What is Community Cohesion?
Community Cohesion- What is it?
Shaping the social fabric has played a critical role in the thoughts of those responsible for place making as far back as the start of the 20th century with Ebenezer Howard and his influential book Garden Cities of Tomorrow, and the work of his disciples in the emerging field of town and country planning.
Unfortunately, with the onset of professionalisations, specialisations and the fragmentation of government at all levels, the shaping of the social fabric has become separated from the physical, often resulting in government policies and practices, which don’t always reinforce each other.
However in 2007, community cohesion - in essence the business of shaping a more cohesive and sustainable social fabric - was brought under the aegis of Communities and Local Government. For the first time, the business of place-making and cohesion have been brought under the control of one department, which should provide the momentum and direction needed to join the two interlocking disciplines together on a national level.
Sadly this opportunity does not appear to have been exploited fully. Although community cohesion is currently high on the Government’s agenda, it seems the potential that shaping the physical landscape offers for promoting social cohesion and well-being is being overlooked. This was highlighted recently by the Government’s response to the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s (CIC) report - a report which set out to demonstrate an approach to cohesion, which united it with the wider place shaping agenda and the regeneration of the most deprived areas in the country. Below we set out an assessment of how far the government’s response answers this call:
The Government’s Response
The response sets out a new way for local government to shape their communities into cohesive and integrated communities. At the top of the list is the government’s new definition/policy statement on cohesion and integration. This incorporates new thinking developed by the CIC on a shared identity, as below:
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 key ways of living together:
- A shared future vision 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
The government’s response responds to some fifty seven CIC recommendations
The government expects to utilise sustainable community strategies (SCS) and local area agreements (LAAs) as the critical delivery vehicles to deliver better cohesion. The emphasis will be on giving cohesion a stronger voice in the existing system rather than giving it a separate platform on which to operate. It is expected that cohesion will be mainstreamed into the system as an integral element and not ‘hived off’ as a ‘tick box’ exercise on a monitoring form. On this issue, only time, strong local government leadership and flexible working arrangements from central government will ensure that cohesion becomes a central part of local government business and activity.
However, the major structural change is the introduction of a pubic service agreement on cohesion and integration (PSA 21). This sets out how HM Treasury will measure the success of cohesion funding:
PSA 21: Build More Cohesive, Empowered and Active Communities
- % of people from different backgrounds that get on well together in a local area
- % of people who have meaningful interactions with people from different backgrounds
- % of people who feel that they can influence decisions in their locality
- % of people that who feel that they belong to their neighbourhood
Perhaps PSA 21 can be taken as a more accurate reflection of the government’s thinking on cohesion and integration than the more aspirational definition set out in the vision statement above. And what are we to make of these indicators?
First of all, it appears that there has been a partial ‘re-invention of the wheel’. All of these indicators have been used in citizenship surveys over the past decade or so; they certainly do not represent a new innovative way of measuring cohesion. Equally, there are about three times as many ‘citizenship indicators’ that the government could have used, but didn’t. So what does this tell us?
The indicators chosen represent three key government concerns on cohesion. Firstly, the importance placed on people from different cultures getting on well together and ‘rubbing along’. Secondly, the critical importance of citizen empowerment to a cohesive community. Thirdly, the new emphasis on a shared identity and sense of place in a neighbourhood.