Beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’: societal cohesion in the context of COVID-19

Long term strategy needed to ensure neighbourliness, compassion and unity to recover and rebuild from the pandemic

A long-term strategic programme, to create a solid foundation upon which communities can work together in a spirit of neighbourliness, compassion and unity, is needed to recover and rebuild from the pandemic. This is according to recommendations from Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network and the University of Kent.

Beyond Us and Them: Policy and Practice for Strengthening Social Cohesion in Local Areas, funded by the Nuffield Foundation,  calls on government to embed principles of social cohesion into relevant national policy agendas. It recommends they work with local government to support a locally tailored approach. The paper is a companion piece to the report, Community, Connection and Cohesion during COVID-19: Beyond Us and Them Report released on Tues, Feb 23.

The report found that, compared to people living in other parts of the UK, residents of local authorities investing in social cohesion schemes – such as running social mixing and community engagement events, youth programmes and ESOL classes – were:

  • Twice as likely to volunteer compared to people living elsewhere
  • Had a higher sense of neighbourliness (9.9 per cent higher)
  • Had a higher level of trust in local government’s response to Covid-19 (8.2% higher)

This paper offers recommendations to ensure all areas can benefit from investing in social cohesion. It details how local and national government can increase social cohesion at a local level as communities emerge and rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The paper suggests different strategies in different places will be required to address social cohesion. Central government will need to work in partnership with local government and institutions to support this tailored locally based approach.

Recommendations from the report include:

Promote active social engagement and volunteering

  • A strong, connected and diverse local voluntary and community sector provides routes for engagement, voice and empowerment particularly for less engaged groups and communities.

Support local leaders to actively promote social cohesion in language accessible to all

  • From elected leaders to local MPs, to community leaders, promoting and embedding principles of inclusion, diversity and cohesion in strategy and programmes further builds a story of a local area as a welcoming open place where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

Strengthen the role of local government acting as a co-producer, convener and enabler

  • This means working alongside communities, groups, business, education, housing, health and civil society sectors to develop and implement a shared vision of place.

Professor Dominic Abrams, director of the Centre for the Study of Group Processes at the University of Kent, said: “Our recent findings demonstrated that a strong, connected and diverse local voluntary and community sector provides routes for engagement, voice and empowerment. Implementing these recommendations will help diverse areas reap the benefits from investment on social cohesion.”

Jo Broadwood, CEO of Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network, said: “Our recent report highlighted how investing in social cohesion brings considerable returns for individuals and their communities. As we tentatively look forward to emerging from the pandemic, central and local government must start planning strategically to ensure neighbourliness, compassion and unity are at the heart of how we move forward.”

Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Evidence from this project shows that the local authorities which have invested in social cohesion programmes have been able to bring people and their communities together. This report highlights some best practice examples and recommendations on ways to foster wellbeing and build resilience as communities begin to emerge from the pandemic.”

Read the paper here.