Why are we scared of being radical?

Yesterday the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published its report card on the Coalition Government’s performance over the last 12 months to mark the second anniversary since they came to power.

I have a huge amount of respect for the CSJ.  It is an independent think tank that was established in 2004 by Iain Duncan Smith MP with the aim of putting social justice at the heart of British society by looking into how governments can tackle deep social problems and the experience of those whose lives have been affected by poverty.  Even though it is independent, the CSJ has been highly influential in shaping this Government’s policies on the welfare state and other areas covered by Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Given their closeness to Iain Duncan Smith, you might expect the CSJ’s report to be complementary of the direction the Government is going in.  However, if anything, the opposite is true.  They have been pleased with the progress made in tackling welfare dependency, educational failure and addiction, but at the other end, the Government’s approach to family breakdown was awarded 4/10 and its work with the voluntary sector, 2/10.

The Government’s proposed cap on charitable giving tax relief drew particular criticism and rightly so.  Philanthropists who give their money away freely should not be seen as dodging tax, but instead encouraged and supported.

Beyond this example almost all other criticisms focused on a lack of coherent policies, lack of focus, lack of vision and lack urgency in pushing policies through.  As I read the report the word that jumped out at me more than once was ‘radical’.  The CSJ is calling on the Government to be more radical in its thinking and in creating policies that will shape our nation for the better.  As managing director, Christian Guy puts it in his foreword:

“With three years left in government, the Coalition still has time to lead the radical social reforms necessary to complement any economic recovery.  It needs to reclaim the governing initiative which characterised its early months in office and lead the country into a new era in which even the most dysfunctional communities have their chance to play a positive part in society.”

On Saturday the Times reported that David Cameron’s policy guru, Steve Hilton, had departed his position citing frustration that the Prime Minister had become too focused on power rather than forcing through radical change.

Governments are notorious for failing to deliver radical change.  Take reforms to the House of Lords for example.  MPs have been debating this issue for decades with very little change.  The previous Labour Government failed to make significant changes to the welfare system despite their continued intention to do so.

Sometimes this is not the fault of those proposing the plans.  In coalition government compromise is a regular issue.  The CSJ has criticised the government for not supporting marriage enough including through the tax system, which the Liberal Democrats are known to oppose.  Barack Obama’s radical proposals for the US healthcare system that would have benefitted millions of US citizens were constantly blocked by the Republicans and ended up being significantly altered.

Bearing in mind that all parties in power eventually are voted out for one reason or another, would it not be better if they came out of the other end saying that they had done everything they could have to make this country better even if some choices were unpopular, rather than doing everything they could to stay high in the opinion polls.  When we look back over history, it is often the radical leaders who are remembered for the right reasons.  Big changes make the biggest differences, but they also take the biggest guts and that’s not always something our leaders demonstrate that they have.

In a similar vein, if you look at the Church in this country over the last century, the biggest reason I can see for the Church’s decline is that it hasn’t been radical enough.  Instead it has increasingly isolated itself, demonstrating a lack of strength of leadership and trust in God.  The picture of the gospel has been so watered down that it has lost its appeal and respect.  Churches have lost touch with their communities because they have failed to present Jesus effectively to a society that really needs him.  Sam Norton at Elizaphanian has coincidentally written about this lack of radical outward focus on his blog this week.

Being radical is dangerous but the consequences of not being radical can be even more dangerous.  Jesus is our best example of what it means to live a radical life.  He was not going to water down his mission and focus for anything.  It’s a common occurrence that political parties in opposition can produce great plans for social change that potentially could do a great deal of good, but unfortunately when they come to power that drive over time can fade as they get caught up in the everyday running of government.

I hope those in charge of our country took note of the CSJ’s report and if it spurs them on to seek to achieve greater things then it certainly will not have been a wasted exercise.

Categories: Benefits & unemployment, Children & families, Government

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