THE BLOG

In an Age of Uncertainty, Uniting Communities Should Be Our Priority

12/08/2016 13:58

The historic vote to leave the EU has still not properly sunk in for many communities across the UK. Indeed, the jury is still out as to what the impact of the vote - and of course the long-winded process of actually leaving the EU - will be on people's lives. Uncertainty over the future economic stability of the UK, and by extension society as a whole, has arguably never been more acute.

Consumer confidence is at rocket bottom. The Bank of England have just announced a cut in interest rates to 0.25%, a historic low and a rate not seen since 2009. Job losses are predicated to rise to 250,000. Many expect rates to go into the negative later on this year. Most 'experts' - apparently now irrelevant after a bruising referendum campaign that re-wrote the campaign rule book - warn that we teeter on the brink of a recession.

And the cohesiveness of UK society? It is now five years since the riots of 2011 and little has changed. Last week Tim Newburn, LSE professor of criminology who researched the causes behind the riots, said that the underlying conditions that helped cause them have now worsened. He argues that those from the poorest communities are still being constantly harassed by the police, feel their opportunities are limited and shrinking, and that the dearth of services and chances around them is still perceived to be "the result of deliberate political choices, made by rich people who behaved with impunity". A truly damning assessment.

Following the referendum, politicians are still reeling from only just discovering that the UK is deeply divided. A fact that seemed obvious to most, particularly those in many of the areas that voted to leave, but one that took a national referendum to unearth for those entrusted with making our laws.

Divisions within political parties reflect this broadening split. The Conservatives, Labour and now UKIP have all found ways to tear each other apart. Across the pond things aren't much better, with the US Presidential election battle lines set along Clinton's 'unity' ticket and Trump's 'fear' tactics.

Mental health charities and campaign groups have long argued of the dangers of such uncertainty on our society. Reports of hate crime have risen a staggering 57 per cent in the last month, with the National Police Chiefs' Councilwarning that the true extent of hate crime could be much greater. Debt, austerity and unemployment have all been cited as significant factors in the rising number of suicides in the UK, with a significant rise coming after the 2008 - 10 economic downtown.

When you add into the mix the ever diminishing role of the state, the question facing all of us is how communities should deal with this new uncertainty and maintain the social cohesiveness that helps the UK thrive.

At UpRising - a youth leadership development charity - we support young people from diverse and under-represented backgrounds. We believe communities are best placed to solve the issues they are facing in their day-to-day lives, and that through social action projects young people are empowered to identify these issues and develop solutions from the ground up. An approach which is often far more effective than those dictated from afar. We apply this theory to the way we approach our leadership programmes, with every individual matched with mentors and former UpRisers to design and deliver a social action campaign on a local issue they are passionate about.

Some of the campaigns are truly inspirational and should give hope for us all. Recent examples include Minds Alrite, a campaign designed to reduce the stigma around mental health issues in young people and help signpost people through workshops to support. Or #ITooAmHuman, a simple but incredibly effective campaign that humanised refugeesthrough the images and stories behind the individuals. And the powerful Support 4Exoffender, a campaign to raise awareness of reoffending amongst young people.

There is a huge, untapped appetite for social action activity like this across the UK. A recent Demos evaluation report into the impact of UpRising found that one in four of our alumni now serve as trustees or board members for non-profit organisations and more than 80% regard themselves as leaders ready to have an impact on the world around them. Last year the National Council for Voluntary Organisations found a 'dramatic' rise in young people giving up their time for voluntary activities in 2015.

The revival of public meetings is another indicator that parts of our communities are willing to come together to develop the ideas and answers we need. When was the last time we have had such high numbers of people engaged in political discourse? Two national referendums and the Labour Party leadership elections have undoubtedly energised people. Social media has helped galvanise like-minded groups and packed meetings are the results.

So as our new government embarks on the all-consuming renegotiation with the EU, a project which will define Theresa May's term in office, it seems increasingly clear that it is communities that are going to have to find the solutions to the problems we face. The challenge for us all is to translate this latent passion into effective action. Five years on from the riots, UpRising has never been more relevant and important.

Applications for the UpRising 2016/17 Leadership Programmes will open on Monday 15 August 2016 - visit to http://www.uprising.org.uk/apply

Comments

CONVERSATIONS