BROKEN BRITAIN CAN BE FIXED BY ITS ARMY OF SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS
As this deep-rooted recession hits Britain’s families, businesses and you, our charities, I am more certain than ever that it is the voluntary sector, not government alone, which can rebuild not just our broken economy, but also our broken communities.
I have no hesitation in claiming that Britain is broken. This claim is factual. During the last five years my think-tank, The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), has presented evidence of the entrenched poverty that traps millions of people, in the world’s fourth largest economy. At the heart of this understanding has been the voluntary sector.
Our recent Housing Poverty report concluded that Britain’s social housing estates, once stepping stones of opportunity, are now ghettos for our poorest people. Life expectancy on some estates, where often three generations of the same family have never worked, is lower than the Gaza Strip.
Schools in these communities comprehensively fail to offer our young people a future. The 20 per cent of pupils who gain no GCSEs come from just 203 schools - most of these schools are located within two miles of a social housing estate.
Such educational failure leads to a thriving culture of worklessness and dependency: 40 years ago just eleven per cent of households on these estates were workless – today only a third of working age social housing tenants are in full-time employment. Social mobility is rare: more than 80 per cent of social housing residents in 2006 had been in the sector ten years earlier.
Preventable and curable addiction strangles millions in our country. 1.35 million children have a parent addicted to drugs and alcohol and every year general abuse costs society £40 billion.
This mass addiction leads to serious personal indebtedness. Predatory loan-sharks thrive on our social housing estates charging interest rates of up to 1000 per cent. Pressures of debt also destabilise relationships – we found that three quarters of British couples admit they find money the most difficult subject to discuss and a third lie to their partners about levels of spending.
Most significantly however, a catalyst and consequence of these pathways to poverty, is the breakdown of the family. Marriage, far more stable than cohabitation, has rapidly declined in recent decades; 15 per cent of babies in Britain are now born without a resident biological father; and we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. Without strong families violent and lawless street gangs, whose leaders are often school age, offer a deadly alternative.
And yet amidst this brokenness we encounter armies of social entrepreneurs - members of the voluntary sector - saving lives and creating a future for many. In almost every community we visited these pioneers were the sole hope of turnaround. I think of charities like Save the Family rescuing relationships and rebuilding families; Tomorrow’s People, helping people find and sustain employment; and Eastside Young Leaders Academy, educating and inspiring Afro-Caribbean boys from London’s poorest housing estates.
In response I have put local grass-root charities like these are the heart of the CSJ. Through our Poverty Fighter’s Alliance 200 groups belong to a network in which excellent practice is shared, they inform our policy-making processes, and are supported by our annual awards fund of £50,000.
Over the coming period as financial pressures increase, as crime rises and life becomes volatile, it will be more essential not less for government to support the unique work of your organisations. Temptations to sideline the sector in favour of state control must be resisted.
In our report Breakthrough Britain we called on policy-makers to mobilise excellence in the voluntary sector for the reversal of social breakdown. We made more than 20 recommendations including measures to boost levels of volunteering and charitable giving; improve funding practices and distribution; as well as protect your independence and vibrancy.
These recommendations are a call to build a welfare society - to empower further the organisations that lie between the state and the individual. This is not a call, as some misrepresent it, for voluntary groups to replace the state. But politicians must recognise that the state is too often cumbersome. It makes a poor parent – the care system’s failure rate is appalling, it fails to free people of their addictions – instead often maintaining a legal one, and, crucially, through ineffective agencies like JobCentrePlus, it struggles to get people back to work.
A stronger voluntary sector, enabled by government not usurped by it, builds a stronger society where people take more responsibility for their lives. In damaging economic times, with the annual cost of social breakdown well over £102 billion, this is more essential than it has ever been.
Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP
An abridged version can be seen in the Charity Times April 2009 edition [printed on 09/04/2009]