A single department should be made responsible for developing a cross-government citizenship programme, a House of Lords select committee has argued.
The Lords berated the government’s “lack of commitment to citizenship policies”, which they said had been incoherent and often made up of short-lived and siloed initiatives.
“Individuals do not learn about governmental and judicial institutions of the United Kingdom through osmosis,” they said, adding that citizenship education had been degraded to a “parlous state”.
Among the recommendations outlined in a new report, the government was urged to appoint a single minister and a single department – “presumably the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government” – to coordinate all matters related to citizenship and civic engagement.
The House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement also called for government to change its phrasing of “fundamental British values” to “shared values of British citizenship”, which it said should be taught in their own right and not simply as part of a counter-terrorism policy.
The committee said all departments should “make it clear” how these values will feed into their policy, and that government should introduce a statutory requirement for citizenship education and restore funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), which has been reduced by 54% in the past six years.
The report, The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, was put together following evidence from four departments, with several more involved in preparing government’s written evidence.
“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,” said the report.
“Strategies and policies tend to emerge from a number of government departments, often as a result of a new ministerial appointment… with very little clear recognition of how they should all fit together to form a coherent strategy.”
There is no minister with overall responsibility for citizenship, which has led to “blame games and unrealised civic potential” with initiatives too often neglected or abandoned, the report added.
The Lords said it was disappointing that the government had only put out a green paper on integration 15 months after Dame Louise Casey’s review into integrating isolated and deprived communities.
The publication of the Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper was delayed by a year, they said, partly because so many departments were “inevitably involved in this complex subject”.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, committee chair, 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.”
He added that it was vital to tackle tricky social issues such as debating and defining British values that everyone can accept and defend.
“Our proposals do not require large amounts of taxpayers' money,” he said. “They may require some reallocation but above all they require consistent long term application, learning from experience and reinforcing success."