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Brigitte Sesu Tilley-Gyado Headshot

Sick Society vs. Big Society

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During the riots we were forced to acknowledge the existence of Two Britains; one in which the rule of law was upheld and where people shared a common set of moral values, and a shadow Britain of morally displaced others who do not share these values. David Cameron has referred to these anti-social elements of British society as 'sick'. The Prime Minister's ideal of Big Society had clashed with the reality of a very Sick Society.

There are complex and multiple causes of this societal 'sickness': a lack of unifying local community identities and a cohesive National identity; a culture that is ambivalent to violence; a global climate of unrest; a breakdown in traditional values; the breakdown of the nuclear family; high rates of teenage pregnancy; a culture of materialistic entitlement and debt; socio-economic inequality based along the lines of race and class.

What then are the cures for this sick element of society comprised mainly of young people? How do we transform young people with anti-social values into young people with positive pro-social identities and robust inclusion in their communities and wider Britain as a whole?

The cure for such a potentially serious societal sickness must be equally drastic and happen urgently. Building positive personal and pro-social identities requires new strategies, new thinking about the way that we educate children in families and at school, and fully exploiting the potential of the local community. The riots have shown us that the time to rethink our priorities and methods when it comes to positively moulding the identities of our youth is now.

A revision of the purposes of formal education is necessary. Mentoring is the process of instilling of values and is vital for the formation of social identity. Mentoring needs to begin early. Mentoring should start at home, later through children at school and more widely with older relatives and community elders as well as mentoring services. Cross-generational mentoring should be prioritised as well as the inclusion of mentors in all schools to ensure the continued moral and social wellbeing of children who may not receive such support from the home.

The recent anarchic scenes of young children running riot on the streets of England evoked visions of a Dickensian apocalypse. Yet perhaps the Victorians could teach us something about the potential of the local community. In the 19th Century Civic leaders fostered a civic identification with the local polity by promoting a strong local economy and promoting social capital.By social capital I mean the idea that individuals must invest in their communities in order to fully identify with them. This investment is through charitable acts, taxes, building businesses, and generally 'putting in' to their communities.

In the 19th Century, municipal leaders raised their own revenues and organised the collective life of their communities, built hospitals and schools, sewers, set up public gas and electricity companies and built many of the great Victorian buildings. Citizens actively participated by giving to their communities through local philanthropy.

A critical rethinking of the education system is necessary so that school curriculums include structured and incentivised ways for children to actively practise social responsibility and regularly take part in charities, volunteering and social entrepreneurship initiatives in their communities.

A model of youth mentoring leading to youth led social entrepreneurship is The Rosebush Foundation's programme 'What Goes Around Comes Around' scheme'. In this scheme children are taught social responsibility by organising weekly non-profit community projects and receive cross-generational mentoring in return.

This model of strong active citizen participation should be seen as a complement rather than an alternative to hard work and determination to reduce and punish crime, fight prejudice and promote fair life chances for all members of society. .

"England", as Nelson told his soldiers as they prepared for the Battle of Trafalgar," expects that every man this day will do his duty". It is vital that we all do our part and indeed duty to rise socially included young people who identify positively with their communities and country.