What will communities look like in a viable economy, how will we care for one another? We have a range of thoughts and feelings and are curious to know whether they resonate with yours. We are scared about how the cuts in health and social care are impacting on our communities, especially family, friends, neighbours and others who need care and/or who are isolated. Yet our own and others experience as users and providers of paid and unpaid care suggests that transformation is urgently needed. We are aware of many brilliant examples of strong, caring communities which value their members which we can learn from.
We read and liked the New Economic Foundation’s (nef) report ‘Towards a New Social Settlement’, the goals, proposals and process resonate with our own, and it has given us food for thought. It inspired us to write this in the hope of developing a conversation with others who want more clarity on thinking these issues through within Greater Manchester.
‘ Towards a New Social Settlement’ is‘ a framework for deciding how we want to live together, our expectations from Government and what we want to achieve for self and others.’ They consider that needs have changed since the postwar settlement and the goals should now be greater equality or social justice, promoting environmental sustainability and more equal distribution of power. They stress these need to be addressed together and throughout the whole system. They advocate more discussion – about planning for prosperity without economic growth, moving investment upstream to prevent harm, nurturing human resources in order to value and strengthen ‘unpaid work, everyday wisdom and social connections’ and fostering solidarity in order to achieve these goals. They identify four areas for action to move towards the new settlement; rebalancing work and time, releasing human resources by valuing unpaid assets and activities and promoting co-production, strengthening social security and planning a sustainable future.
And like all good writing it begs some questions we would like to explore further.
The ideas of fostering solidarity and co-production feel exactly right. We would like to get a more robust understanding of the potential for promoting these ideas especially in inner city areas. However, we do think that “core economy” is a misleading term to talk about something which is specifically outside the economy.
Transformation is and has always been taking place. For example, the introduction of personal budgets for health and social care, which were successfully campaigned for by the disabled people movement based on a civil rights model imported from the US. What has emerged has raised some important questions for a movement like ours: how do you ensure sensitive, respectful, user-controlled care and support, with adequate funding, while pooling risk (a key NHS principle), and enhancing democratic, collective voice and influence in the overall direction of the system? It has led to more community-based, respectful and flexible care for some and erosion of entitlements and worker conditions (including vital things like training, supervision, team building…) on the other. We are encouraged by approaches and services that focus on what people can contribute and which support their ability to contribute rather than concentrating on everything that is wrong with them (the asset-based model in place of the deficit model).
We wonder if there is enough talk about nurturing our need as people to contribute. Can the needs of well meaning professionals, volunteers, families and friends to contribute inadvertently diminish the potential contribution of people who rely on formal support and their need to contribute?
One of us was struck by this recently. Her 90 year old father got a homeshare (someone who shares his home, the ‘homesharer’ provides several hours support each week in lieu of rent). The daughter thought going through an agency was a good idea; they might be able to look after the interests of two potentially vulnerable people should anything go wrong. The father did not want this, he did not want to be a client. He wanted to be an active agent providing someone with a home – to make a contribution! He feared the agency would diminish this sense that he could contribute.
Is being aware of this need of individuals and communities to contribute an important underpinning, if co-production is to become a norm?
To what extent do ‘strong communities’ rely on a few key individuals? What enables these individuals to be active? Who will be around to contribute with the radical changes in access to social security and pensions? Can we assume that strategies such as a shorter working week will generate more community involvement? What policy initiatives will be required in order to grow and nurture the ethos and practices of mutuality and solidarity?
The option of a citizen’s income is attractive. The nef report argues that there is no ‘silver bullet’ ; an adequate citizens income is unaffordable and it is too individualistic a solution to social security. Is this something we have to accept? There have been alternative simulations both in the UK and elsewhere that suggest otherwise .
We would like to generate examples of where interconnected and systemic policies have had the type of impact necessary to sustain and build communities which successfully care for their populations. So we are on the lookout for these locally and internationally – if you can point us in the right direction for any, please do.
The nef report is right in arguing that we need to move investment upstream to prevent harm. Haven’t public health and other services been trying to do this for years? In some ways they have been successful but so have consumption patterns, drug companies and clinical services at ensuring we need more and more treatment services! Again we need more examples of where interconnected and systemic policies have had the type of impact needed. Please let us know of local and international success stories if you can.
All in all we feel the vision is right and we want to look more at how the capacity to realise it can be maintained and developed. Please let us know if you would like to do this with us, either by emailing us or by leaving a comment on this post.
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“The Viable Economy”, a pamphlet presenting an integrated approach to economic, social and ecological well-being.
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