Tag Archives: diversity

Quality of Life (3) – Communities, Activities and Mental Health

This is the continuation of my series of posts in response to the Lib Dems’ Quality of Life consulation paper. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here.

16. How can we actively promote ‘good neighbour’ policies?
Noting that word “actively” my response is that we shouldn’t. More equal societies tend to be more trusting societies but I’m not sure there’s much we can or should do to force people to be good neighbours.

The one thing we could do is scrap all legislation that is designed to tackle this thing called “anti-social behaviour.” Criminal behaviour is a different matter, but we need to avoid giving people the impression that it is the role of the state to intervene when it comes to naughty or irritating behaviour.

Another thing that might help would be to move away from gated communities and sprawling housing estates and promote mixed housing wherever possible. I simply can’t see what will stop people from drifting apart on socio-economic lines however if we don’t have some way of discouraging it via, say a land value tax system (i.e. you can have that gated community if you are willing to pay wider society for the privilege).

17. Should government provide greater financial support for community activities – community spaces, clubs, other collective activities? Should it provide other support? If so, what?

Again, rather than doing more it might be an idea if government did less. The Independent Safeguarding Authority is an example of an interference too far in this respect.

18. Should we try to increase significantly the status of those who carry out voluntary activities? If so, how? Should some kind of honours or rewards system play a role? If we increased the status of these activities, would we reduce the stigma attached to unemployment?

If something is rewarded it ceases to be voluntary. I certainly believe that unemployed people should be encouraged – and certainly not be penalised – for doing voluntary work. Perhaps we could combine job centres with time banks (but if Mrs Miggins can’t leave her home, how will she notify the job centre that she needs her shopping done?).

Ultimately though, we don’t want “voluntary” work to be restricted to unemployed people because they have nothing better to do. If we want to avoid such volunteering to lose status as more unemployed people take it up, we have to find ways to encourage employed people to participate too.

I can’t see that there is much national government can do however. The answer, surely, is decentralisation and allow local government to experiment.

19. How can we ensure everyone, including people of diverse ages, ethnic, social and religious backgrounds, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or ability is included and welcome in the life of their community? How do we combat prejudice while respecting difference?

This is like the “good neighbours” question. I’m not sure there is anything active we can do about this at all. What we need is to break down barriers, which is why I think mixed communities are crucial.

20. Watching large amounts of TV is a major contributor to lower wellbeing. What is the right Liberal Democrat approach to discouraging or limiting it?

We need to make our minds up. Either British TV is the best in the world and a public service, or it is trash that we should discourage people from watching.

TV is on the decline and increasing numbers of people are turning to the internet. This may be a problem that is solving itself as mass media becomes more interactive.

The simplest way to discourage poor people from watching television is to replace the licence fee with subscription television. That way, a number of people – especially older people – will be priced out of watching. But if my grandmother is anything to go by, Eastenders and Countdown are a great comfort to them. Taking the goggle box away from them is certainly unlikely to be popular.

21. How do we combat loneliness, and in particular the isolation of the elderly?

Again, more mixed communities and a more equal society will help.

I’m actually relatively optimistic about this for the future. I strongly suspect this will be much less of a problem for my generation in old age as we will have the internet and a range of opportunities to explore our interests and long distance relationships (assuming climate change hasn’t sent us back to the stone age of course). Even my parents’ generation will have made strides towards this.

22. Should more public money be spent on improving the appearance of local areas?

Again, that is a local matter. Are we talking broken windows theory here? Certainly I can see a case for local authorities responding to vandalism as quickly as possible. But once again, if young people lived in a more equal society where they felt like stakeholders instead of trespassers we would probably see less vandalism.

23. How should government be involved in promoting good mental health?

Greater experts than me will, I’m sure, make specific suggestions. Again I feel the need to point out that the evidence suggests that more equal societies face fewer mental health problems.

24. How can we use education to enhance public understanding about mental health issues?

I certainly would not support adding yet another clause to the national curriculum. If people were taught critical thinking more in schools, it would almost certainly help as they would be less prone to prejudice and I would be happy to see whole swathes of curriculum trashed to make way for this to be on the core syllabus.

Ultimately however, we should leave teachers to get on with it and encourage them to learn from each other.

25. If we make mental health treatment a much higher priority for government spending – do we spend more on health or make cut-backs elsewhere?

