Five: Social and political participation and inclusion


It is not just representative democracy that needs to be strengthened.... Every authority should set itself targets for improving voter turnout and strengthening local participation in the government of their community. (Tony Blair, 1998b)

The ... freedom of citizens can only truly be realised if they are enabled to participate constructively in the decisions that shape their lives.... Communities should be helped to form and sustain their own organisations, bringing people together to deal with their common concerns. (David Blunkett, 2003, pp 3, 6)

I place such importance on the existence of a thriving voluntary and community sector [because] the community [where] I grew up revolved not only around the home but the church, the youth club, the rugby team, the local tennis club, the scouts and boys brigades, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the St Johns and St Andrews Ambulance Society.... (Gordon Brown, 2004)

The aim of this chapter is to investigate trends in political and social participation since 1997 and to assess the impact of New Labour’s attempts to increase the quantity and quality of citizen participation. We look both at formal ways of participating in political decision making processes – in this case, voting – and at the more informal ways people influence decisions that affect the nature, level and quality of public services they receive. We also look at social participation; that is, people’s involvement in activities of community or social benefit, like volunteering and community organising.

Social and political participation is important for social inclusion because deprivation is about more than income poverty.

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