The UK's new "5 giants" to tackle are: Inequality, Disempowerment, Isolation, Intolerance, Climate change
An interesting blog from the RSA on a survey of their members, asking them to identify the “five giants” of economic and social need in the UK today. This is a riff on the five giants that William Beveridge, the planner and founder of the British Welfare State, identified in the 30s as the targets of need that the new system had to overcome.
Beveridge’s original ones are on the left, the RSA’s new ones are on the right (note: we’re not moving “from-to”, left to right - they are just listed as printed):
The distinctions are immediately interesting. “Squalor” and “disease” point to the sheer physical and bodily need, in Beveridge’s time, for a redistribution and investment in the material conditions of the masses.
Tens of millions needed to directly benefit from social housing, available benefits and a free National Health Service - repairing the damage after a recession and two wars, all that already endured by halfway through the twentieth century. “Ignorance” points towards an educational deficit for the majority, which full state education (and grant-aided access to further and higher education) was intended to provide.
In the new 2018 list, it’s presumed that these collective floors have been irreversibly raised. “Inequality” becomes an outrage in a society in which the rubric of equality and its rights encompasses ever more entities (not just humans, but animals, maybe even artificial intelligences to come. And not just citizens and workers, but sexualities and other identities).
Again, such is the assumption of basic individual and social power (after many decades of welfare strengthening) that “disempowerment” is the scandal. A situation where some feel their agency, voice and self-determination is not being felt and heard. So “intolerance” of the many distinct human options and pathways that potentially crowd in upon any self-aware community is another giant evil - a grit in the lubricant of modern times.
It’s fascinating to see “isolation” as one of the RSA Fellows’ evils. The Beveridge values presume that these giant evils are largely collectively endured. Whereas in 2018, “isolation” is the great cost of Beveridge having boosted the capacity of individuals to choose and act, in an informed and reasonably resourced way.
And whereas “want” and “idleness” are quite tightly connected to the industrial age - steady employment will answer and assuage both the former and the latter - “climate change”, as a giant evil, threatens to unravel the produce-to-consume model of the industrial age entirely. Is a degree of love of “idleness”, or non-economic or functional activity, one of the mindsets that might actually save us in this current crisis? (See David Fleming on this).
From Hastings to Glasgow, Oldham to Swindon, Cambridge to London, Britain’s New Giants are looming large, foreshadowed by Brexit uncertainty and a decade of austerity. Other nations have managed to move past so-called ‘peak inequality’ and so can we. To do so will require a shared endeavour, with every person recognising their common humanity, every place given its due autonomy and every public institution committed to more inclusive service provision.
Recasting notions of ‘welfare’ – human flourishing - in a post-crash, post-Brexit Britain may seem a daunting task. Public, private and third-sector entrepreneurs can rise to the challenge and, through their collective intelligence and collaborative design, lay out a new social settlement – in policy and in practice – to shape the rest of this century collectively and democratically, just as Beveridge and his collaborators shaped the last, albeit as elites.
21st century enlightenment will be based on a new shared settlement, beyond reports and legislation alone but energised by widespread civic renewal. The New Giants will need more than David and a sling if they are to be slayed. It will require a cast of millions.