“There is no such thing (as society)! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.” – Margaret Thatcher
Last week, Sajid Javid caused a bit of outrage on my Twitter timeline when during his Tory Conference speech he said of care that family came first, then community and then the State. Of course, Javid was merely rehearsing Conservative values to the Party faithful. He was also, I’d argue, simply pointing at the elephant that is always in the room where care is concerned, and welcoming it.
The truth is that most care and support takes place without the involvement of the State, including where the State is involved in some way. It is organised, secured and sustained by and through individuals that have cause to draw on care or support, their families and informal support networks. The problem is that the extent of this reliance on informal support has become hugely unsustainable, harming those that have cause to draw on support, family members called on to offer it, society more widely and the economy as too many avoidably leave the workforce to care for others.
Making this argument is not a case against family and for the State. And the left would be making a huge mistake to cede ‘family’ and ‘community’ to conservatives. The conservative formula is harming family life. In its overreliance on family it is, perversely, tearing families apart and undermining the capacity of communities to support each other and the economy to function effectively. Rather, it is to say that the formula should not be family, then community, then State as a safety net, but rather individual plus family plus community plus State as a partnership.
A new progressive agenda should centre on the State investing in this partnership – in strengthening the capacity of individuals, families and communities to support themselves and one another. This will demand greater public investment, but it will be investment to unlock the resources and agency of individuals, families and communities, not to supplant them. It will be an investment in good relationships and family wellbeing and social cohesion as well as the economy.
In the USA, the Caring Across Generations campaign has successfully begun to frame investment in home care as investment in ‘essential infrastructure’, making jobs and care central to recovery from Covid-19.
Isn’t it time for us to do the same?