26 January

Should the Government Trust the People More?

Let us start out from a hypothetical situation, in which you, the reader, have just taken ownership of an expensive car. Immediately afterwards you go on a brief holiday to a foreign country. The writer of this article offers to look after the car whilst you are on holiday. Most readers do not know the writer and so are unlikely to take him up on his offer. Quite simply, you would not trust someone you do not know with a personal belonging of high value. Even some of those who do know the writer might not trust him in such a case! This is all quite understandable. Indeed, if the hypothetical situation were to be reversed, with the writer in possession of the expensive car and about to go abroad, it is unlikely that the outcome would be any different.

In the case of a neighbour offering to look after a cat during a holiday, however, it would probably be normal to trust him or her. A community, and so society, is functioning when those living in close proximity can trust one other. Considering the concept of trust at a national level, there should be a relationship of trust between the populace and its government. The former ought to be able to trust its leaders, duly elected in most cases today, to make sensible decisions for them. They trust that they will be appropriately defended should another nation act aggressively towards them. They trust government to ensure maintenance of law and order, penalising those who transgress. In many nations the majority of the people trust that, were they to be unwell, the government would make available appropriate facilities to care for them. The State, in return, trusts that individuals will pay the appropriate dues and not take advantage of services rendered.

The Government needs to reciprocate more of the trust that it's citizens place in it.

The foregoing, of course, rather simplifies the relationship between the individual and the State, but it does so for a very specific purpose. The bond of trust between the individual and State described might at present, and unfortunately, be described as broken. Since the end of World War II the relationship between the State and the individual has changed. The State has taken a more involved role overseeing the welfare of the people, and the term ‘Welfare State’ is in frequent use. The populace gradually began to trust that the State would provide more than it had previously. It might be argued that the State has over time ceased to trust the people both as collective groups and as individuals. Legislation has had the unfortunate effect of hindering charitable groups in their work. Individuals have begun to assume that personal involvement in their community is both unnecessary and unwelcome.

The advent of the ‘Big Society’ concept provided, at least for some, a degree of hope that the relationship between the State and the individual might be repaired. In a speech delivered on 31 March 2010 David Cameron said the following: ‘Big Society – that’s not just words. It is a guiding philosophy – a society where the leading force for progress is social responsibility, not State control’. It was hoped that the State, while not assuming an omnicompetent responsibility, would trust individuals singularly and collectively to make the right decisions for themselves in their particular circumstances and and for their communities. Perhaps this has indeed happened in some degree. There are still, however, and manifestly, instances where this has not been properly followed through.

The writer heard recently of a charity that provides a residential rehabilitation centre for men challenged by drug and alcohol addiction being refused financial assistance by the government. The reason given was not that there was any lack of readily available funds, but rather that the centre was transparent about its Christian origins and purpose. It could not be trusted to take on individuals without attempting to ‘proselytise’. Unlike the example with which this article began the motives for offering to help are clear in this instance. The centre was established by Christians concerned about a problem prevalent within the community, and their desire to help was driven by their faith. That desire did not include a wish forcibly to convert, or to push their faith with those whom they helped. They wished, rather, to assist with their addictions those who approached them for help, with a view to reforming their behaviour and enabling them once again to take a full part in society. If an individual were to ‘find Christ’, that would be an added benefit. Many had been through the centre and were freed from addiction but without coming to profess a Christian faith.

This may be only one example, and it is certainly true that one example does not make for a rule, but it is not the only case in which the State has seemingly not been willing to reciprocate the trust of its citizens. It is indeed the case that the charity in question is operating unhindered. Its desire for funding arose from a wish to increase the number of those it can help. If the Big Society is to work as a policy, if a more adequate relationship between individuals and the State is to be established, more must be done to ensure that the State reciprocates the trust it receives.

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