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Why, despite the rhetoric and long-term investment, have strategies directed at communities often failed to turn them around in the ways hoped for, and why have they failed to ‘empower communities’? We argue that this is because of three fundamental errors of approach. First, a tendency to view community empowerment as having a utilitarian and managerialist purpose, rather than as an essential political and human right. Thus community engagement tends to only be valued for creating more effective and efficient services. Second, the failure to realise that the way in which local government and public services are structured has effectively prevented the state (nationally and locally) and communities from working together to transform communities. Third, the tendency to oversimplify our understanding of how radical change in communities can be achieved, through unhelpful slogans such as ‘top down doesn't work, only a bottom-up approach can work’.
If past governments had come to grips with these issues of empowering communities structurally and politically, they could have played a significant role not only in supporting community-based transformation, but also in addressing the long-developing crises of confidence in our political and democratic systems that many communities have (see Figure 8.1).
The development of the ‘45° Change’ model (Lawson, 2019) and the follow-up pamphlet ‘Participation at 45°’ (Miller et al, 2020) confront these issues and argue that a key reason for the failure of ‘top-down’ government programmes and the weakness of the ‘bottom-up’ change model is because transformative change requires both. We need to bring together the vertical power of government with the horizontal power of civil society to create a deeper democracy based on shared and distributed forms of power (Lawson, 2019).
Crises in democracy: voting, alienation and taking back control
‘Take back control’ caught the mood like no other slogan in my lifetime. For too long, people felt decision-making to be remote and unaccountable, imposing change that is unwelcome, stripping them of meaningful choices and denying them urgency over their lives and communities. (Lisa Nandy MP, quoted in Lawson, 2019, p 4)
Government motivation for focusing on communities is usually based on concern with apparently intractable issues of poverty and deprivation but also, particularly during the Labour period (1997– 2010), an underlying concern with the ‘growing sense of citizens feeling inadequately empowered to influence local decisions and conditions’ (DCLG, 2008, p 6).
We sought to explain seasonality and other aspects of Campylobacter jejuni epidemiology by integrating population genetic and epidemiological analysis in a large 3-year longitudinal, two-centre, population-based study. Epidemiological information was collected for 1505 isolates, which were multilocus sequence-typed. Analyses compared pathogen population structure between areas, over time, and between clinical presentations. Pooled analysis was performed with published international datasets. Subtype association with virulence was not observed. UK sites had nearly identical C. jejuni populations. A clade formed by ST45 and ST283 clonal complexes showed a summer peak. This clade was common in a Finnish dataset but not in New Zealand and Australian collections, countries with less marked seasonality. The UK, New Zealand and Australian collections were otherwise similar. These findings map to known in-vitro differences of this clade. This identifies a target for studies to elucidate the drivers of the summer peak in human C. jejuni infection.
It is the wish of all men … to live happily. But when it comes to seeing clearly what it is that makes a life happy, they grope for the light. Indeed, a measure of the difficulty of achieving the happy life is that the greater the man's energy in striving for it, the further he grows away from it if he has taken a wrong turning on the road.(Seneca, On the happy life, quoted in Bauman, 2008)
Something profound has happened to society over the last 30 years, as two curious phenomena have come to light. The first is that as we are getting richer we don't seem to be getting any happier. The second is that we feel increasingly empowered as individuals, but increasingly disempowered as citizens. We can choose more of what we want in the shops, but feel more powerless than ever to shape the world around us. These phenomena combine to create a world that feels like it is out of our control. There is a sense that society is lacking direction that is mixed into a potentially lethal cocktail with an apparent inability to do anything about it. It is turning society into a toxic brew of intolerance, inequality, crime and violence.
‘Social recession’ is a useful phrase to describe this as it highlights the newly emerging understanding that society can suffer whether the economy is buoyant or, as at the time of writing, is experiencing an accelerating downturn. Social recession hits all social groupings, except the super-rich. An almost tangible sense of insecurity pervades our lives. Little is certain except an exhausting struggle to keep going on the ‘earn-to-spend’ treadmill of the consumer society. House prices are collapsing, basic food and utility costs are rising sharply and supposedly secure pension schemes are disappearing. It feels like there is nothing we can do. Employment also feels insecure. The concept of a job for life no longer exists. The growing pressure on our working lives is tangible – if the boss or other employees never go home then neither must we. In Britain we work some of the longest hours, yet enjoy fewer public benefits.
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