In the green paper The Governance of Britain, the government sets out its vision and proposals for constitutional renewal (Ministry of Justice, 2007). Part of this process will involve an engagement with people around the country in a discussion on citizenship and British values. The paper suggests that a clearer definition of citizenship will give people a better sense of their British identity in an increasingly globalised world. A dialogue with and between the people of Britain on a statement of values is also seen as a means for restoring trust in politics and ensuring that the voices of citizens are reflected in the fabric of British politics and society.
Creating a clearer definition of citizenship might be a necessary response to the challenges and uncertainties posed by secessionist discourse in Scotland, Wales or England. It may also be a necessary response to greater European integration, globalisation, increasing diversity in our cities or Muslim fundamentalism. Yet the identification and promotion of common values may not be enough for uniting the country behind a shared patriotic vision for the future. Abstract principles such as liberty, democracy, tolerance, free speech, fair play and civic duty might appeal to hearts and minds. However, unless these principles are accompanied with measures to tackle poverty, inequality and discrimination, they will only have a limited impact on improving cohesion. For many at the bottom end of the earnings scale, British citizenship is devoid of real meaning if equal citizenship is not accompanied with equal life chances in areas such as health, education and employment.
Although considerable progress has been made to improve the life chances of Britain's poor during the last ten years, poverty remains the daily reality of too many people. This is particularly so for people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Statistics between ethnic minority communities vary widely, but there is one overriding trend: whether you take employment rates, drug abuse or prison populations, indicators show that ethnic minorities remain disproportionately disadvantaged. For instance, one in five Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are out of work (Abbas and Griffith, 2005); only 22 per cent of Black Caribbean boys achieve five or more good GCSEs (Brittain et al, 2005); and 36 per cent of all British Muslim children leave school with no qualifications at all (Abbas and Griffith, 2005).