We live in precarious times. Every conversation I have been part of this week seems to have been about insecurity, and uncertainty in the UK. People are facing the most extraordinary insecurity in their daily lives.
We have a labour market which – at every level – offers uncertainty and the prospect of rapid change, and as this excellent piece in Medium demonstrates, insecurity packs a powerful emotional punch. People are working short term, with unreliable shift patterns, and have little idea what work they will have next week or next month. Pay packets fluctuate along with the hours, and the prospect of self employment, while bringing great freedom and sense of self direction to some, feels pretty much like casual labour to others. This is well documented for the poorest households. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the organisation I used to lead, has along with others, researched and written extensively about the precarious nature of work that creates such devastating poverty among those who are working. But this insecurity affects all sorts of people: its the professional jobs that now seem destined to change or disappear in the face of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Jobs for graduates are also part time, inadequately remunerated, if paid at all, and frequently short term. The high priests of supercharged capitalism may claim that the economy depends upon this insecurity, but people living through it are suffering in ways that we may not even yet recognise.
It’s just possible that we could cope with this financial and employment insecurity, if our homes and neighbourhoods felt more stable. But increasingly people find homes in the private rented sector, managing on short term tenancies, subject to regular review and probable rent increases. Those lucky enough to be housed in the social sector – either housing association for local authority – are also threatened with fixed term conditional tenancies, and with the ever present fear that an increase in income could change the basis of their tenancy. And those who are trying to buy their own home worry that even a small increase in interest rates, could propel them into mortgage default.
Little wonder then that our political leaders lament the lack of community cohesion. No surprise that people find it hard to contribute to a community where they may only be spending a short time. Not too surprising that employee engagement is the biggest challenge reported by British employers. After all, loyalty from the workforce requires loyalty from the employer too.
And no surprise either, about the human cost of all this uncertainty. Only this week the Children’s Society published compelling evidence about the educational impact of frequent house moves. Little surprise that families struggle to unite in the face of such insecurity. We can all imagine, if we only pause for moment, the emotional price paid for not knowing what the future holds.
But on a national scale, is it any surprise that with this level of insecurity and uncertainty, people are sceptical, if not downright hostile, to the offerings of political parties? Is it any wonder that a staggering 67%of people eligible to vote in the recent Stoke by election chose not to do so? Is insecurity the dominant theme of our time in England? and if so, is it any wonder that 52% of the population felt inspired by a slogan about ‘taking back control’.
We all need personal security, and a base upon which we can build our lives, follow our personal desires, develop ourselves.
For civil society organisations, which want to develop well-being in neighbourhoods, create civil space for people to make tricky decisions, and build strong networks of support and action, the first step must be to recognise the damage caused by this everyday exhausting insecurity. Then challenge it.
http://www.juliaunwin.com/wp-content/uploads/julia-unwin.jpg00juliaunwinhttp://www.juliaunwin.com/wp-content/uploads/julia-unwin.jpgjuliaunwin2017-03-31 15:49:512017-03-31 15:49:51How much insecurity can we stand?