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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Let’s join forces to make things better

Let’s come together so that ideas can be shared, and nets can be made

Adead man lay undiscovered in a tent by the side of the road for a year. He was found on August 15, 2017 on the A370 near Weston-super-Mare. Beside him was a newspaper, a birth certificate and a driving licence. He is believed to be called Peter Thomas Harrison, born in Birmingham and 59 or 60 when he died.

But there has been no formal identification and nobody has claimed him as next of kin. Peter fell through the cracks so far that even when in plain sight in a tent he was invisible.

This is terribly sad. Here is a man who came to mean nothing. Sometimes people wish to remove themselves from normal society for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean there should not be a record or a link or a means of looking out for them. Something is broken when everything disappears so much that a man can lie like that, dignity stripped, for so long.

Last week the government unveiled their plan to involve charities, third sector groups and organisations such as social enterprises in the provision of public services. It’s an updated version of David Cameron’s Big Society plan.

Both schemes are, in their way, clever. They look to amplify the good work that is already being done by good people in local communities in order to reflect positively on government.

While Cameron’s idea came in the early days before austerity really hit – so street parties and well-meaning litter collections were frequently talked about – this one comes at a more parlous point for society.

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Local authority funding has been so hollowed out that these other groups are now providing essential services, rather than complementary ones.

So, the government appealing to all our better nature moves from clever to cynical. It means we are faced with a stark choice.

We’re in a hole not of our making and we can either keep digging – rage against the iniquity and the pernicious cuts – or find a way out.

Whether we like it or not, this is going to be a key way out of the mess. Good people, I want to hear about you.

While I have little truck with the government’s subtext, which feels like appealing to that indomitable plucky Brit spirit rather than looking to accept their own responsibility for the mess, I know that there are countless smart and selfless people doing what they can to help carry the weight. You may well be one. You may be doing it on a small scale on your own. Or you may be part of a wider group who have some investment and a canny, localised plan.

Whether we like it or not, this is going to be a key way out of the mess. Good people, I want to hear about you. Not in order to givepatronising pats on the head, but because if we’re going into battle we need an army. Through The Big Issue we can grow a network of problem solvers who may have succeeded in their area in doing the very thing that you need to do in yours.

We previously built a network of idea-swapping, like-minded souls around our empty homes campaign. Now, let’s go bigger.

Who else is going to save things? The austerity experiment has been hugely, almost irrevocably, damaging and the reverberations are going to keep knocking for many years to come.

Let’s come together so that ideas can be shared, and nets can be made. So that lives can be made better and that future Peter Thomas Harrisons can be saved.

Have you been involved in schemes to help your local area? Share your stories. Join our network

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