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The Condition of Britain: Strategies for social renewal

This report explains how we can work together to build a good society in tough times. It sets out a deliberately ambitious agenda for social renewal across Britain, rooted in today’s challenges but learning lessons from the past. We are realistic about the austerity and uncertainty our country continues to face, but believe these provide the impetus to seek new ways of addressing our problems, rather than to abandon our aspirations for society.

Britain is a rich and dynamic country. Its people are resourceful and compassionate. It is better educated and healthier than ever before. Levels of crime and drug use are falling steadily. However, our society is facing a set of challenges that are straining the social fabric and making it harder for us to fulfil our responsibilities to each other. It will take a long time for living standards to return to their pre-recession levels, while further cuts to public spending are expected regardless of who is in power after 2015. Family time is increasingly squeezed between work and care, and many of us struggle to get on the housing ladder. Young people face an uncertain future, while older people worry about how they will be cared for. Cultural anxiety, and concerns about immigration and the benefit system, are high.The Condition of Britain programme was established in February 2013 to consider how our politics, social institutions and public policies need to change to respond to these forces that are shaping society. Many of the issues that concern people in Britain today are the result of long-term social, economic, and demographic trends – such as the rise in female employment and changes in family structure, which have driven up demands for affordable childcare. Others, like the decline in homeownership or increases in youth unemployment, have more recent origins, though they have often been worsened by the recession, slow economic recovery and spending cuts.

In some cases, the challenge is one that successive governments have failed to get to grips with, like our low rates of housebuilding and inadequate care for the elderly. At the same time, governments have often pursued free market or central state solutions that have made our problems worse, not better. The idea that either a government programme or private contract can solve complex social problems on its own is a false promise. Overreliance on such methods tends to neglect the agency and insights of people themselves, leaving huge amounts of talent and resources – in all walks of life and in all parts of society – wastefully untapped.

This report attempts to offer a comprehensive survey of British society after the crash, and to formulate an ambitious programme of social reform rooted in everyday experiences and contemporary realities. The centre-left has engaged in a critical reappraisal of its economic policies since the recession, but relatively little attention has been given to how its goals for society and its prospectus for social renewal need to change in light of our new circumstances. Yet these are urgent questions given the country’s pressing social problems and the difficulties of governing with limited budgets.