This report maintains that community engagement (purposeful participation) affords people social capital. And social capital depends on social infrastructure, that is, face to face, local networks of people that congregate in our libraries, village halls and youth clubs. Such places are a life line for so many of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. This report should be read as an attempt to shape an alternative framing of issues which demonstrate that community is the cure for a society made sick by isolation, selfishness and rootlessness. This straightforward idea is too often missed by policy makers who work towards meeting targets – sometimes the wrong targets. We hope that others might build on the ideas set out in this report and that it might provoke a step change in the ambition of government, to pursue human flourishing.
The reason the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) is interested in purposeful participation in deprived areas, is because intelligent policy making means not only understanding the non-financial elements of poverty, but also the non-material, experiential elements of poverty. Indian Economist and Philosopher, Amartya Sen, maintains that relational deprivation is intrinsic to poverty insofar as poverty is more than what is financially affordable, but also being characterised by individual capabilities. We found that the routine experience of those most vulnerable and disadvantaged Britons is of diminished capabilities, best described as powerlessness.
There are a number of interlinking cultural, social and economic forces at play which frustrate relational connectivity across the UK. In the UK today, family breakdown, the departure of local economies, and bureaucracy in public services, has changed the face of relationships, employment and participation, to the detriment of purposeful participation in community.
We spent six weeks in Birkenhead, Clacton and The Rhondda Valley, conducting focus groups across the breadth of civil society organisations in order to understand the outcomes of purposeful participation in the life of a community.