Sunday, 26 February 2012

Social justice is no longer available ‘People come together through day-to-day activities, not 'integration projects' which too often feel irrelevant and prove unsustainable… Central to this will be ensuring that the integration benefits of programmes and projects are recognised and supported.’ These sentences come from a paper on Creating the conditions for integration published yesterday by DCLG. They suggest, first, that the government recognises the value of interactions in everyday life, so it must place value on a public realm where such integration can be stimulated and take place. That's a relief, the sceptic might have been wondering. Secondly it suggests that the government values the evaluation and demonstration of 'integration benefits' where they can be shown to have occurred. That's good too ain't it? The paper raises a few other points. First – I don’t think I have a problem with using the word integration rather than, say, cohesion (which is what we’d have expected in the past): but it might be interesting to ask why, why the change in vocabulary? At the Institute of Community Cohesion, they know about some of this stuff: do they feel snubbed, I wonder? Second – is there an understanding that social injustice, poverty and unequal access to power and influence might be critical barriers to integration and should be part of the equation? (Answer, no). Third – at least three times in the paper the following phrase is used: ‘We want to hear further ideas for action…’ but there is no channnel offered, no named author with contact details on the document, only the switchboard number for the entire department. Somebody’s not being sincere. And on the question of social justice, here’s some curious news. A week ago the DWP set up a survey to help define social justice (be quick if you want to catch that link): 'The government will shortly publish a social justice strategy paper, detailing a new approach to it. This will define what social justice means to the government, and principles and current practice underlying activity in this area. The government would like to know what social justice means to different stakeholder organisations, so would like organisations to complete a short survey.' If you follow the link now, this (at the moment) is what you see: This survey is no longer available. Please contact ( ) for further assistance..
Home consumption This is the worst case of junk accumulation I have seen documented (except perhaps in Dickens's novels), although I've heard a few tales. A house in San Jose, California, is apparently disappearing under 'a 10-foot-tall tidal wave of rusty chains, oily mattress springs, filthy animal cages and garbage bags...' Never mind the possibility of it being tidal, the house is being consumed by its junk. And apparently the stench, when something is burned within, is worthy of note. Three points are striking about this story. First, we are told that a neighbour trapped 23 cats and six kittens living on the property and took them to a shelter. Another neighbor then said the place is now overrun with rats, which the feral cats had at least helped keep in check. You can't win - but should neighbours be put in that no-win situation in the first place? Secondly, it seems that the fire service has declared the house an 'official fire hazard.' But nothing has been done. As a neighbour, what value would you place on the words 'official fire hazard' as a trigger for 'official' action on a problem that has festered for a decade or more? And thirdly, consider these remarks from the county code enforcement manager: 'I certainly appreciate and understand the neighborhood's sense of frustration. We have a certain toolset at our disposal, and it works for most people. When you deal with someone who just doesn't respond, you're faced with a last-resort scenario.' We can understand this in the fading light of 'big society' thinking, which implies quite reasonably that citizens have a responsibility to handle the local problems that they can, before turning to agencies - which should be seen as a last resort. Here we have an agency which is confounded by the discovery that it is the last resort, and seems to be startled and paralysed and cannot take action. Mysteriously, the article reports not a single word of complaint against the local authority. This could be explained by (a) poor journalism; (b) uncritically pro-council journalism (which is a variant of (a)); or (c) a cultural over-emphasis on individual responsibility at the expense of reference to the state. I have no idea which it might be.

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