It’s fine to be angry but what are we going to do to make things better?

“I’ve used up 20% of my time and still not mentioned the Big Society. Why? Because if it ever meant a thing it doesn’t matter now, not in the disadvantaged communities that I know best.”

So said David Robinson, founder of East London charity, Community Links, at an event The Guardian‘s offices on Tuesday evening. As Patrick Butler, who chaired the event, reports, Robinson went on to describe the Big Society concept as being ‘as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike‘.

David Robinson’s speech – at a meeting organised by the thinktank, Civil Exchange, as a follow-up to their recent publication The Big Society Audit was passionate and well targeted but I left the meeting feeling slightly bemused.

While social sector leaders are right to be angry about the detrimental effects of cuts in government funding, at Tuesday’s meeting and beyond our messages seem have got stuck there – leaving us defending jobs and services in our relative small sectors of the economy, rather than advocating for a different kind of society in a broader sense.

Someone who is focusing on the bigger issues is Colin Crooks. The founder of Greenworks, now Executive Chairman of LCRN, was on Radio 4’s Four Thought a couple of weeks ago talking about tackling unemployment.

In a strongly argued 15 minute broadcast, Crooks says that:  “We obsess about youth unemployment and it’s distracted us from two much, much bigger issues – the loss of semi-skilled work and the appalling failure of our education system

Crooks believes that unemployed and poorly educated parents are not able to be positive role models for children – and that young unemployed people are being trained to write CVs to apply for jobs that don’t exist. In the face of these challenges we’re not creating jobs and we’re not not doing anything to help those adults who’ve never worked.

Discussing his significant experience of running recycling businesses, Crooks recalls queues of 50 men chasing each new manual job on offer, along with memories of staff whose working lives were hampered: sometimes by illiteracy, sometimes by such a lack of knowledge of the world of work that a request to make the tea on their first day causes them to storm out.

The current economic crisis makes existing problems worse. How do we deal with a situation in which 12 million of the 40 million working age people in the UK are not in work and 10 million adults don’t have a single GCSE?

For Crooks, the answer is that: “We must stop proritising our efforts by age. Let us instead focus on releasing the entrepreneurial spirit of that let down generation. Local social  entrepreneurs know what is needed in their area and they can create the jobs that we need to make.

He adds: “We should deal with the real problem not the symptom – the real problem is the lack of jobs for people with low skills.

Clearly, the main reason we have millions of people economically inactive is not that politicians, public sector agencies and business people just don’t care. Most of us agree that mass unemployment is a bad thing, what’s harder to agree on is what to do about it.

As well as his radio broadcast, Crooks has written a book, which he’s currently aiming to publish with the help of some crowd-funding. The book outlines ideas for creating 1,000 new jobs in each of the 1,000 most deprived areas of the UK.

As I haven’t read the book yet, it’s hard to say whether this plan will work but I think it’s vitally important that as many social entrepreneurs and social enterprises focus on these real life economic issues.

There’s bound to space in the social economy for a few more Facebook-style websites and apps offering corporate executives increasingly exciting ways to allocate their fifteen minutes of weekly volunteering time but creating businesses that give more people a stake in the economy is, frankly, a bit more important than that.

Whether or not the Big Society idea continues to exist, the challenge of building a socially just society remains. Colin Crooks is asking some important questions about how we do that. Does the UK’s social enterprise movement have the answers?

 

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3 responses to “It’s fine to be angry but what are we going to do to make things better?

  1. jeffmowatt

    David, in one of the many online conversations about social enterprise, it was a student researching recently for her dissertation, who seemed most surprised that the focus of social enterprise had turned toward reduction in public spending rather than what I was describing, to stimulate creation of new enterprises in impoverished communities. It had come after all, from considerable success overseas. where 10,000 new micro enterprises and as a consequence, more than 10,000 new jobs were created in one impoverished region of Russia and then replicated in 3 others, by USAID.

    In researching the project, attention had been drawn to the problem of hunger to children

    Colin had introduced his podcast on the RSA’s Profit with Purpose group where I’d referred to out conversations, inviting him to continue the discussion on creating employment in a new thread.

    Soon after, we would learn that a million children in the UK now go hungry, something which neither the social enterprise community nor government had anticipated.

    Back in 2004, government were called on to support an alternative to traditional capitalism which took the bottom line to the needs of people. This is still where I see the way to make things better.

    http://economics4humanity.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/capitalism-is-an-insufficient-economic-model/

    According to Shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna they’re now talking about more responsible capitalism. He’s the MP for Streatham where by some coincidence, the proposal to tackle poverty had been developed all those years ago..

    Cooperatives UK have recently embraced the work of economist Noreena Hertz, who draws attention to the debt threat, as identified in our white paper, published ‘open source’ online in 1997, with the intention of seeding an idea for social benefit.

    http://www.slideshare.net/JeffMowatt/principles-of-people-centeredeconomics

    Collaboration is most definitely needed, rather than the rhetoric of collaboration and the continued development of so many web silos.

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  2. Couple of responses:

    “Crooks believes that unemployed and poorly educated parents are not able to be positive role models for children.”

    As the excellent work by the likes of JRF has demonstrated, poorly educated parents that are in employment that is poorly paid with poor conditions and nil training will struggle ‘able to be positive role models for children.’

    “There’s bound to space in the social economy for a few more Facebook-style websites and apps offering corporate executives increasingly exciting ways to allocate their fifteen minutes of weekly volunteering time but creating businesses that give more people a stake in the economy is, frankly, a bit more important than that”

    That is very relevant for me just now; about to embark on engagement with community clients and locally based private sector (including large corporates) where our message will be “we’d really appreciate your practical help and partnering, but we, frankly, are not interested in the volunteering or a-bit-of-cpd-outwith-the-office stuff” .

    The local private sector might of course respond by telling us, as we say around Glasgow “ Aye, well your bum’s oot the windae!”

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  3. Pingback: What’s going on? – part 1 | Beanbags and Bullsh!t

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