One of the key things that David Cameron has failed to articulate about his “Big Society” is that it is primarily about strengthening communities. Instead, he has stressed volunteerism. My own view is that most people who would volunteer already do so and he is flogging a dead horse.
There are other ways that communities can (and should) be strengthened. In modern society, we often drive to work, drive the children to school, drive to the shops, drive everywhere. This has led to a diminution in the day-to-day social interactions that are the foundation of community spirit and this loss has led to the sense of isolation many people feel.
Hence we should be looking for ways to reverse this trend and increase social interactions, particularly those where people from all walks of life interact.
There are limited places where this can happen: immediate neighbours, the pub, local sports, the local fete (and other local events) and local shops. I’ve deliberately excluded religion as we should not be in the business of promoting it.
Local planning and national regulation can help increase these opportunities for interaction and help ensure that people interact with a wide cross-section of classes:
- By ensuring housing developments include a range of prices
- By regulating the minimum unit price of alcohol we can encourage people to meet at the pub instead of binge-drinking at home
- By funding sporting facilities and encouraging local teams
- By funding village halls, though it isn’t clear to me what the urban equivalent would be
- By ensuring local shops can thrive
- By ensuring local banking and post offices are available
“Who-you-know” certainly helps with social mobility as your social network often determines the opportunites that are open to you. So the wider a person’s social network the more opportunities exist for social mobility.
In a real sense, that bloke you know down the pub can help you get along in life. Of course there are other things that matter, most obviously education.
PS “Big Society” has to be the worst articulated good idea ever. If you consider it – as I think DC intended it to be – as a tool for strengthening communities, then it is an idea we should support.