Ministers urged to be more aggressive in tackling issues within religious groups – The Guardian

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Exclusive: Sweeping review of relationship between faith and state will call for crackdown on oppression and radicalisation
Ministers should be more aggressive in tackling oppression, violence and radicalisation in religious settings, according to what is set to be the most sweeping review of the relationship between faith and the state in recent times.
Several sources have told the Guardian that the report, by Colin Bloom, will make recommendations urging action on issues ranging from unregulated faith schools to forced marriage and religious nationalism. It is due to be unveiled by Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities within weeks.
Some of the recommendations, including a call to monitor unregistered and part-time schools, threaten to trigger a row with faith leaders, who have previously resisted such attempts by ministers to intervene in religious affairs.
The recommendations are also likely to bolster Gove’s calls for stricter oversight of Islamic groups in particular, which have sparked anger among British Muslims in the past.
One person familiar with large parts of the report said: “I have never seen a report on religion and the state which is this comprehensive. Colin [Bloom] has gone in depth into many areas of public and religious life from which ministers normally stay well away.”
Bloom is a former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, a group of young Christians who helped put religion back at the heart of the party’s thinking after the Thatcher years.
He was appointed in 2019 to lead a review of the government’s engagement with various faiths but it was delayed repeatedly, notably by the Covid pandemic.
Bloom has spent the last few years speaking to religious and secular groups, and those involved in some of those discussions say they expect the final report to be broader than any previous such review.
Richy Thompson, the director of public affairs at Humanists UK, said: “In the past the government has sometimes been nervous about tackling problems caused by religious groups, but those problems can extend to the most extreme forms of abuse. If this report is to see the government change tack here, then that is to be welcomed.”
Those close to the process say much of the final report will talk about the positive impact of religion and formal worship on adherents and society more widely. Some of the proposals will be designed to bolster religion as a core element of British society, including more resources for religious education to be taught in schools, and more money to hire chaplains in prisons, schools and universities.
But many of the most eye-catching sections will be contained in a section dealing with the harms that religious groups can cause.
In one part of the report, Bloom will urge ministers to tackle the problems caused by unregistered faith schools, where concerns have been raised about abuse and radicalisation.
Conservative ministers have attempted to regulate such schools before but have been forced to back down amid outcries from mainstream religious groups. David Cameron wanted to clamp down on Islamic madrasas in the wake of the “Trojan horse” affair in 2015, by allowing Ofsted inspectors to visit any institution where children under 19 are taught for more than six hours a week.
That push was controversial at the time with Islamic groups, who said they were being singled out unfairly based on flimsy evidence about systemic radicalisation within their community. But it was the opposition of Christian groups that reportedly caused Cameron to drop the plans altogether, after the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, warned that it would make running Sunday schools harder.
Similar objections were raised last year when ministers proposed a new schools bill that would have introduced a register of children not in school, after numbers rocketed post-Covid. The bill was eventually scrapped in December as part of a broader overhaul of government priorities by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak.
The issue has come to the fore in recent months, however. The Times revealed abuse and poor educational standards at ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools.
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Bloom will also push the government to do more to tackle forced marriages, and will ask for greater resources to help support those trying to leave controlling religious groups.
Yehudis Fletcher, the co-founder of Nahamu, a thinktank countering extremism within the Jewish community, was one of those consulted during the review process. She said: “There is no excuse for these harms to be ignored, for these people to be left to suffer without intervention by the state.”
But a Muslim Council of Britain spokesperson said: “There remains a lack of any meaningful engagement by government with diverse British Muslim communities … We would hope that the Bloom report recognises how vital it is for the government to establish meaningful engagement with British Muslim communities more broadly and the key role Muslim-led representative bodies can play in facilitating this.”
In another notable section, Bloom will tackle the sensitive issue of religious nationalism, especially within south Asian communities.
He will say Hindu nationalism is common within the UK but that Sikh nationalism could pose a bigger threat, given the success of some hardline groups in gaining access to senior politicians. Sikh nationalists have been in dispute with the Indian government for decades over their desire for an independent state in the Punjab region.
The issue is a highly sensitive topic in UK-India relations, with the Indian government recently summoning the British high commissioner in Delhi for a dressing-down after Sikh protesters attacked the Indian high commission in London.
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Colin Bloom has been undertaking an independent review into how the government engages with faith organisations as part of his role as faith engagement adviser. The report will be published in due course.”


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