There is an “urgent need” to reshape politics in this country around people, family, community and shared institutions in a way that strengthens society and gives people more direct power,  says Croydon North MP Steve Reed.

He told the House of Commons that the big society proposed by previous Prime Minister David Cameron “shrank down to little more than an attempt to replace paid professionals with unpaid volunteers.”

Speaking during a debate on the National Citizen Service bill in the House of Commons (January 16th) Mr Reed, who is Labour’s shadow minister (culture, media and sport) said they needed to make sure that that vision does not end up hollowed out like the previous Prime Minister’s big society.

“The big society shrank down to little more than an attempt to replace paid professionals with unpaid volunteers, which is a shame because there is an urgent need to reshape politics in this country around people, family, community and shared institutions in a way that strengthens society and gives people more direct power.

“If we want people to feel they really have a share in society, they need two things: a voice to articulate what they are looking for; and the power to make it heard, be it at work, in their community or about the public services they use.

“In all that, there is a real big vision about national renewal based on sharing power, reshaping politics and opening up opportunity to everybody.

“We already see the potential of that in communities that have taken more control through projects such as tenant-led housing organisations, user-directed social care, community land trusts and community energy generation, to name just a few.

“The NCS can play a significant role in building young people’s capacity to participate.

“But the Government’s approach, including what we have heard of the ‘shared society’ so far—I accept that that is not much yet—is still too narrow and too centralised to tear down the barriers that frustrate wider and deeper engagement by citizens. “I hope that will change.

“The NCS will achieve great things, but it could achieve even more if the Government really understood the power and potential of communities freely co-operating for the common good, and allowed that principle to influence and shape the direction of Government policy right across the board.

“One of the most powerful aspects of the NCS is how it brings together young people from a range of different backgrounds. “The divisions so starkly exposed by the EU referendum, and, I am sorry to say, widened by the Government’s unfair approach to funding cuts since 2010, show just how important it is that we promote better integration right across society.

“I had the privilege of meeting some young people in Croydon who were taking part in the NCS, and their passion to make change real was tangible and moving.

“They had clearly learnt a lot from living, working, eating and facing challenges with other young people from backgrounds that were very different from their own.

“Let me give an example of why it is so important that we break down barriers. “In some parts of urban Britain we see a growing problem with violent gang crime. “Mercifully, the problem is still small at national level, but if you live in one of the neighbourhoods most affected, it is disfiguring and destructive in a way that is hard to imagine without having experienced it.

“In London, I have worked with people living on housing estates where violent, gang-related youth crime is endemic, but right next door there were streets full of better-off people leading completely different lives, with completely different expectations.

“The two communities live parallel lives that never touch. “Young people on one estate that I visited spoke as if the borders of their world ended at the borders of the estate they lived in and the world of opportunity beyond was closed to them.

“We have to break these barriers down, and I hope the NCS has a real role to play in that.

“It is very important that the NCS is an organisation for every young person in the country, whatever their background.”

Opening the debate Karen Bradley, secretary of state for culture, media and sport said the National Citizen Service is a huge success.

“More than 300,000 young people have taken part, and many of them say that the NCS has changed their lives forever. “For those who do not know, the NCS is a summer programme that lasts for up to four weeks, with no cost to parents who cannot afford it.

“It is open to all 15 to 17-year-olds in England and Northern Ireland. “Indeed, the foundational strength of the programme is that it brings together people from all backgrounds. “There is a focus on fun, and personal and social development, along with the design and delivery of a social action project.”


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