'˜Segregation''¨to be put under MP's spotlight
Inspired by the recent damning report by Dame Louise Casey, Sarah Champion’s investigation will seek to understand why cities like London and Manchester have succeeded in becoming “multicultural” while areas like her own constituency of Rotherham remain “segregated”.
She argues it is down to Labour to find the solutions for these communities, as she points out that many of the people affected by poor integration belong to the very groups in society that the party has pledged to support and empower.
And she says it is critical that politicians and communities face up to these challenges now, if they are to avoid further division and a strengthening of the far-right.
“To be blunt about it, unless we address these very real issues and come up with solutions, there are groups out there who are focusing on them... to divide the community still further,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“While somewhere like London, somewhere like Manchester, is multicultural, Rotherham isn’t.... Rotherham for me is segregated. And that’s not right.
“This is not a racist issue, this is about people not reaching their full potential, and society holding back certain sectors. I think we have a duty to prevent that and come up with solutions.”
The inquiry, due to be launched later this spring, will take a wide-ranging look a the causes of segregation across society, including cultural, educational and economic factors.
In Ms Champion’s eyes, many of the issues fuelling racial divides are the same as those creating broader inequalities in health and employment, particularly in areas like the North.
This includes what she calls a “poverty of opportunity” in northern towns and cities, due to de-industrialisation and the concentration of high-skill, high-wage jobs in the South East.
But she also laments the decline of local authority services and state-backed programmes like Sure Start, which she believes provide an invaluable mechanism for unity and cohesion.
“When you start looking back, historically the Pakistani community came to Rotherham to work – they came in the 50s and 60s to work in steel and work in the mines,” she says.
“They were working alongside people, so there weren’t the racial tensions that we’re finding now because everyone was working together.
“When you take the jobs away, then you’re losing that community cohesion... [and] things like Sure Starts and libraries and youth workers... are all being stripped out.
“Communities are feeling more and more isolated [and] their aspirations are lowering because no one is giving them the opportunity or the respect.”
She explains that study will take last month’s Casey Review as its starting point, which highlighted a “worrying level” of segregation in some parts of the UK.
But she is also motivated by concerns about a rise in xenophobic and right wing ideologies, with recent figures on hate crime revealing a year-on-year increase in race-related incidents of 15 per cent.
She acknowledges that one of the challenges for her will be finding a way to talk about issues like integration “so people aren’t embarrassed... about them”.
However, she says Labour needs to “embrace” these challenges in order to respond to the needs of the communities it has “historically... supported and looked after”.
She says that her other big campaigns for the coming year include tackling maternity discrimination, after figures revealed 54,000 women a year step away from their jobs “because they don’t feel that their employer is supporting them”.
This will be closely linked with scrutiny of the Government’s handling of Brexit and the transfer of EU rights into UK law.