Choice and Responsibility

There is growing rhetoric in the media and within the NHS that the public needs to make better choices and take more responsibility for their own health. Who wouldn’t agree with that? Surely, we are the ones who ultimately choose what goes into our bodies – we choose our sugar intake and decide how much exercise we take, don’t we?

 

Well, given Philip Alston’s damning report on the the state of poverty and human rights in the UK, perhaps we should think a bit more deeply about this!

 

When we say that people ‘just need to make better choices and take more responsibility for their own health’, we need to recognise that it is far easier for some people in our communities than for others. When you’re living in poverty and you would have to spend over 42% of your income to eat the government’s recommended healthy diet, your choice is reduced. When you live in an area in which there is a far greater number of high street take-aways, due to how licencing works in your town and you can fill the hungry belly of your child with a £1 sausage roll or bag of chips, and you don’t have a microwave, or you can’t pay the electric bill because you’re on a scandalously expensive meter – then your choice is reduced.

 

When the transport you reply on to get to the shops has been cut and your nearest shops don’t sell much fruit or veg, so you fill up on carbohydrates and sugars, which meet your hunger, but increase your risk of diabetes – your choice is reduced. When you suffered several adverse childhood experiences in your early years and have never been able to get healing for the trauma and continue to find comfort for your pain in the food that you eat – your choice is reduced.

 

When the products you buy are now filled with a much higher calorie load than they were 20 years ago, and hidden sugars you didn’t even realise you were eating – then your choice is reduced. When you are one of the ones ‘back at work’ (because let’s remember there are more people in work now than ever before), but you’re on a zero hours contract and so you’re working 2-3 jobs a day, just to pay the rent, let alone the bills and getting no breaks in which you can sit down to actually digest your food, let alone make healthy choices from the work canteen that doesn’t actually supply any healthy choices – then your choice is reduced. When you are scraping everything together to make sure you don’t fall into more debt, whilst you are sitting with a benefit sanction for something that really wasn’t your fault and you are using a food bank for your meals and so healthy options are not in abundance (and let’s not even go there with sanitary products and how utterly dehumanizing the tampon tax is) – then your choice is reduced. When you have been kicked out of school because a no-tolerance policy left you in isolation or no-compassion and then you’re a drug runner for a local gang, where you feel like you fit in, but in fact, they own you….then your choice is reduced.

 

Let’s be a little more kind, can we? Let’s stop stupidly over-simplistic comments like – people should just take more responsibility for themselves. This is actually pretty impossible for nearly 14 million people in the UK. I’m not saying there is no choice and nor am I saying that people have no responsibility. I’m simply reminding us that it is a great deal easier for some than others and we are seeing child poverty on the rise and the health inequality gap widen – this isn’t because people in poverty are making bad choices – they simply have far less choice available to them!

 

So what needs to change? Government policy around austerity and universal credit, licensing, pricing, advertising laws, a living wage, the way we work with communities rather than doing things to them, a total renewal of our education system and a bunch more kindness in society as a start.

 

 

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How Do We Build a City That Works For Everyone?

I recently hosted a couple of conversations for people in the city of Lancaster, UK, in which we explored this question together: “How Do We Build a City that Works for Everyone?” We framed the conversation (which we had using a ‘World Café’)from two current and important concepts. Firstly, the great work of Kate Raworth in ‘Doughnut Economics’ – how do we create a city that is socially just for the people who live here and that is environmentally sustainable for the future? In other words, how do we ensure we have an economy that is distributive and regenerative by design? Secondly, we drew on the important work of Sandro Galea (Professor of Epidemiology at Boston State) and his concept of the Goldfish bowl as a way of thinking about ‘Population Health’ or Epidemiology (see my last blog). Politics IS health, according to Galea.

 

One of my favourite quotes is from Einstein, when he said that “If I had 60 minutes to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes trying to find the right question and then I could solve the problem in 5 minutes.” It turns out that the question we used itself is problematic at a few levels! Here are some of the questions we found ourselves wrestling with: Do we need to build the city, when it is already here?! What do we really mean by ‘the city’ – is it people and communities or more than that? What do we mean by ‘works for’? That felt to some like we were settling for something that was just enough, maybe scraping by, rather than thriving! And who do we mean by everyone?! This didn’t stop us having a a great discussion, but highlights how powerful the perspectives and biases we bring into the room can be!

 

Despite not having a perfect question, (and hopefully, by the time we host 3 much bigger conversations across the city during 2019, we may have honed something more helpful!), some key themes emerged, through our generative conversation. 

