August is over, my tomato plants look tired after a long and successful summer harvest, the kids are heading back to school, the Libyan democrats have taken control of Tripoli (that’s Libyan, not Liberal, just in case you thought you’d missed something), and the evenings have begun to get depressingly shorter. I’ve even started using my lights on my cycle home.
There are lots of things to consider in the wake of the summer‘s civil unrest and a desperate need to constructively respond to the challenges they pose and not to just simply walk on by. How we might remedy the inequality that now exists in Britain (and shows no sign of slowing – on this we’re up there with the US as the most unequal Western countries) and create opportunities and brighter futures for our young and disaffected communities, needs to be addressed. Based on requests from our membership and a fired up staff team, this is something we’ll be trying to tackle at our youth focused policy debate at the fantastic social enterprise PJ’s Community Services in Croydon on September 28th. We’ll be capturing the thoughts of young people and social enterprise leaders, and presenting their thoughts and ideas back to politicians in the coming weeks and months.
I think there’s a risk that systemic unfairness could become accepted in Britain, and deemed impossible to change. The young have been demonised for a while now, but it seems that we’ve also started demonising the undeserving poor. Not always helped of course by the spinning activities of our politicians (I’m not talking about an exercise class here). Today, the reoffending rioters are being called a feral underclass by our justice secretary, as if that’s really going to help, and not that long ago Polly Toynbee raised the issue. A government press release detailed the top ten excuses given by ‘benefit cheats’. The real story is that fraud costs £1.6billion, just 0.7% of the benefits bill. The story was covered on BBC television news that bank holiday weekend in late May – and the stats weren’t quoted – so imagine the millions of people who were exposed to the scaremongering. It only served to play on people’s fears, pitting the mainstream against the UK’s poor, stirring up unnecessary feelings of anger and hatred, and dividing society.
All the political parties promoted principles of fairness in their election campaigns, so what’s actually been done to try and achieve a fairer, kinder society? How far have we got?
Job insecurity, flat lining wages, unaffordable housing, poor pension prospects, increasing crime rates – all suggesting not that far, and there’s not much in the way of policy that suggests it’s going to get any better. We need a revolution and that revolution needs to start here, within the social enterprise movement. We need to be bolder, more evangelical, we need to shout from the roof tops, phone into radio debates and be heard.
Good on those who defended young people in the media recently. I heard a charity youth worker call into LBC radio, and my lovely Mum wrote into the Daily Mail getting a mention for social enterprise! Thank goodness for the voices of people like this who suggest ways in which we can remedy the country’s problems without wanting to dish out blame. Social enterprises have many solutions and ideas and now is no time to be reticent; we need to keep the debate alive and relevant.
Social enterprise helps create a fair and prosperous economy. Germany has a much more plural basis for its economy; ownership is more equally shared and is richer, more resilient as a consequence. Social enterprises don’t just create wealth for their owners, but create and share wealth for others too.
If we in the UK simply continue in our sole pursuit of growth without considering how we also tackle inequality we’ll all be worse off. Research shows that in more unequal societies it’s not just the poor who are miserable, it’s the rich too. We know that there’s no correlation between GDP and happiness.
While on the subject of mental wellbeing, happiness was not an emotion that my friend (a lifelong Arsenal supporter) was feeling after his team’s shocker of a defeat to Manchester United. Almost weeping into his pint (not really, but I’m sure some fans did) he told me that he’d not bought a season ticket this year because the price had gone up yet they’d sold two of their best players. “It’s all about the shareholders”, he said.
I suggested that more clubs follow the lead of AFC Wimbledon because football had lost its way, was crapping all over the fans, and that money was ruling and ruining the game. “It’s a nice idea, but it’ll never happen,” came his reply.
I disagree – and I’d be in the wrong job if I didn’t think that the Premier League could feature more employee-owned clubs, or that business could be kinder. Too many people seem to be of the belief that ethics in business are an aside, a luxury to the brutal way that most business must unfortunately be done.
My diary is jam packed between now and Christmas. My days are going to be long (can you hear the violins?). But seriously, I’m not complaining, not at all. At Social Enterprise UK HQ we’re seeing an upsurge in interest – potential start-ups looking for advice, social enterprises realising that they’re part of a movement (it still amazes me how many organisations there are out there that don’t realise they’re actually a social enterprise), but perhaps most interestingly, big corporates are knocking on our door wanting to know how they can get into the world of social enterprise.
I think my next blog is going to talk about why social enterprise needs to work more closely with the corporate world. We’re not going to change the face of UK business unless we work with those already in it, are we?