I agree. It is outrageous that the Government are actively penalising people for volunteering when we need to be encouraging volunteering. In particular, it helps people who are looking for work to develop the skills that they need to gain employment. I hope the Minister will take that away and look at it.
People are connecting in neighbourhoods and on social media to collaborate and bring about the change that we desperately need in this country. The digital revolution has opened up data, information and connectivity in the most extraordinary ways. It offers the potential to renew our democracy, making it more open, responsive and participative. This is the new civil society. It is a force for change of the most incredible potential, if only we had a Government with the vision and ambition to support it, like the very best Labour councils already are.
Barking and Dagenham’s Every One Every Day initiative has launched spaces and projects across the borough that bring people together in their neighbourhoods to solve the problems they face. It has dramatically increased participation, with projects as diverse as shared cooking, community composting, play streets and even a listening barber. It is a great example of asset-based community development—a model that is proving its power in communities across the country.
In my borough of Croydon, the Parchmore medical centre in Thornton Heath has spawned a network of more than 100 community-led projects that keep people healthier, and it has dramatically reduced the number of people who need to see a GP. There are sessions on healthy cooking for young families, mobility classes for older people and coffee mornings in the local pub, before it opens for customers, for people isolated in their homes. All of it is free, and all of it is run in and by the community. It has had an extraordinary impact on people’s wellbeing simply by getting neighbours to know each other better and to speak to each other.
Plymouth has set up the country’s biggest network of community energy co-ops to generate energy sustainably and plough the profits back into the local community. Stevenage is pioneering community budgeting, involving local community groups. Preston is leading on community wealth building by focusing council procurement on community organisations. In Lambeth, the council has set up, with the community, Black Thrive, a new social enterprise that gives the black community greater oversight of the mental health services that the community uses. In all these cases, existing or new community groups, charities and social enterprises have shown they have the power to transform lives. They open up decision making to the creativity and innovation that lies untapped in too many of our communities.