Cameron can’t build the Big Society on mass unemployment

The massed ranks of unemployed people will not provide the country with an army of Big Society volunteers. Instead, if things continue as they are, they will become increasingly isolated, both from the world of work and from their communities.

By Thomas Neumark, Associate Director for the Connected Communities project at the Royal Society of Arts

The fact that 2.46 million people remain out of work is a bigger threat to David Cameron’s vision of building the Big Society than all the cuts in funding to voluntary and community groups combined.

The massed ranks of unemployed people will not provide the country with an army of volunteers. Instead, if things continue as they are, they will become increasingly isolated, both from the world of work and from their communities.

It is a widely held but mistaken assumption that middle class professionals are too busy to volunteer. In fact most volunteering is done by exactly this type of person. Areas with higher deprivation and higher levels of unemployment have far lower levels of volunteering. There are a number of reasons for this but one is the link between unemployment and social isolation.

Unemployment is associated with less volunteering and participation, not with more. As people become unemployed their social networks become thinner, they become less likely to trust their neighbours and less likely to feel that they have any control over the local area. The difference is most striking in women. Our research has found that unemployed women are four times as likely to be isolated within their communities as those who are in work.

 In general, we found that people who are unemployed are only half as likely as others to have any connection with people with some sort of ability, responsibility or authority to change things locally. Without a connection to this type of person, they can feel disconnected from their communities. If they feel that something needs to be changed in their neighbourhood they often do not know who to turn to.

 Given that the Office of Budgetary Responsibility has forecast that unemployment will still stand at 6.4% in 2015 there is a pressing need to break this link between social isolation and unemployment.

 The most promising possibility for breaking this link is the newly announced Work Programme. This programme funds private companies to support the long term unemployed into work. As well as the traditional focus on building confidence and skills, these companies should make efforts to support and build the social networks of the unemployed people that they are paid to help.

 At present the contrast between exhortations from government for us to be more involved in our communities and the realities of life for many unemployed people, could not be greater. Unless efforts are made to break the link between social isolation and unemployed, the vision of building a society in which people feel a greater sense of belonging and responsibility for their communities will remain a pipe dream. The danger is not just that all those potential workers do not become volunteers, but that increasingly they are cut off from their communities and the social contacts that help people get back into the world of work.

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25 Responses to “Cameron can’t build the Big Society on mass unemployment”

  1. Underthebed

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  2. House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  3. BigSociety Live

    Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment – Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/jdVvZ0 #BigSociety

  4. Sector29

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  5. John Popham

    RT @BigSocietyLive: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment – Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/jdVvZ0 #BigSociety #yam

  6. Ahmad Noor

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  7. Simon T Gottschalk

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  8. wondergrrrl

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  9. David Wilcox

    Unemployment worse than volorg cuts for #bigsociety. Ppl isolated fm communities, social contact: @tomneumark http://bit.ly/kJekGp

  10. Liza Harding

    RT @TheRightArticle: Cameron can’t build the Big Society on mass unemployment – http://j.mp/kLSilv

  11. The Dragon Fairy

    Unemployment worse than volorg cuts for #bigsociety. Ppl isolated fm communities, social contact: @tomneumark http://bit.ly/kJekGp

  12. C&W Labour

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment http://t.co/nV0TmRe

  13. Jackie Potter

    RT @ladyloki: RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment http://t.co/nV0TmRe

  14. Rebecca Daddow

    Exactly! RT @tomneumark @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment http://t.co/Io9tv5f

  15. Marvin Symes

    RT @BigSocietyLive: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment – Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/jdVvZ0 #BigSociety

  16. i-volunteer.org.uk

    Interesting blog from the RSA 'We can't build the #BigSociety on mass unemployment' http://t.co/aPtfNgW

  17. That Dude

    Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: Areas with higher deprivation and higher levels of une… http://bit.ly/mv3yDl

  18. Faith Matters

    “@ivolunteeruk: Interesting blog from the RSA 'We can't build the #BigSociety on mass unemployment' http://t.co/T4Ff6et”

  19. Clare Ambrose

    RT @ivolunteeruk: Interesting blog from the RSA 'We can't build the #BigSociety on mass unemployment' http://t.co/aPtfNgW

  20. Noxi

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

  21. LESPN

    Cameron can’t build the Big Society on mass unemployment http://ow.ly/1cLKUV

  22. Pan African Ugandan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron can't build the Big Society on mass unemployment: http://bit.ly/kiaABG writes Thomas Neumark

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  24. Mr. Sensible

    The big society is a big con.

    Fact.

  25. David

    The research on unemployment may in fact reveal some interesting facts. For example, in one of my recent articles I try to develop the connection that exists between unemployment and the election period in Canada.

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