Ethnic minority 'ghettos' to be investigated

Ministers believe the kind of extremism that led to the London suicide bombings in July is fostered by the disillusionment felt in some communities within mainstream society.

Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), will reinforce their fears with a warning today that the country is "sleepwalking" into US-style racial segregation, with areas of major cities becoming "fully fledged ghettos". He will say: "We are becoming strangers to each other and leaving communities to be marooned."

The new Home Office commission, reflecting the CRE's alarm, will be charged with forging links with young people from Muslim and other non-Christian groups. As well as potentially tackling the roots of terrorism, it could also be asked to find ways of building bridges between ethnic minority groups living parallel lives. It will get off the ground as quickly as possible and tour throughout the country, with the aim of making contact with groups traditionally excluded from political debate.

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, to be chaired by a minister, will be told to produce by next summer proposals for encouraging integration. It will consider how to produce "an increased sense of Britishness" and a "shared sense of cultural norms and behaviour" that incorporates people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds.

In an implicit recognition that the Government has failed to tackle the poverty faced by some ethnic minority groups, the commission has also been asked to look at "how to push further to tackle inequalities which can trap people into segregated lives".

The Home Office ministers Paul Goggins and Hazel Blears have already held a series of meetings with Muslim leaders to explore the roots of alienation in some sections of the community. A final meeting, to be chaired by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, will be held in London today.

Announcing the creation of the commission, Mr Clarke said it would "actively engage young people and those who have traditionally had less opportunity to contribute to this type of debate".

Seven task forces set up in the wake of the London bombings to examine how to improve integration and tackle extremism are due to meet for the last time this week. They are due to submit final reports at the beginning of next month.

They are expected to propose that Islamic schools, or madrassas, should teach "citizenship" and to suggest that a "media unit" is set up to counter misleading stories in the press about Muslims and their faith.

Mr Phillips will also call for fresh action today to root out institutional racism in the public and private sectors. He will suggest that "white" schools should take more ethnic minority pupils and accuse some universities of operating "invisible 'no blacks may enter' messages".

He will tell Manchester Council for Community Relations: "The fact is we are a society which, almost without noticing it, is becoming more divided by race and religion. We are becoming more unequal by ethnicity." He will say the number of Pakistanis in "ghettos" has trebled in the past 10 years, citing Bradford and Leicester.

Religious spread

Christian 42.08m (71.6%)

Muslim 1.59m (2.7%)

Hindu 559,000 (1.0%)

Sikh 336,000 (0.6%)

Jewish 267,000 (0.5%)

Other 170,000 (0.3%)

No religion 9.1m (15.5%)

Not stated * 4.29m (7.3%)

Source: UK census, 2001. The question on religion was voluntary

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