24 Apr 2007

Social capital - 'social responsibility'

Today the House of Lords considers amendments in Committee to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill [see earlier posts]. It provides an opportunity to insert an amendment for a Social Capital Index, as there is a clause [19] already in the Bill for the RPI [Retail Price Index].

Writing in the Guardian [23rd April 2007] David Cameron says:

“Government can encourage social responsibility by building and strengthening the institutions of a responsible society. Supporting families - because a stable home life is the best way to ensure children grow up as responsible citizens. Transferring power to local and neighbourhood institutions (and finding ways to promote people's engagement in them) - because that will make people behave more responsibly. And we have to trust people more: whether that's professionals in public services or people who want to volunteer in their community.”

He must be right about this. David Cameron is talking about how we build social capital. Unfortunately he is not yet addressing the issue of how we measure social capital and changes in it by neighbourhood. One day he will have to do this if he wants to establish his credentials as a politician who is really concerned about marriage and family life. Fine words butter no parsnips. They prompt the question, "Why are the Conservatives so coy about tabling an amendment for a Social Capital Index?" Ultimately, people measure what they value.

Fortunately there is a groundswell of recognition of the need for measuring changes in social capital. An excellent web site for information about social capital measurement is published by Paul Bullen, an Australian.

He provides a link to Indicators of Social and Family Functioning by R Zubrick, AA Williams, SR Silburn, (TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth,Western Australia) and G Vimpani (Child and Youth Health Network, University of Newcastle) May 2000.

The Executive Summary begins:

According to a ..... OECD Forum report (January, 1997):

‘pressures on social cohesion are likely to evolve over the next two decades as unemployment, earnings inequality, demographic shifts, technological progress, open trade, and greater competition in less constrained market places, continue to contribute to economic and social turbulence.’

"Australia is no less immune to these pressures, with a perceived decline in social cohesion which has placed stress on family and social functioning. Rapid economic and social change can manifest as serious problems in the developmental health and well-being of children, young people and their families. These problems include child abuse, early school failure, truancy, depression and suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, juvenile offending, violence, relationship and family breakdown."

It supports my contention that we need a Social Capital Index as much as the RPI in the Statistics and Registration Service Bill and that a major element of this SCI should be the factors relating to social and domestic cohesion.

The components [problems] listed above are very similar to those which I have proposed for the index, which is reassuring.

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