 

  1. Relationships are vital! We want to live in a city which really does “work” for everyone. So, we want to give value to the currently unheard voices and we want to value diversity and inclusivity. Taking time to get to know neighbours and colleagues grows a richness of community. We want to live in a city that values love and kindness in how we treat ourselves and other people.
  2. We need to build on the amazing assets and skills that we already have in the city. If we made space and time to discover and share these skills with each other more, we would develop a richer life experience within our communities. This is an expression of ‘gift economy’ and ‘reciprocity’, which Charles Eisenstein writes powerfully about in his book ‘Sacred Economics’). It builds on voluntary power, and may require a reimagining of how we work and what we value in how we invest our time, energy and resources. We also have so many incredible physical assets in this area, which we don’t tap into enough or perhaps make fully accessible for all who live in the city.
  3. People want to be part of the change, not have change happen to them! This requires much better engagement and democratic discussion about how budgets are spent, for example or how land is developed. Somehow, there needs to be a better safeguarding against ‘invested interests’ and ‘dodgy deals’ with far more transparency about how decisions are made. Such a process, it is believed, would enable far better personal and corporate responsibility when it comes to caring for the fabric of the city and the people who live here, similar to what has been developed in Wigan. There was a recognition that when we talk about personal choice and responsibility that this is much more possible for some people and communities than others. However, it was felt that increasing self-esteem and a sense of belonging would enable more personal responsibility and choice.
  4. Housing really matters. The physical environment is actually causing fragmentation and silos. There were many more questions than answers here – but that’s ok – this is an iterative process, and we don’t have to solve everything in one go. So…how do we create really good social housing? How could we redesign the spaces of the city to encourage togetherness and community? How do protect green spaces in the process and take care of the city’s drainage (strong memories of the recent floods)? How could we ensure that everyone has a home to live in, and what might that mean for both the homeless and also for single people?
  5. We want an education system that really values the unique beauty of each child, treats each one with compassion, mindful of what traumas they may be experiencing and values creativity and activity in education just as much as academic outcomes. We care about who our children become, not just about what exams they pass. So we recognise that we have a measurement problem but we’re not quite sure yet what to do about it! 
  6. We need to invest in our children and young people by providing physical spaces in which our young people can feel safe and not bored! Many have been affected by the closure of children’s and youth centres. If we are to really invest in our children and young people, there was a sense that we also need to provide parenting classes across the board to pregnant couples and through ‘family centres’ and schools across the district.
  7. We want to create a greater sense of value for our older citizens. There were many people present who felt they have things to offer, but don’t have an obvious outlet. Involving those retired from paid work more in the life of the city would break isolation and feed the gift economy. 
  8. Business needs to thrive in a way that really values entrepreneurial gift and allows it to flourish, whilst holding it true to the ideas and principles of the doughnut and the goldfish! How could the business community serve the needs of the city and how can the city enable business to really thrive, creating jobs, whilst caring for the environment and the needs of the people who live here? Kate Raworth’s work could really help us!
  9. Transport systems need to be redesigned to encourage more cycling and walking or the use of green public transport alternatives. Transport routes also need to join up our communities more effectively to improve opportunities for those who live in areas that are currently more financially deprived. 
  10. If we are to really improve health and wellbeing and care for the environment, then we need to see this written into EVERY policy decision. If politics IS health, as per Sandro Galea, then we need to take this seriously and stop making policies which do not care for these things.
  11. We want to be part of city that does welfare well! We think there are many possible new ways of doing things more effectively, as described in Hilary Cottam’s book, ‘Radical Help – Reimagining the Welfare State’. One of the things felt to be important is increasing skills in money management (85% of people living in social housing in this district are in debt to the city council -though this is certainly not only due to poor money management , but an unjust system that isn’t working for the majority). Morecambe Bay Credit Union offers an alternative economy as a way of using micro finance in our local geography.
  12. We need better ways to communicate and connect people together. There is smart, digital technology that could help us here….perhaps a Lancaster portal, that connects us together more effectively and helps facilitate the sharing of our assets and gifts.

 

Wowsers! Not bad for 2 conversations of 90 minutes each! Just imagine what a phenomenal city Lancaster might become over the next 10-20 years, if we set out on a journey together to build this kind of city! What is stopping us, I wonder?! #enoughnow #togetherwecan

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Let The Children Play!

Tweet In The Guardian today, there is an article in which the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is calling for more adventure playgrounds across the country, especially in our ‘poorer’ neighbourhoods. She believes we need more play schemes across the country for the long summer holidays which she argues are having a profoundly negative effect on [Continue Reading …]

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Building Healthy Towns and Regions

Tweet The other week, I was phoned by a BBC producer to ask if I would take part in a discussion on the Victoria Derbyshire show about how we can build healthy towns. It’s partly due to the work we’re doing here in Morecambe Bay with our communities around being more healthy and well, especially [Continue Reading …]

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The Morecambe Bay Mile A Day!

Tweet Every day in Morecambe Bay 2000 children aged 4-11 run a mile a day (how fantastic is that?!). Inspired initially by the story from Stirling, the word  is spreading and we now have another 3000 children starting across Lancashire. Our early data shows that there has been a dramatic improvement in the children’s health, [Continue Reading …]

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Help with Constipation

Tweet Here is some great practical advice about how to help kids with constipation. It is the advice local Paediatric Consultant, Dr Owen Galt, gives out in his clinic, here in Morecambe Bay:   Share This:

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Help with Diarrhoea and Vomiting

Tweet Here is a great video, done by my colleague Dr Owen Galt, Consultant Paediatrician here in Morecambe Bay, talking about how to help kids with D&V – loads of great practical advice!   Share This:

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New Year’s Resolution

Tweet I’ve been thinking about making a New Year’s Resolution. So, this year, taking my role as lead for health and well-being seriously, my resolution is simple. In 2016 I want to improve my well-being and encourage others to do the same.   The New Economics Foundation have done some amazing work on how we can [Continue Reading …]

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