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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I think we have to move away from the carers/cared for dichotomy. All of us need care at some stage of our lives,many need continuous care all their lives.So the issue is one for us all, not for a group of ‘others’ that we hope we wont have to join! I have some friends who are very involved in designing co-housing for the later stages of their lives, using the scheme near Lancaster as a template.I know they have to confront some very difficult existential and practical issue that cant be fudged.This would not be my ideal personal solution, but if the future needs a plurality of options radical thinking is needed. I also wonder what the NEF perspective is following the election and the context of further austerity for five years? For those us who are no longer ‘young’ as calculated by Father (sic) Time’s clock the brighter future we fought for all our lives can’t come too soon.But I’d be less than honest if I said I believed the changes you are arguing for will bear fruit any time soon.
Yes, indeed Mike, the carer/cared-for dichotomy and the distancing that goes with it are fundamental to the debate.
There does need to be a plurality of options and the principles of co-production and democratic control that NEF are advocating perhaps suggest ways in which this can be achieved without always having to recourse to a commodification of care, support and human relationship in a market (markets have their uses, but if they are the only tool you have, then everything becomes a commodity).
It is difficult to remain optimistic under the present assault of austerity but that’s why the development of coherent and persuasive new (or renewed) frameworks for a new social settlement is so important. We know that NEF are clear that the paper we responded too is by no means a finished article, a “solution” but rather work in progress. This is my personal response. I’m sure Judith who wrote the piece based on a discussion we had will also have an interesting response.
Mike thanks for your response. Like Mark, I think you are making an important point that we are all carers and cared for and I think that is a major part of seeing everyone as a contributor. Co-production is interesting because it requires everyone to be an actor in their care; that passively being cared for will have less impact in many situations.
Re-your point about whether the changes we are arguing for will bear fruit any time soon. You are right to assume that they won’t if such change will rely solely on government/ services. Major change will happen whatever, what do we do now?
I think the biggest challenge is how we can develop a campassionate society with or without government support as we face demographic, climate, economic and other rapid and potentially chaotic changes. I feel a need to have a vision which shapes my role as an individual, in a group such as Steady State, and within my community to maximise the possibility of a compassionate community, thus the article.
I had a thought provoking conversation with refugee friends recently who have also lived in Greece. They did not get any help from the Government in Greece however their neighbours always ensured they had what they needed, despite their poverty (the neighbours). In contrast when they came to the UK they got some government support and experienced hostility and fear from neighbours (in a disadvantaged area). This might be a one off however it might say something about the breadth of things we need to look at and to understand concerning what encourages compassion and solidarity.
We need as much government support to address these issues in an equitable way as we can get. Whether we get it or not we have to set up our own structures to promote compassion regardless of what the state does. As you say co-housing is a useful option and needs to be one of many.
I have just come back from some time staying with friends in Sweden. There is so much i could say about so many things prompted by what I saw and heard (I have been there many times before, but with the new triumphalist neo liberal government at home it all seemed so much more relevant!).
One thing that is little known about Sweden is the lack of what we would call a voluntary sector and the continuing role of the state in all aspects of life (supported of course by taxation at a level that is now inconceivable in the UK).
But just as interesting are the much stronger family and community ties that exist across time and space and generations – the large coming together of families in their long standing communities at Midsommer is just one very clear manifestation of this.The other is the role of the Church of Sweden acting as a focal point for community action , sometimes in much the way the voluntary sector would here.
There is a lot more to be said about links to nature and the outdoors with all the concomitant commitment to exercise,cycling, care for the environment.But another time…..
It is by no means a paradise and in particular there is the struggle to integrate newly arrived non white migrants recently arrived in historically very large numbers into such a clearly defined ‘Swedish’ way of life .The country has , per head of population, accepted a far greater number than any other EU country, but the prospects for integration do not look good and the country struggles to understand what a multi cultural as opposed to a Swedish society would look like – indeed ,many , even on the left, worry that such a shift might threaten the basis for the countries historic social democratic settlement.
All this challenges because secularists and atheist (like me are) are often reluctant to revive the role of the established Christian church within communities (while paradoxically seeing Mosques and Synagogues as key points of contact with other faith based communities!).
And we tend to be wary of privileging the place of the family and historic,long standing community ties rooted in place which perhaps tend to favour the co -production and co-operatve sprit that we want to see generated.
I have read other writers who suggest that more fluid,friendship and/or work based networks tend not to give rise to communities that easily embrace mutual support, co-operation and looking out for each other in times of hardship and need.
These are all vague generalisations and I am sure open to challenge. But if we are to move towards the compassionate society we wish to see, we need to be clear about the conditions that give rise to it in the absence of supportive Government action . Globalisation has created the possibility of movement and transience across geographies and societies that can be liberating for those able to move and thrive; but those changes can also undermine the long term and more stable ties and bonds that arguably strengthen and support communities and the individuals in them.
No easy answers.An author I read recently said words to the effect that if we really and sincerely wanted to rebuild a sense of community we should each commit to our families living in the same place for the next thousand years! Clearly just a provocation, but it does ask us to face up to some awkward questions about our modern commitment to personal fulfilment above community , much as the Swedish people are having to do at the moment.