Drawing on his own personal experience Jack Lopresti MP has spoken passionately in the House of Commons about Social Mobility in a debate on the Big Society. Jack called for the debate after meeting local volunteer groups in Filton and Bradley Stoke last week.
The text of the speech:
“Thank you Mr Speaker. When I was thinking about the debate and my speech I was conscious that the Big Society as a term has only recently been added to the Political lexicon. Now in my opinion it isn’t a new concept at all, you would almost call it an age old human value. Here is a quotation that I believe begins to explain what the Big Society is:
“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.”
“That was said by a man called Edmund Burke, who was the MP for Bristol in 1774. Now Edmund Burke was one of the first writers to realise the importance of the spontaneous social groupings that people create for themselves. Social Scientists have increasingly recognised that Burke’s little platoons are the glue that holds society together and makes it tolerable.
The point I am trying to make is that the Big Society initiatives and volunteering empowers people, and for me the Big Society could be one of the biggest Social Mobilisers we’ve had for generations.
It’s not just poverty and difficult family circumstances which hold young people back; it is also the poverty of aspiration and a lack of good role models. By being part of a community group be it in politics, sport or the arts, inclusion gives young people a sense of purpose and aspiration. It gives them a sense of community and active citizenship and can provide them with successful role models who can lead the way. I know how difficult it is to escape from the constraints of your circumstances. I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for the fact that I was a volunteer.
At age 18 I wanted to engage in the political process and get involved in campaigning for a political party. It was only when I met other like minded individuals, although from very different back grounds to my own, and inspired by role models, that I started to think that maybe, even I who had left school at fifteen with no qualifications could one day be a Conservative Member of Parliament. So when you see others who are doing it, you start to think, why not me?
There are many examples in my own constituency of volunteer groups that inspire young people to be mobilised and part of the community. I think of the volunteers who run my youngest son’s Army cadet detachment in Patchway, unpaid, passionate individuals who give up a lot of their time to keep the detachment going and to give the youngsters the chance to broaden their horizons, learning how to live and work with people from all walks of life and teaching the Cadets real life skills and providing great role models. I was lucky enough to be invited to meet at one of their weekly meetings, the St John Ambulance Cadets in Bradley Stoke. I met some wonderful young people some of which were passionate enough about their cause that they want to go on and be doctors, paramedics and other roles in the medical profession, and I am in the process of arranging a trip to the House of Commons for them.
The Big Society is about overcoming the problems Britain faces by pulling together and working together. In this vein real change doesn’t come from Government alone, but more importantly when the people are inspired and mobilised. This is the underlying ethos behind the Big Society programme and an approach we should take with improving Social Mobility as well.
In practical terms, the Big Society is a vision, which can partly be described as championing local people (at a grass-roots level) to empower themselves and their communities but also by encouraging the private sector to help us tackle social problems and contribute to society as a whole.
As the Prime Minister states, “All acts of Parliament, all new measures, all new policy initiatives, are just politicians’ words” without the empowerment of people at a local level. Nat Wei, the highly successful social entrepreneur, who has been instrumental in setting up the Big Society Network (BSN) as the executive chair has said that “in groups [people] learn what society fundamentally is”, and that “grouping at the local level is arguably a public good”.
The Big Society is intertwined with the improvement of people’s lives and circumstances. Both the Big Society initiatives and the mission to improve Social Mobility lay the road ahead on the journey back towards a healthy civil society – towards a 21st Century friendly society, in which all are invited to be active members.
I would also like to pay tribute to some of the organisations that work in my constituency that are most prominent in my mind, for what they do to improve Social Mobility through Big Society programmes.
The Council for Voluntary Service South Gloucestershire – They give the voluntary and community sector in South Gloucestershire effective and accountable representation. By sitting on various strategic bodies and by supporting other voluntary sector representatives they ensure that volunteers are represented in local government. Their guidance and assistance is invaluable to the voluntary sector locally.
I also pay tribute to the Southern Brooks Community Partnership who have done so much to promote the Big Society Agenda in Filton and Bradley Stoke and elsewhere.
The Governments vision for a Big Society, with more diverse providers of public services and greater power for communities to make local decisions, brings huge opportunities to charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises.
I am also pleased that as well as new opportunities and rights, the Government will assist new providers by improving access to the resources they need and also that the Government will provide funds to pilot the National Citizen Service. The Big Society Bank will bring in private sector funding in addition to receiving all funding available to England from dormant accounts and I know that this in particular will help transform the lives of many of our young people.
I look forward to the Ministers response but would like to say that I am deeply encouraged by the commitments that the government has already made to the Big Society agenda and to hugely improving Social Mobility in our country.”