In response to the recent call for submissions from Danny Kruger MP on how civil society and Government can sustain the acts of generosity and neighbourliness seen during the pandemic, the Connection Coalition submitted a series of recommendations based on the experiences of our members.
As of July 2020, the Connection Coalition is made up of over 450 organisational members, working on a diverse range of issues, including: loneliness and social isolation, mental health, grief, disability, arts and culture, intergenerational, and health-related issues. From community centres to befriending schemes, and from community development trusts to intergenerational networks, our members have been delivering on the frontline of the Covid crisis.
Indeed the Connection Coalition members are at the beating heart of the “awe-inspiring acts of generosity, public spirit and neighbourliness” referenced in the Prime Minister’s letter asking for input. As a result of their experience, Coalition members are well placed to offer unique insights into the reality of the current context and the challenges they face. To harness this valuable knowledge and inspire change, we conducted a member survey and produced a comprehensive briefing for the Government.
The key calls from our members are summarised below:
1. Invest in social infrastructure and grassroots organisations
The majority of our members believe that the Government has a key role to play in strengthening social infrastructure, meaning the places where social connections thrive. Many smaller organisations also face significant funding challenges. It is vital that additional funding is made available that is accessible to localised groups to support them and ensure their services users aren’t left behind.
2. Close the digital divide
The ‘digital divide’ was cited as the biggest barrier to supporting communities. An estimated 12 million people do not have access to digital technology, with certain groups such as older people, particularly from BAME backgrounds, particularly at risk of being left behind. It is vital that measures are taken to ensure equal access to technological resources and knowledge, as well ensuring inclusive digital infrastructure that accounts for a range of abilities and needs.
3. Enable and incentivise cross-sector collaboration
The Government should incentivise and support cross-sector collaboration to maximise the role of civil society in building and strengthening social connections. Members are keen to see the Government play an increasingly active role in convening collaborative spaces to facilitate this, and the prioritisation of holistic action at all levels to ensure social connection remains on the national agenda.
4. Prioritise mental health
The prioritisation of mental health support for the most vulnerable in communities is essential. At risk groups cited included those from BAME communities, those from areas of high deprivation likely to be disproportionately impacted by unemployment; those with disabilities; and children and young people. Providing additional support for these groups will lessen the burden of care placed on civil society organisations and free up capacity to maximise their expertise in other areas of support.
5. Ensure inclusivity
The role of civil society can also be maximised by actively building an inclusive environment that challenges stereotypes of both volunteering and the communities served by civil society. It is recommended that the Government adopts an intersectional approach, factoring in intersecting issues such as race, age, gender, sexuality and disability, into its engagement with civil society to ensure a range of needs are represented.
6. Value community work and volunteering
Civil society organisations are eager to preserve the incredible community spirit that has been fostered, but are concerned that as people return to work there will be a significant drop in volunteer capacity. It is important that more is done to raise the profile of volunteering beyond the immediate crisis and promote the holistic benefits it can have. However, it is strongly felt that this cannot be seen as a substitute for paid work.
The Connection Coalition looks forward to working closely with Government in exploring these recommendations further and ensuring an inclusive and collaborative path forwards beyond the immediate crisis, helping build a more connected future for all.