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Kim Roberts

Policy Manager

Charities Aid Foundation


DEVOLUTION: WHAT'S MISSING?

14 September 2017

One thing that most politicians know is that in order to keep their jobs, and their reputation, they have to put in a serious shift in the area they were elected to represent.

Whether an MP, Welsh Assembly Member, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Mayor or Councillor – those elected officials have a responsibility and a duty to not only represent communities around the UK, but they are expected to have a personal connection and affinity with them. How many times do we see disparaging stories about politicians parachuted into areas that they’ve never even visited before, let alone lived – think Paul Nuttall and his empty house in Stoke or the recent furore over Conservative candidates at the snap election, an apparent ‘selection stitch up’. But if politicians are supposed to have a connection with the area they represent, what more should they be doing to encourage that connection for others?

Recent research from academics at Nottingham Trent University seems to tell us what we already know – that feeling connected to other people, and to the community in which we live, makes us happier.[1] Why then, is there a general sense that community spirit is diminishing in the UK? In post-Brexit Britain there has been a reported rise in hate crimes, 14 million people say they feel their community is more divided than it was ahead of the referendum[2] and everyday we hear anecdotally that our communities are just “not what they used to be,” a refrain that is common from voters on both sides of the Brexit debate.

We need to start thinking about how we solve this problem, and policymakers are increasingly prioritising devolution as a way of empowering local areas, with the added bonus that this should bring people together. There is also strong recognition that if people are to be happier, the areas in which they live need to be economically stronger. But where policymakers are thinking about politics and economics, they’re neglecting something else – identity. Money pouring into a community won’t revitalise it by itself; it needs to be supported by an understanding of a communities’ needs, and a commitment to something more than just improving employment figures and regional GDP. It needs to deliver a better life for the people who live there, and help them feel a connection to the place in which they live.

At CAF, we believe one of the key themes that has been missing from many of these discussions about devolution and regional development is the role that philanthropy can play; not only supplementing economic investment into an area, but also allowing its communities and citizens to flourish.  New policy initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands engine don’t do so much as even mention philanthropy, let alone think about how it can be harnessed and unleashed in practice, but in our towns and cities it can play such a fundamental role in reconnecting people to places as well as delivering cold, hard cash that many communities urgently need.

That’s why we’ve launched our new Giving for the City project, and our latest report – Giving a Sense of Place, looks at what we can learn from the UK’s historical tradition of philanthropy, and how we can apply it in a modern world so that we can create cities for the future and better lives for the people who live there.

Philanthropy isn’t all about rich people building libraries or galleries with their names on – although there is of course a place for that. It’s about people, who have a very real connection with a community, giving something back to that place, so that money can go to meeting the real needs of people on the ground, whilst also rebuilding a sense of pride in our areas that have for too long felt neglected.

We believe that the time is now for a new golden age of civic philanthropy. Politicians want to rejuvenate Britain’s towns and cities and they’ll be actively looking for ways to do this. Philanthropy isn’t the only answer, but it can certainly help.

 

[1] Group Identification and Satisfaction with Life, Nottingham Trent University: http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/27260/

[2] A stronger Britain: How can charities build post-Brexit Britain? Charities Aid Foundation: https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/caf-party-report-2016-web.pdf

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