Guest Blog from Rashid Iqbal, CEO, the Winch
How might Brexit affect Camden’s For-Impact Sector?
At the recent Health and Wellbeing Event for the Voluntary and Community Sector, Sanjay Mackintosh, Director of Strategy at Camden Council, asked what the impact of Brexit might be to help inform the Council’s contingency arrangements. I offered the following four insights, which summarised a few (but not all!) of the things that are front of mind for me.
- Economies of Surplus.
As ever, much of government thinking is focused on and wedded to ideas of scarcity – shortages of medicines, food, time, and people (reducing people to ‘salaries’ and ‘skills’). Much of our work in the sector attempts to seeks out and redistribute surplus, like time, money, food, assets and kindness- as well as tackling shortages.
So, if there are food shortages, for example, is anyone asking what the knock on effect will be on food banks? Its estimated 20,000 people in Camden experience food insecurity and around 7,600 children attend school feeling hungry. The limited data available shows that, even before Universal Credit hit Camden communities, too many of our neighbours rely on the safety net of foodbanks. Whilst we should be concerned with the systemic causes of childhood hunger, there remains a questions how the widely –anticipated Brexit shock will impact on those most in need of support if food or other supplies are reduced and supply chains are strained.
Similarly, with over £800bn worth of assets leaving the country and the relocation of thousands of jobs away from London, there is no doubt that charitable giving and CSR activities in support of VCS organisations will be affected.
- A hostile environment
Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed the aggressive promotion of policies, narratives and people championing divisive and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. The Brexit debate has contributed to legitimising prejudice and, in the battle for relevance, both the mainstream media and social media companies have facilitated the sharing of hate propaganda.
Whilst Brexit has nurtured the politics of resentment and manipulated distorted ideas of privilege and betrayal, Windrush and the handling of the Salima Begum case have accentuated the logic of the hostile environment policy to the point where all citizenship can now be seen as conditional- albeit for some ‘lesser’ or ‘underserving’ people. Civic institutions are being co-opted to amplify, police and enforce the structures of exclusion. This will only further entrench fundamental inequalities and diminish us all.
As we reflect on last week’s devastating massacre in Christchurch, civil society leaders and organisations may want to consider how they can best work to safeguard and advance civil rights for all, especially in the wake of a Brexit that threatens to be harnessed by hardliners for their own hateful purposes.
- Inability to Listen
What makes our task harder is that Brexit has moved us to a policy environment beyond facts –facts are seen as weaponised. Brexit has become an article of faith or ideology, in which you either believe or you don’t, with consequences either way.
Unsurprisingly, this results in a polarised national debate and fragmented country. Analogue politics appears addicted to hopelessly binary approaches to resolve wickedly complex problems. MP’s commitment to a new set of ‘indicative votes’ suggest they have still not understood the limitations of a yes/no or win/lose mindset.
Enduring change in communities is long-term, adaptive and emerges from practices that are committed to reflection and learning. Government has clearly become something else. This reinforces existing challenges and creates new ones for those working to secure societal change.
If you are a young person striking to prevent climate change and preserve the planet for future generations, even within the overwhelming backing of the scientific community and with the ‘facts’ on your side, you will need different tactics. If you are a head teacher struggling with budgets, your hard-won expertise may not be enough to have your views on schools funding to be valued and accepted. We’ll need to think about how we effect change nationally and what efforts we therefore redirect to working locally and more collaboratively. I don’t say this to give up on government, but we have more agency in our immediate worlds that we should look too, whilst they work on themselves.
4 Paralysis of Government
After the economic reductionism of the austerity years, we may have hoped for a more positive, inspiring national politics. But Brexit has broken government. We now risk a real ‘lost decade’, with little or no longer term vision for investment in our physical and social infrastructure.
As ever, there will be small pots of money made available for time-limited, short-term activity. We can expect this to be much more tightly aligned to and controlled by government, who will should also expect to attempt to leverage charitable funding to its agenda. Funding will also be fiercely contested and it’s going to be even more tough to secure resources for vital causes.
Camden’s voluntary and community sector has proven to be a resilient over this period, but it may be about to get a little more difficult for many of us and we’ll need to figure out how we will best manage this between us, for the benefits of the communities we serve.