannot be a substitute for action.
The Committee has identified four major issues:
- There is a need for fresh political thinking at every level including the designation of one government department (and one minister within it) with overall responsibility for the cross Government programme.
- There are values which we all share as British citizens and which we must all defend as a means of binding communities together.
- Education in citizenship and the ability to speak English fluently are basic building blocks for a well-functioning democratic system.
- The challenge of integration is a responsibility for all of us not any one community.
Chairman of the Committee Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts said:
“A cohesive and dynamic society is dependent on citizens feeling secure, engaged and fulfilled. The Government has not given sufficient focus to establishing long term programmes which build trust and confidence between state and citizen.
“Individuals do not learn about the government and political institutions by osmosis. They need to be taught and taught well. The neglect of citizenship education in recent years is to be much regretted.
“There are certain social issues which simply cannot be left in the ‘too difficult box'. These include debating and defining British values which we all need to accept, share and defend.”
“Our proposals do not require large amounts of taxpayers' money. They may require some reallocation but above all they require consistent long term application, learning from experience and reinforcing success.”
More detailed recommendations drawn from the evidence received include:
Shared values of British citizenship
- The Government claims to be committed to the promotion of Fundamental British Values but has blunted their impact by identifying them to such an extent with the Prevent strategy.
- The Government should change the description “Fundamental British Values” to “The Shared Values of British Citizenship”. These should be recognised as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person.”
- These should be taught as important in their own right, not simply as part of a counter-terrorism policy, and a widespread debate should be encouraged on how they relate to other shared values.
- These values should be central to government policy and each department must make it clear how it relates to them.
- The Committee supports Government policy that all schools should teach and practise the shared values of British citizenship. Applicants to set up a new free school should be required to say how they will promote them.
- The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency.
- Citizenship education is the first great opportunity for instilling and developing British values, encouraging social cohesion and creating active citizens.
- The Government should create a statutory requirement for citizenship education for all children in primary and secondary schools.
- The Government should establish a target of having enough trained citizenship teachers to have a specialist teacher in every school, provide bursaries, and conduct a review of the citizenship curriculum.
Civic and democratic engagement
- The Government has failed to integrate the National Citizen Service (NCS) with existing civic engagement opportunities.
- The Committee recommends that the NCS must be focused on creating long term sustained social action.
- The Committee recommends that the Government ensures public service commissioning includes public engagement, so that the general public have a greater say in the services they receive.
- Public agencies should bring the public into decision-making processes as early as possible so that they can have a real say in how policy is decided.
- Barriers preventing people from feeling part of society and contributing to it are not being addressed by the Government, and in some areas are being exacerbated by it.
- The Government must do more to reach out beyond the “usual suspects” in minority communities and focus on understanding the views of women and young people in these communities. And communities themselves must recognise the need to adapt to changing social and economic conditions.
- There has been a drastic reduction in funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) – 54% in six years – which the Green Paper does nothing to address. The Government should aim to restore funding for ESOL to the previous amount by 2019/20.
- Local authorities should prioritise ESOL teaching in communities, in venues alongside other services such as childcare, and through women's organisations.