This week Community Links main building in Newham was the venue for the launch of “The Condition of Britain” – a new programme of work from IPPR – in this guest blog post, and the video below, IPPR Director Nick Pearce introduces the programme.
In the early 1990s IPPR created the Commission on Social Justice, whose recommendations set out a powerful agenda for reform which had great impact at the time. We want to do something similar today, for the problems of our time. In this context, IPPR has launched a new flagship research programme, The Condition of Britain, to better understand the everyday pressures facing people in Britain, and the potential we have to overcome these challenges together.
We were delighted to launch it at Community Links. It is a wonderful, innovative organisation that not only works at the heart of Newham, but also takes the lessons and insights from that work into national policy debate and discussion. It is leading edge social enterprise.
Our new study will begin with people’s own concerns, not the established categories of politics. Britain is a wonderful country with great strengths and compassionate, creative people. But economic turmoil and deeper social trends are placing real strains on people’s lives, which must be understood if we are to mobilise our common resources for social reform.
Many of us are under financial pressures as increases in rents, energy and food prices drive up the cost of living, while average wages have barely grown in real terms over the last decade. These pressures can push families into unmanageable debt, with people increasingly turning to payday loans to make ends meet. More women are in work then ever before, and this has led to a rise in living standards over the part forty years. But the revolution in women’s lives remains unfinished, in large part because of the inadequate response to challenges around care. Families of all shapes and sizes find it difficult to juggle work and care, and to devote enough time to their children and to each other. A third of all families include someone who is currently mentally ill. Yet only a quarter of mentally ill people are receiving treatment. The pressures on our social care system can mean that people with care needs are not treated with dignity.
People are concerned about the pace of change. Sometimes this is about the churn in population, including the impact of new arrivals, but it also extends to concerns about the impact of big business on our high streets and a sense of powerless about decisions that affect our local communities. Although crime has steadily fallen over the last decade, anti-social behaviour and a general sense of incivility are still a major problems in too many neighbourhoods.
Nonetheless, we don’t think that Britain is broken – how could it be with organisations like Community Links doing the work they do? The story of our society is one of the strength as well as strain. We know that people and organisations are showing amazing resilience in neighbourhoods all over Britain, and we will seek to understand how these resources and their energy can be mobilised. While states and markets can be hugely creative, they also have the capacity to disempower and dominate society. We must seek out new ways for us to work together to use the state, markets and civil society to develop collective solutions to our shared problems.
We want to learn from the experience of Community Links and organisations like it all around the country. It is only by engaging with the power of the voluntary sector that we will be able understand the forces shaping modern Britain.