‘The object of government in peace and war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but of the happiness of the common man.’ Sir William Beveridge, Social Insurance and Allied Services report, 1942.
Imagine a society where everyone is incentivised to be involved in the wellbeing of each other. Want help filling in that tricky form? Your children collected from school? Covering a catering shift? A parcel delivery? Cover for an advisory line? The relief corp could be a bit like the cavalry coming to the rescue.
What’s imagined here is helping those excluded from mainstream society by illness or disability, by being locked into poverty, or by lack of opportunity, and who are just managing to get through the days.
Britain comes out poorly compared to its European neighbours in propagating the image of the low waged and unemployed as timewasters, lazy and system abusers through the media, something highlighted in a paper by Christian Albrekt Larsen, at the Aalborg University’s Centre for Comparative Welfare.
This attitude allows successive governments to push through unfair policies that make it harder for people to navigate the benefits system, and force them to attend often unsuitable job interviews or face sanctions.
The fact is that there is a wealth of alienated ‘sleeping’ talent and experience, which given the right support could improve our communities in a positive way and give back satisfaction, self-esteem, and productivity.
Food in Community’s relaxed volunteering policy is witness to this. Volunteering is largely on the volunteers’ own terms. We accept the last-minute cancellation of help but at the same time we are often amazed by the commitment and the extra mile given.
The incentive we give in return is good food to take home, companionship, and the reward in giving. Could the government reward this endeavour financially, too, maybe as a bonus above a decent universal living wage and unleash an army of talent and skill?
Post Covid especially, some sectors haven’t recovered and are struggling to fill positions. Enter a willing, occasional, experienced and capable helping hand to cover for an absent or sick staff member.
Covid has also shown that we can work from home, which opens up opportunities for those unable to leave their homes. Some might remember a Carry On film – Carry On Regardless (1961), which centres around the activities of a job agency ‘Helping Hands’, run by Bert Handy (Sid James) with hilarious results. Perhaps we could put a bit of fun into this too?
Beveridge, when drawing up plans for the National Health Service, knew that providing a decent living wage to all was the best way to eliminate poverty and improve education.
Unfortunately, governments have over the years reduced the income of the poorest, forcing many on low wages to firefight just to stand still. Zero-hour contracts, poor pay and poor working conditions are the new norm. Isn’t it time we, as a society, had a rethink? It would be in all our interests.