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The UK has one of the most centralised states in the developed world and one of the more disaffected and politically estranged populations in Europe.
We hold our leaders in contempt, but despair of doing anything for ourselves or for our community. This dysfunction, which is evident at every level of society, stems from the collapse of our social relations and personal foundations. We are becoming an increasingly fragmented and atomised society, and this has deep and damaging consequences for our families, our communities and our polity.
At the most basic level, the break-up of families damages everyone, but hurts the very poorest first and worst. Too many children at the bottom of our society are at a significant disadvantage, as too much is borne by lone parents who are trying to do more and more with less and less. We know that the poorer you are, the less connected with your wider society you tend to be and the more removed from the traditional resources of community and kin. Bereft of the institutions and structures that could help them, and cut-adrift from traditions and cultures that once taught skills of survival and self-advancement, too many families and communities on low household incomes are deeply unstable and are facing seemingly insurmountable problems alone, unadvised and unassisted.
We believe that power should be devolved to the lowest appropriate level. Public services and neighbourhoods should be governed and shaped from the ‘bottom up’, by families and communities and their associations. Neighbourhoods need to be served by a range of providers that incorporate and empower their inhabitants. Moving away from a topdown siloed approach to service delivery, which results in departmental conflicts and an array of targets, such activity should be driven by a holistic and integrated vision of overall local need – a vision that can ascertain and address the most challenging factors that prevent human flourishing. We believe that neither state bureaucracy nor privatisation of public services is attentive to either whole persons or the life of communities considered in the round. Instead, we need new institutions that reflect the priority of direct and inter-personal human relationships. Not only is such a method more humane, it is also likely to be the only approach that works.
The UK is one of the most centralised countries of its size in the developed world, and English local government has the most circumscribed powers of any equivalent tier internationally. Despite the many merits of the Localism Act 2011, communities are still relatively powerless when it comes to shaping their local area and participating in their public services, and people no longer believe that voting will deliver the changes they require.
We are witnessing a crisis of legitimacy and accountability at home and abroad. Globally, there is a growing distrust of representative democracy: the Occupy Wall Street movement and the St Paul’s Cathedral sit-ins are symptomatic of alternative modes of expression by an electorate who has given up on their elected representatives and the economy they licensed. There is an increasing suspicion by citizens that the European Union is a consolidating rather than an enabling power that acts for the interests of the representatives rather than the represented.
We are increasingly aware of the terrible social consequences of the breakdown of families, both extended and immediate. That the UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown in the Western world and that the social and economic cost is one we can no longer afford to ignore is evident to those that would look. Family breakdown is damaging to people and society: it drives many of the social problems we see in Britain.
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