New Leaf Blog
It sounds great, doesn’t it. Roll back the state and automatically people will start taking responsibility, find their community spirit and the Big Society will make neighbourhoods function effectively from the bottom up.
Except that, before the welfare state, children went hungry, the poor lived in slums and couldn’t afford medical treatment. Philanthropy has never and will never fill the big gaps in housing, health and education provision.
Apparently 18 out of 23 of the full time cabinet members are millionaires. I question how this unrepresentative group could possibly understand the reality for people living with and particularly children growing up in poverty. Investment in our children is the only way to deal with this – an investment of time, love and money.
And while bottom up decision making can be excellent, connected and effective it can also be parochial, inefficient and ill-informed (mind you, so can top down decision making).
The challenge is to get the balance as right as we can. We should support those who really need it – children, elderly and sick. And also provide support for the rest of us, too, but in a more imaginative way. Sometimes that support will be practical or financial. Sometimes it will be emotional – providing places for people to meet, learn, help one another. And yes, allow us to make our own decisions, but from a place where we can make those decisions in a well-informed and powerful manner, not just be dumped with responsibility but no resources.
I believe people are naturally resourceful and have immense abilities, often untapped. People should have the right to make choices about their own lives. I also believe we all need help to do this. There are many amazing leaders out there, individuals making a difference to their communities every day.
But the philosophy of the ConDem government is also removing support organisations such as Capacitybuilders (a victim of the bonfire of the quangos) and funding to charities (both directly and via local authorities). Expecting charities, social enterprises, businesses and individuals to pick up the pieces without funding or support is placing an impossible burden on the shoulders of the few people who step up again and again.
I am a member of a choir in my local town. The standard of this amateur choir is excellent, with dedicated singers, a conductor (who I shall call Paul) who is both a skilled and knowledgeable musician and an excellent communicator and teacher, plus our quiet but accomplished and attentive accompanist.
Our Christmas concert was both a triumph and a challenge. What made it so challenging? Our usual accompanist was not playing in the concert, so his place was taken by a lovely gentleman who played the wrong notes, the wrong rhythm, skipped whole bars and played much too slowly. We were in shock!
We struggled through the rehearsal, prioritising the hardest parts as there was no longer time to go through the entire programme. We whispered to each other about how awful it all was and left feeling horrified at how badly the concert was bound to go.
But we arrived, dressed in our finery, determined to do the best we could. As we warmed up we were told again and again – by the choirmaster and by the chair of the committee, “Watch Paul. He may have to add a bar or change things to make it work, so watch him carefully, all the time.”
We did. We watched avidly and did our best to distract our minds from the organ playing, with its idiosyncracies. We watched Paul and listened to one another. And Paul exuded confidence, communicated with his whole self, his hands, his face, his movement, where we were to go, and we followed with determination and focus.
Afterwards, my internal fear prompted me to make a complaining apology to my husband – who has been to all my concerts to date.
Shhhh,” he said. “Don’t put yourselves down. That was the best concert I have heard you sing in”
Without the accompaniment to lean on, we had stood on our own too feet, trusting one another and going for it. Our next concert is in April. The challenge will be to reproduce that energy rather than going back to our old safety.