Communities can mend the torn fabric of society – but they need funds to do so

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In many ways, Britain has never been so divided. It’s not just the vote on Brexit that has split the nation. There are other more deep-rooted problems. 

Unable to get on the housing ladder and often with limited job prospects, many young people feel their lives are a world away from financial security of those who went before them. 

As well as the intergenerational chasm, a divide is opening up between the three million EU citizens living here who fear what the future might hold for them and the rest of the UK’s citizens.

And, there is the alarming gap that appears to be opening up between some ethnic minority communities and the authorities and the police.

This was seen with the anger over the shambolic response of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council to the Grenfell Tower disaster and the unrest in East London following the death of Rashan Charles after he was pursued and apprehended by police. 

As someone who was welcomed when I came to England as a teenager and a Kurdish refugee from Turkey, these changes are worrying. There is a risk these divisions will deepen unless we act.

The fabric of our society is not torn apart, but it is badly damaged. We need action to fix that and make sure we heal these divisions to make Britain safer and more inclusive.

That work should start with the youngest. Too many children are still living in poverty in a country where the richest are so wealthy they can afford to leave multi-million pound mansions in London empty.  

According to Barnardo’s, there are 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK – a shocking figure by any standards.

Around 400 Sure Start centres, places that gave children such a great start in life, have shut under the Conservatives. An injection of £500 million in early intervention funds promised by Labourwould be enough to reopen the centres and restore their services.

But it is not just about securing more funds.  We also need communities get much more involved in tackling some of these deep-seated problems and helping to strengthen society. 

We saw that with the fantastic way the community rallied around to provide food, support and practical help in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and filled gap left by the local authority. 

There are also established schemes that do an excellent job in the community like the Near Neighbours programme which has helped more than one million people.  

The scheme – which encourages people of different faiths to work together - uses small grants to strengthen local communities, build support and trust and break down obstacles that stand in the way of better community relations. 

In south London, there is a great example of a community project that is continuing to grow and bring people together. A few gardening enthusiasts turned a waste site on Clapham Common into a thriving community garden. From a humble start, the Bandstand Beds Association is now Clapham’s biggest food growing project. 

But we also need to see more help from central government to improve community cohesion by reversing some spending cuts. 

Teenagers are particularly hard hit after the government scrapped the educational maintenance allowance in 2011, cut the youth services budget by almost £400m since 2010 and hiked tuition fees. 

When it comes to crime, young people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately victims of knife attacks. But the police struggle to deal with the problem after years of budget cuts. 

There is no easy solution. I have been involved with charities in London that are trying to halt the epidemic of knife crime. We have seen volunteers team up with police to search for hidden knives and other weapons. 

But there is only so much that volunteers can do. The promise from Labour of 10,000 extra police would make our neighbourhoods safer.

The money pledged by Labour to abolish the student tuition fees that cripple the finances of so many young people would help reduce the intergenerational wealth gap between the young and old. 

And, those EU citizens worried about their place in the UK would be reassured by Labour’s guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status due to Brexit. 

All these measures would help. But we still need to do more to strengthen our society.

That includes the Muslim community in Britain – the vast majority of whom are, like me, rightly proud of their British identity. From their ranks have come doctors, nurses, teachers and businessmen that have done their part in to improve our society.

There are multiple other examples and there is much to celebrate when it comes to the contributions of multiculturalism – despite the threat posed by those who want to attack us for our tolerance. 

In my case, it was the proud moment my staff and I at Troia restaurant gave meals, help and a hospitable environment to the emergency services after the Westminster attack in March.  

Against all the efforts to divide us, we need to work together to strengthen the pillars of our society.  It will help make Britain a happy, safer and more prosperous place. 

This article originally appeared in the New Statesman.