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SOCIAL FABRIC

The Good Life

Resetting the relationship between citizens, communities and the State.
Luke Stanley, Will Tanner, Jenevieve Treadwell
March 11, 2022
The Good Life

Strengthening our social fabric is key to improving the lives of people across the country in a meaningful way. This report identifies a number of important factors that are making it difficult for families and communities to reach their full potential, whether that be housing, crime, job opportunities, or social infrastructure. The bonds that bind communities together are complex and take time to develop, but unfortunately in many areas they have progressively weakened over decades. We need the bold and innovative thinking that the report recommends to ensure that everyone can enjoy the good life, no matter where they live.

Miriam Cates MP

The pandemic reminded us of what has long been called “the good life,” and how far many in society are from attaining it.

Strong human connections; a locus in a thriving place; a place to call home; a job that is secure and rewarding; and institutions that bridge social groups and embed shared values. These have been the foundations of the good life for much of humanity’s existence and they underpin the fabric of society today. As the UK emerges from the pandemic and starts to rebuild society and the economy, we should take the time to fix those foundations.

These have been the foundations of the good life for much of humanity’s existence and they underpin the fabric of society today. These values correspond closely with the threads of Onward’s Social Fabric Index, which shows how variation in the quality of relationships, positive social norms, physical infrastructure, economic value, and civic institutions can explain much of the political and economic discontent of recent years.

The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the way we live just as the coronavirus exposed vulnerabilities in our bodies. Being locked down in our homes reminded us of the importance of human connection, and the consequences of alienation. Restrictions reacquainted us with the networks and institutions that matter, and the restlessness and rootlessness that being away from them can bring. The pandemic showed why secure work and thriving places are valuable not only to individuals but to society as a whole.

In this report we have explored the long decline of the foundations to a good life and provide solutions to address rebuilding them.

Oct 4
9:30-
10:30

The crumbling foundations of the good life

How to get back to the good life

Connection

Connections have become more distant over time.

The growing propensity to move for study or work has meant people’s relationships with families and close friendship networks have become stretched. Younger people are lonelier than ever, with 21% of 18-34 year olds having one or no close friends. Middle-aged adults are 7% less likely to live near living parents than two decades ago. Older parents are 16% less likely to live within 15 minutes of their children than they were in 2001. This has a material impact on the ability of families to care for their loved ones and strains friendships, neither of which can be fully mitigated by long-distance connection online.

Place

Many places have become less vibrant or safe.

The lived environment has deteriorated in many places over the last decades. Since 1990, 11 pubs have closed per week, while the number of post offices has close to halved in the last twenty years, and over a quarter of our libraries have closed since 2005. At the same time, levels of neighbourhood-level crime have risen in certain parts of the country. Just 15 local authorities in England accounted for one-third of the 22,000.

Home

A secure home is becoming out of reach.

The average couple is now unlikely to be able to afford to buy a home in over a fifth of local authorities across England without additional help. With young people priced out of the market they are increasingly left with no recourse but to bounce around the private rented sector, with the higher costs and lower quality that entails, as well as a material impact on their likelihood to engage in their community.

Work

Work has become insecure.

The growth of flexible forms of employment, while beneficial in some ways, has made it harder for many workers to spend time in their community and benefit from a thriving social fabric. At the same time, forms of community centred around work are in terminal decline: over half of working men’s clubs have closed since the 1970s, while trade union membership has fallen to its lowest level since 1940.

Contribution

Civic contribution is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Civic society faces two distinct threats. Young people feel unable to volunteer due to constraints on their time and a lack of awareness of opportunities. And the richest in our society are retreating from philanthropy – the 10% of households on the highest incomes give just £3 to charity for every £1,000 they earn, half the £6 that the lowest income households give.

 

Connection

How to revive local and familial connection in a more mobile society.
  1. Make it easier for people to care for their elderly loved ones through a new “Family Care Relief” to support family-led care.
  2. Expand Youth Hubs to become a one-stop-shop for young people seeking connection away from home.

Place

How to create the conditions for a reinvigoration of place.
  1. Radically empower local communities to take back control of community spaces.
  2. Revive neighbourhood policing by reversing the decline in special constables, Police Community Support Officers and Neighbourhood Watch schemes.

Home

How to restore secure homes to allow people to stay and integrate into their neighbourhoods.
  1. Unleash a civic housebuilding revolution by unlocking community-led housing and planning.
  2. Radically extend Right to Buy to give housing association tenants, private renters and entire council estates a clear route to ownership.

Work

How to maintain flexibility and build greater stability.
  1. Extend protections to flexible workers to give them more security in work.
  2. Extend auto-enrolment pension rights to gig economy and flexible workers to allow gig-workers to save

Contribution

How to breakdown barriers to volunteering and philanthropy.
  1. Mainstream volunteering by commissioning the UK’s major civic funders to develop a new signposting platform and give greater support to communities.
  2. Turbocharge place-based philanthropy through Charitable Enterprise Zones and a new UK Match Giving scheme.