This sounds like a false dichotomy to me. Mental health appears to be linked to physical health problems – it thus follows that more investment in the former will lead to savings in the latter.

26. How do drugs and alcohol impact on mental health? What should government do to reduce demand or supply?

Not a lot. We need to be treating people when they’re down not treading on them.

The experience in places such as the Netherlands is that decriminalising drugs leads to a reduction in usage simply because people get less trapped in the criminal justice system. Alcohol is a more intractable problem and alcohol abuse seems to be more a symptom of wider problems than a problem in itself.

How do we deal with that? Empowering local authorities to take a firmer grasp of their licensing policies would be a start. Designing pubs so that they cater more for talking and families and are less Viking drinking halls would help too.

One idea might be to lower the drinking age on real ale and wine in pubs (to 16?), while retaining the 18 age for things like spirits, alco-pops, cider and lager. I’m serious. If we encouraged young people to acquire a taste for proper alcoholic drinks they would be less tempted to blag things like Bacardi Breezers that taste like soft drinks and promote binge drinking. As a positive by-product, it would also help local breweries.

Clegg’s Academy – credit where it’s due

I’ve been hard on Nick Clegg on this blog, mainly because I’ve struggled to find anything of substance that he has said or written during this campaign.

Thankfully, I now find myself in the position of endorsing something he has called for. To wit:

‘My approach isn’t about women-only shortlists or about A-lists. It isn’t about imposing candidates on local parties or picking winners. My approach is about nurturing talent. I will set up a Liberal Democrat academy to support, train and encourage candidates and aspiring candidates at all levels.

‘I will personally devote my time and energy to raising substantially more money for our diversity fund and will extend its scope.

‘But I believe this is our last chance to do it the purely liberal way, without any positive discrimination written into the rules. If, in two General Elections’ time, we have not sorted this out once and for all, we will have no choice but to consider positive discrimination. I want to discuss with other party leaders the possibility of allowing positive discrimination in the future.’

It remains to be seen how exactly this academy will be funded or will operate, but to an extent that is beside the point. Clegg is not only suggesting a positive way forward, he’s locking himself into a process that would result in the party adopting positive discrimination if we fail to meet our own targets.

Finally. Something of substance that isn’t merely flattering internal party prejudices. I agree with him; diversity is important enough of an issue for us to be prepared to adopt positive discrimination if all else fails. We can’t keep bucking the issue. But that does mean doing all that we can to make our preferred alternatives work in the first place. And that means cash – significantly more than we’ve been prepared to spend on diversity thus far – every penny of which the Campaigns Department will argue would be better spent on target seats (I know – I’ve sat in those negotiations). Both Kennedy and Campbell always liked to say what an important issue this is, but given the choice between diversity and defying Lord Rennard, they consistently chose the path of least resistance. In Campbell’s case last autumn, that meant a significant cut in the already underfunded Campaign for Gender Balance grant – the one part of the party’s diversity strategy that has a proven track record.

So it is odd that he chooses to end this piece with a quote from the current Party President – a man who has always talked the talk on this issue but repeatedly buckled under pressure. We must fervently hope and pray that Clegg doesn’t choose him to be the person to head up this academy project idea; otherwise we are all but guaranteed all BME shortlists in 6-7 years time.

The ghost in the machine

Rob Fenwick posted an article about the websites of the various Lib Dem GLA wannabes on Lib Dem Voice. It’s worth reading, and Rob has included his working so you don’t have to take his view at face value.

Nasser Butt‘s website came bottom. Not entirely surprising since, apart from anything else, pretty much all the buttons on it come up with the response ‘not available at this present time’. Not exactly impressive. What did tickle me about this site is the bizarre heading on the welcome page:

Welcome to my online presence

It’s like he’s in the room with me!

As for how I’ll vote? I’m not at all sure yet. I’m torn between voting entirely on politically correct lines on the basis that the more diverse a group of people we have at the top of the list in terms of gender and ethnicity, the better it is for the party from a branding perspective, and the argument that if the biggest morons in the party get onto the GLA, they will be out of everyone else’s hair for four years. Either way, that doesn’t look good for sensible, white male candidates and it is sad that after 7 years of the GLA, I still can’t treat it as seriously as I would a Parliamentary or even local council selection. But then, I’ve written about this before.