The Weekend Edit: 15th June

The Weekend Edit: 15th June

I'd like to begin this edition of The Weekend Edit by remembering the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Two years ago, the fire at Grenfell Tower exposed some of the gravest social problems facing Britain today. Ever deepening divides along race and wealth lines, and the seriousness of the housing crisis, were reflected in the fate of this neglected council tower block.

The country’s richest borough, Kensington and Chelsea, had brought in billions of pounds in private investment to build new luxury housing. While the Council made the shameful decision to cut a few hundred thousand pounds from Grenfell’s refurbishment budget. This resulted in the use of cheaper, combustible cladding on the exterior of the tower. Lethal to those who lived in it, decorative to the mostly wealthy neighbours who had to look at it.  That night was one of the tragic consequences of our current toxic blend of austerity policy and broken politics.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams addresses this point in this article for the New Statesman, Brexit Shows Britain Is No Longer Able To Imagine A Common Good. In light of the second anniversary of the Grenfell fire, this paragraph struck me particularly:

"We should not be surprised if, in a situation where democracy is being trivialised, hamstrung or corrupted, inequalities increase. Failure to understand the moral and imaginative roots of the democratic process, the fundamental commitment to the idea that every voice deserves hearing, goes hand in hand with the side-lining of groups that have little public leverage."

In his article, Williams argues that: “To attempt to run a democracy without a strong and sustained commitment to shared goods, identified by shared argument, is a recipe for anger, bitterness and stalemate.” Sadly, this seems to be where we find ourselves here in the UK. Likewise, in the United States, Poland, Hungary, Turkey to name but a few of the other countries similarly affected.

As I see it, the current toxic blend of austerity policy, insouciant disregard for those most affected and broken politics are symptomatic of a lack of empathy, kindness and sense of shared humanity. However, it doesn’t have to be like this, as the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, repeatedly shows us.

For the first time New Zealand’s annual budget will put social wellbeing indicators ahead of GDP when it comes to spending decisions. The health of New Zealand will not be measured simply by growth, but by the overall wellbeing and prosperity of its nearly 5 million people.

There’s no doubt the country faces serious challenges. New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD, the fourth highest rate of family violence and diseases of poverty not seen elsewhere in the developed world. But by putting social wellbeing front and centre of the annual budget, New Zealand’s government has demonstrated that measures than money are significant.

To attempt to run a democracy without a strong and sustained commitment to shared goods, identified by shared argument, is a recipe for anger, bitterness and stalemate
— Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury
The Weekend Edit: 15th June
The Weekend Edit: 15th June


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