 

The crumbling foundations of the good life

Connection

Connections have become more distant over time.

The growing propensity to move for study or work has meant people’s relationships with families and close friendship networks have become stretched. Younger people are lonelier than ever, with 21% of 18-34 year olds having one or no close friends. Middle-aged adults are 7% less likely to live near living parents than two decades ago. Older parents are 16% less likely to live within 15 minutes of their children than they were in 2001. This has a material impact on the ability of families to care for their loved ones and strains friendships, neither of which can be fully mitigated by long-distance connection online.

Place

Many places have become less vibrant or safe.

The lived environment has deteriorated in many places over the last decades. Since 1990, 11 pubs have closed per week, while the number of post offices has close to halved in the last twenty years, and over a quarter of our libraries have closed since 2005. At the same time, levels of neighbourhood-level crime have risen in certain parts of the country. Just 15 local authorities in England accounted for one-third of the 22,000.

Home

A secure home is becoming out of reach.

The average couple is now unlikely to be able to afford to buy a home in over a fifth of local authorities across England without additional help. With young people priced out of the market they are increasingly left with no recourse but to bounce around the private rented sector, with the higher costs and lower quality that entails, as well as a material impact on their likelihood to engage in their community.

Work

Work has become insecure.

The growth of flexible forms of employment, while beneficial in some ways, has made it harder for many workers to spend time in their community and benefit from a thriving social fabric. At the same time, forms of community centred around work are in terminal decline: over half of working men’s clubs have closed since the 1970s, while trade union membership has fallen to its lowest level since 1940.

Contribution

Civic contribution is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Civic society faces two distinct threats. Young people feel unable to volunteer due to constraints on their time and a lack of awareness of opportunities. And the richest in our society are retreating from philanthropy – the 10% of households on the highest incomes give just £3 to charity for every £1,000 they earn, half the £6 that the lowest income households give.

 

How to get back to the good life

Connection

How to revive local and familial connection in a more mobile society.
  1. Make it easier for people to care for their elderly loved ones through a new “Family Care Relief” to support family-led care.
  2. Expand Youth Hubs to become a one-stop-shop for young people seeking connection away from home.

Place

How to create the conditions for a reinvigoration of place.
  1. Radically empower local communities to take back control of community spaces.
  2. Revive neighbourhood policing by reversing the decline in special constables, Police Community Support Officers and Neighbourhood Watch schemes.

Home

How to restore secure homes to allow people to stay and integrate into their neighbourhoods.
  1. Unleash a civic housebuilding revolution by unlocking community-led housing and planning.
  2. Radically extend Right to Buy to give housing association tenants, private renters and entire council estates a clear route to ownership.

Work

How to maintain flexibility and build greater stability.
  1. Extend protections to flexible workers to give them more security in work.
  2. Extend auto-enrolment pension rights to gig economy and flexible workers to allow gig-workers to save

Contribution

How to breakdown barriers to volunteering and philanthropy.
  1. Mainstream volunteering by commissioning the UK’s major civic funders to develop a new signposting platform and give greater support to communities.
  2. Turbocharge place-based philanthropy through Charitable Enterprise Zones and a new UK Match Giving scheme.

 

Endorsements

Strengthening our social fabric is key to improving the lives of people across the country in a meaningful way. This report identifies a number of important factors that are making it difficult for families and communities to reach their full potential, whether that be housing, crime, job opportunities, or social infrastructure.

The bonds that bind communities together are complex and take time to develop, but unfortunately in many areas they have progressively weakened over decades. We need the bold and innovative thinking that the report recommends to ensure that everyone can enjoy the good life, no matter where they live.

Miriam Cates MP, Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge

 

For too long the aspiration that we should be able to dwell in beautiful places, perform purposeful work and live sociable and neighbourly lives has been dismissed as a “fringe interest.”

It is not. It is essential to our ability as individuals and a nation to lead a good life. This important report starts to reweigh the balance.

Nicholas Boys Smith, Director of Create Streets

 

Over the last two years we have seen communities across our country come together. This report by Onward sets out ideas to take this spirit forward and encourage more people to give back through volunteering.

Dean Russell MP, Member of Parliament for Watford

 

The pandemic showed us how important human connections and community are, but the foundations for living a fulfilling life have been crumbling for years. Family and friendships are increasingly distant, communities are fraying and people’s work and living situations are becoming more and more distant.

Before the pandemic, voters handed the Prime Minister the keys to Downing Street on the understanding that he would reverse this social decline. We could now be just two years away from the next election and voters need to start seeing some tangible improvements.

The recovery from coronavirus should be the impulse to do things differently with a new social covenant, not merely carry on as before.

Will Tanner, Director of Onward

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Summary report of an Onward and Airbnb roundtable, exploring how to help tourism and the visitor economy bounce back post-pandemic.
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