Did you ever have control to take back?

Capitalism is about money being in control. We need an alternative.

What would taking back control mean to you?

Maybe you’ve piled on a few pounds over recent years, and want to take back control over your health. Perhaps it’s wrestling back some work-life balance, returning to that hobby you did when you were younger. If that’s the only part of your life out of control, you’re not doing too badly.

I see too many people trying to take back control of their finances. One in three working families are a single paycheque away from not paying their rent or mortgage.

Social isolation is at record levels. For millions, taking back control of their mental health is a distant dream. Those trapped in abusive relationships. Victims of persistent racial abuse. For them, even hope itself can be hard to imagine.

Any clinical psychologist will tell you that feeling powerless is toxic for your mental health. The sense of not having control over what is happening to you.

If & when we leave the EU, there’s going to be a lot of people wondering why they still feel out of control. Because, if we’re talking politics, “take back control” is an illusion. How can you take back something that was never yours?

Billionaires can take back control. S*n owner Rupert Murdoch and Daily Mail owner Viscount Rothermere are champing at the bit. They back Johnson & Farage’s low-wage low-regulation agenda with their low-fact newspapers. Should foreign domiciled tax avoiders have that much control?

In fact, since when have people of ordinary means ever had control over our economy?  In or out of the EU, could you fund a dubious think-tank to deny climate change? When bankers rigged the rates and crashed our economy, they got bailed out, and kept their bonuses. But if you lose your job, or your small business fails, who will bail you out, and maintain your standard of living? Could you take advantage of the “freedom” to buy the NHS?  The Johnson-Farage agenda is about ordinary people losing control.

The question that doesn’t get asked in the TV debates is: who is the economy for?

I wrote last week about the Glendale Trust in Wooler. They own flats, shops, a community hub and a youth hostel.  Their commercial operations pay for themselves, and keep their community vibrant.  It keeps money recirculating in the local economy.  It gives young families a chance to live near where they grew up. It tackles one of our greatest social problems at its root – people not feeling part of a community.

The People’s Powerhouse met in Sunderland this week. It’s a growing coalition of groups who think Northern communities should be at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.  Too much of our future is decided in London.  

Council leader Graham Miller and I were both there. We share a vision of community wealth building.  We need a focus on developing small, local enterprises, owned and run by local people.  I’m working with organisations like Power To Change and the National Lottery to roll out a series of pilot projects. A democratic economy is a more resilient economy.

There’s strength in our communities. People want them to thrive. The missing ingredient is often a bit of specialist support.  An accountant or lawyer to help with the set-up, a worker to get things up and running.

Take Second Bite as an example. It’s a catering academy based at the Cedarwood Trust in the Meadow Well estate. It’s also a social enterprise.  People trying to turn their lives around from substance misuse struggle to get back into paid work.  Second Bite gives them training and work experience, and crucially, self esteem by feeding people in food poverty. It enables them to start to take control over their own lives, often for the first time. Hedge funds would never invest in this, but local communities do. And it makes a difference.

Building a rich network of community hubs so everyone gets a foot on the ladder. That’s what taking back control really looks like.

This article was first published in The Journal and The Chronicle on Monday 25th November 2019

Can’t say I’m surprised.