The Inter-Connectedness-Of-Things

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One of the reasons that time and place are important is that they connect people: they are things we share with others, whether that’s through living in the same community or block of flats, being part of the same generation, using the same supermarket or health centre, having a shared cultural inheritance, or living under the same configuration of social and fiscal policies by dint of being resident in a particular country at a given time.

Basic social policy theory tells us about the inter-connectedness-of-things. The ‘welfare triangle’ gets at the idea that individuals derive their welfare from a combination of state, market and informal sector resources, the latter referring to family, friends and neighbours. To this we could also add the voluntary, or third sector.

The relative importance of each of these sectors varies from country to country, but also throughout the life course and between individuals. What is most helpful about this model though is that it debunks the idea that some citizens are ‘dependent’ while others are ‘independent’. Very clearly, human welfare is social: we are all inter-dependent.

But some forms of dependency are more visible than others, and some are more stigmatized than others. A product of neoliberal politics has been the elevation of competitive markets above other forms of provision and distribution; this is unsurprising given that – on a superficial level at least – this would appear to be the most individualized, choice-enhancing, and ‘independent’ route to wellbeing. (See Michael Rustin’s article, A Relational Society, for a deeper analysis, however).

 The Coalition government’s rhetoric – which still seems to reflect ‘Big Society’ principles, even if that label has been cast aside to some extent – is by no means exclusively market-orientated though. On the contrary, they expect families and communities to play a significant part in meeting social needs. This isn’t problematic in itself: paid work, families and communities can all make valuable contributions to human flourishing. However, besides the obvious point that people’s opportunities to benefit from these are not equal, there are also concerns that the relationships between the different means of meeting welfare needs are not being sufficiently recognized or responded to. In short, there is a failure to acknowledge the inter-connectedness-of-things.

Maurice Glasman, LMU academic and Labour peer, puts it this way: ‘[there is a] tension between the political economy of the Coalition – which encourages mobility, flexibility and competitiveness – and the mutuality, solidarity and sense of place required to make stable association a meaningful possibility in people’s lives. Active community life requires a resistance to the relentless commoditisation and mobility that the market demands.’

 If, for example, people are required to move to different parts of a city or the country because of the Bedroom Tax, they are in the process up-rooted from social networks that likely play an important part in sustaining them. In the long run the cost, both to that individual and to society might be greater than if the policy process had given proper attention to the significance of relationships, both at an individual level, and within the mixed economy of welfare.

 To some extent, the recession has highlighted that we are all vulnerable to the inter-connectedness-of-things. Many who thought their jobs were stable find redundancies looming, the visibility of homelessness and other social problems is increasing once more, average household incomes have fallen, and the cost of living has increased by 25% since 2008. But we are not equally vulnerable: education, financial resources, family relationships, local context, health and many other factors influence our resilience to changes in the ‘supply’ of support that we can access from any of the different sources within the welfare mix. It is perhaps unsurprising then that ‘building resilience’ has become a key word amongst funding bodies and for those involved in community development: the question in many areas will be to what extent any such resilience can be built or maintained in the face of cuts to local authority services and benefits emanating from central government policy.

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