Should we all just stop moaning?
THE FUTURIAN #2
Just stop moaning. A sentiment you might not expect from those in a position of power. Yet these comments were allegedly spoken by the former Chairman of KPMG, the fourth largest accountancy firm in the world. The Chairman quickly resigned soon after these comments came to light. However, the comments highlight stark evidence of a pre COVID-19 mindset. That of focusing on the individual over the community. This trend has accelerated through the mass adoption of social media platforms. Today, the average social media usage time is roughly 2 and a half hours per day.
This mass adoption of technology as a replacement to socialising in person has highlighted significant divergence of opinion. You can post an opinion online to find many who devotedly agree and others who wish ill of you purely for that opinion. Be it politics, health or policy, those with a social media account can express opinions to an unfiltered audience. The effects of which has resulted in a decline in self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression as well as disrupted levels of sleep. This might explain why many users of social media express experiences of bullying and lack of empathy.
These experiences are translated outside of the technological world too. Currently 45% of adults feel occasional loneliness and 20% of all older people cite that their television is their main source of company in the UK. It is hard to not feel isolated in a world where for every opinion posted, an opposite opinion is replied. Disconnection from communities is being felt throughout all age groups. Loneliness in older age groups in the UK is set to rapidly increase to 1.4 million in the year 2025/26, this represents a 49% increase over 10 years.
Not only does this have harmful effects on the individuals concerned, but the costs of experiencing disconnection are significant to whole societies. Poor social connections are as bad for an individual’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Those who identify as lonely are more likely to experience health risks such as heart disease, stroke and dementia. Within the UK, it is estimated that this costs £32 billion each year in terms of public services and lost productivity.
An opportunity has arisen from the national lockdowns to rethink empathy and responsibility. The cost of not doing so has reached a tipping point. Governments and communities are taking action. From 2021, mental health support will receive the attention that it needs. In the UK, £500 million has been pledged as part of the government’s Mental Health Recovery Action Plan. This not only treats the results of mental health issues but aims to tackle the causes. Focus will be placed on community support as well as funding for debt advice and carers support. The UK’s health service has also teamed up with growing fintech companies including Healios in 2021 to provide mental health support for children aged 5–19 years old.
Change is also occurring at the community level. With simple projects such as The Big Lunch, an initiative that provides funding for neighbours to attend social activities together. Community groups have also taken action locally. In Oxford, England, Ray Valley Solar are building the largest community owned solar park in the UK. Over 45% of the funding for this £10 million project came from local community homes. Scotland is also seeing a rejuvenation of its communities. With a third of residents in Scotland living within 500 meters of a vacant or derelict site, the Community Ownership Hub was launched for communities to buy back these land and buildings and regenerate to what is needed for the community.
The disruption has arrived. This disruptor saw ripples prior to 2020, however Covid-19 has pushed our social habits to the forefront of the minds of individuals. This has seen the rise in community focussed projects, the questioning of a consumer based society and the increased awareness that our surroundings only flourish when we spend time on them. Today we see the ties of community and social habits intertwining.
Results, however, will not be instant. This intertwining will take effect in the next 5–10 years. But how might this change be experienced in the future? What affects will be seen?
A decline in screen time allows new opportunities to fill lives with new meaning. With the rise of focus on our neighbours, we have opportunities for a collaborative living environment. Where one neighbour might need additional help and support, this now can be seen as a community responsibility rather than the responsibility of an individual. As the world reopens once again, this gives individuals an opportunity to break the technological bad habits and spend time with those around them.
Problems such as childcare for those of working age and retired individuals seeking purpose will have a growing intertwined relationship in the years to come. Where those working age find no difficulty in leaving the house and running errands, so too can older people provide the support network for childcare that has long held both parents back from the workforce. By 2030, those aged over 65 will represent over 30% of the UK population. This gives an expected shortfall in social care funding of £13 billion. However, the answer can be seen in how to approach communities following Covid-19. Social care only becomes a financial burden where communities focus solely on the individual in a monetised setting. With increasing empathy, communities will consider social care a responsibility for the many. In this way, we also have an opportunity to reduce levels of loneliness and increase mental health wellbeing.
While GDP might suffer as a result, purpose and fulfilment will rise. As soon as the consumer based ideology of GDP is disregarded, communities can instead focus on creating centres for collaboration, networks for care for children and the elderly, and even community gardens in which all can share in the produce.
Planning innovation and building regeneration will also be a key change to ensure that the trend of community owned property to service the needs of the community is fulfilled. The UK is set to have 10.7 million sole occupancy households by 2039, this is predominantly driven by older people. However, this does not have to mean loneliness must follow the same trajectory. With appropriate repurposing of unwanted buildings, centres for community collaboration can flourish.
Change is not guaranteed. To ingrain empathy and responsibility within society, work must be undertaken today in order to feel the benefits in the future. The benefits of doing so vastly outweigh the work involved. Those of working age cannot afford the financial burden of ignoring it. Those of retirement age cannot afford the health burdens of ignoring it. It is therefore in the whole of society’s interest to accelerate positive empathetic trends.
To answer whether we should all just stop moaning, attention must be placed on what comes next. Where previously we had moaning, now we have a call to action. This is dependent upon societal habitual changes actioned by individuals. Taking on community projects, considering the other person’s perspective or even less use of social media with more focus on local communities have profound effects on building a society that not only is healthier but happier also.
© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2021