Can’t decide who to vote for? Here’s a thought to help you decide…
I’ve spent the morning reading the three main parties plans as I wanted to know how they expect to strengthen communities.
I didn’t focus on where the parties sit on the two traditional dimensions – the market or the state – although that is important. What I wanted to know was what role they think communities can play. Why? Because, many of the trickiest problems we face cannot be solely tackled by the market or the state – or any mix of the two. People-problems are best tackled...by people. Neighbours helping each other, local community groups lending a hand, people showing love and care for those around them.
To take one personal example, my recently bereaved elderly neighbour can be helped by daily visits from a stateemployed care-worker, funded by a strong economy – but it’s the web of family and neighbourly relationships that can help her life be, not just tolerable, but meaningful and rich. It’s these relationships that will help her create a renewed life having given the last two years caring for her sick husband.
So what did the parties have to say about strengthening communities? The short answer is not a huge amount. There were plenty of references to communities – at least an acknowledgement that individuals and families are not the only unit of society - but few plans or funding that would truly foster stronger communities. To me this is a missed opportunity.
I’d finish by suggesting two things. Firstly, look out for any mention that your local MP makes on strengthening communities. Secondly, while the focus might be on the health service or the economy or education, we can still ask ourselves how will these plans indirectly impact – not the individual – but our community. Viewing the campaign through this lens might lead us to surprising conclusions.
P.S. The read more about this subject I highly recommend The Social Integration Commission’s recent report “Kingdom United”. It analyses the extent to which we mix with people who are different to us, whether it matters and then outlines 13 steps that would help. Very briefly it finds that we are still strikingly poor at mixing with people who are different ages, ethnicities and social class, that this matters in all kinds of ways including costing the economy £6bn a year and makes recommendations such as every school should provide opportunities for their pupils to interact with children belonging to different ethnic groups and income backgrounds and retired people should be supported to invest their time and the benefits of their life experience in their communities.