Safety and concerns about responsibility for care top the list of what matters to UK communities, putting the future of the social contract into question — reveals a radical new research agenda published today by the Institute for Community Studies (ICS).

Safety in numbers

Purposefully co-created with communities and focused on the lived-experiences of more than 3,000 people, Safety in Numbers? A research agenda with communities, for communities challenges traditional ‘top down’ approaches to community interventions and calls on researchers, funders and policymakers to adopt this new methodology or risk exacerbating social inequalities.

Seven priority issues* were identified and safety was the single biggest issue that mattered to UK communities; covering the full spectrum of fears that included rising inequality and the knock on effect on crime and unrest; the lack of community policing and gaps in local services; and awareness of tensions exposed between communities due to four years of exacerbated political and social differences.

Warning signs

Carried out pre-pandemic, the research paints an uneasy picture of social cohesion, with the majority of people reporting that local action and taking responsibility for others is very distant from their understanding of what the social contract should be. Almost a quarter (23%) of the questions raised in the agenda process focused on public services, with people asking why some cuts to some services have been so deep and whether those in power truly understand the impacts of those decisions on peoples lives at local level.

Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies said: “Given the well-evidenced impact of recession on mental health, education and housing, it would be a mistake to ignore the warning sign that UK communities already feel deeply insecure. The post-pandemic recovery period is a unique opportunity to disrupt the status quo in how we listen to communities and chart a new course in how we research and make policy, putting communities at the heart of the process and giving legitimacy to their stories as evidence of what’s working – and, crucially, what is not. We’re delighted to launch this new agenda today and show others how it can be done.”

Home truths

Also shaped by the perspectives of two advisory boards, one from communities and the other made up of academics, business, civil society and established institutions, the new methodology used by the ICS has been designed to close the gap between the commissioners and users of research about communities, and the people and places on which it focuses.

Commenting on the findings, Tom McNeil, Strategic Adviser to the West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner and member, ICS Community Advisory Board said: “This report highlights some difficult home truths – rising fear and a perception that there is more for the police to do. Severe austerity over the last decade has made policing significantly harder; despite that big steps have been taken by us to give our communities an authentic stake in our policies. Nonetheless, it’s clear we need to build trust in our communities and hold many more conversations about the challenges we and many of our partners in social services, health and education face in tackling and preventing crime.”

The ICS will now:

  1. Form partnerships with organisations that are keen to listen to the voice of ‘what matters’ to communities in agenda and committed to identifying the best evidence for what will support communities through recovery, restart and renewal post-Covid-19.
  2. Work through national networks including the Community Advisory Board to support communities to take action on the findings of the research.

The research agenda — Safety in Numbers? A research agenda with communities, for communities – is available to read and download now.

Posted on: 30 June 2020

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