Social cohesion in the UK is eroding, worn down by a decade of austerity and the impact of the Covid crisis.
Our social bonds are the glue that holds our society together – providing foundations for citizen well-being, economic prosperity and national stability – without it public institutions fail, economic systems falter and societies fall apart.
This is now a fundamental challenge for our country’s future.
Covid has witnessed the young sacrificing for the old, the wealthy relying on the minimum-waged, and minority communities have been harder hit. Younger generations and lower-paid workers will inherit the consequences of austerity and Covid. Many of them will rightly question the value of a ‘society’ which deprives them of life opportunities yet expects them to pick-up the pieces.
Without action we’ll witness social fragmentation.
The phrase ‘Build back better’ is now on every policymakers’ lips, but this can’t only about climate-friendly infrastructure and resilient healthcare systems – it must include social infrastructure and community resilience.
What can we do to make those ‘forgotten’ feel part of society and so strengthen social cohesion?
Communities are at the heart of cohesion, they are where individuals come together and engage. And there is clear evidence that strong community services – in sport, culture, youth – greatly improve social cohesion. But austerity has prioritised short-term and front-line services at the expense of those which provide longer-term benefits. For example, council culture budgets have fallen 43% since 2008, and youth services by 70% 2010-18 – a cut of billions.
Communities – councils, providers, activists – know what they need, but conventional funding is not enough and the pressure on those budgets which build social cohesion will only get worse. The government knows that there is an issue, but its small, stop-gap funding isn’t a long-term solution.