Monday, February 21, 2011

Monthly Volunteers Meeting - WEDNESDAY 23rd February

Please note that this month's volunteers' meeting is one day earlier than normal, because our venue, the Corner House Pub, had a previous booking for Thursday.

From March we'll return to our normal time/date of 3rd Thursday in each month, 7.30-9.30pm.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Animal people should be interested in Big Society (and vice versa)

This video of a talk given David Grant of the RSPCA Harmsworth Hospital last year explains why those of us who want to improve conditions for animals need to be interested in solving wider social problems. It also demonstrates why social activists and politicians who think animal welfare is simply taking away money that ought to be used for people are wrong.

When people see no reason why they should cooperate, we see things like RSPCA Manchester and Salford's despairing comments about shoplifter after shoplifter stealing from a charity that's already struggling to fund the demands from people who feel entitled to unlimited help.
"I see and hear so frequently so many people who are all too keen to pass off their responsibilities on to others; asking for help is very different and I have no problem with that. But the amount of times people are abusive and emotionally blackmailing on the phone is awful and this week it has really taken its toll. We simply cannot say yes to everything and I just wish people would have some understanding towards this fact and realise that they have to take responsibility for their actions."
None of these worries are new, nor are they party-political. The Office for National Statistics was collecting information about "Social Capital" (basically how well society functions at the level of interactions between individual people) in 2003. 

The ONS definition of Social Capital says:
Social capital describes the pattern and intensity of networks among people and the shared values which arise from those networks. Greater interaction between people generates a greater sense of community spirit.

Definitions of social capital vary, but the main aspects include citizenship, 'neighbourliness', social networks and civic participation. The definition used by ONS, taken from the Office for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is "networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups"
What are shared norms, values and understandings?
These relate to shared attitudes towards behaviour that are accepted by most individuals/groups as a 'good thing': examples are not parking in a disabled parking space at a supermarket and giving up your seat to someone who needs it more on the bus.
Without this desire to avoid other people's disapproval lots of simple things would stop working: for example running shops is only possible if most people don't steal because it would require huge numbers of personnel to force everyone to pay.

The problems we face with pet owners who can't / won't pay for their animals' treatment are escalating because more and more people believe this is someone else's responsibility; either ours or the vets.

One of the things that ONS investigated was the connection between social capital and volunteering. Using the 2000 Time Use Survey they demonstrated that volunteering increased connections between people (in simple terms, volunteering is a way to make friends). People who cooperate on shared projects  are more likely to have a sense of purpose and a pride in their joint achievements (in contrast to David Grant's status dog owners with their desperate lack of self-worth).

From my point of view, at the most basic level; someone with a few friends who may own cars is less likely to phone me because they have a large dog who cannot walk and absolutely no means of getting the dog to a vet.

Obviously joint activity on its own isn't enough: the gang members have that in an almost purely negative form; status, but not a status that's worth feeling pride in. I rather suspect that combining to protest against things isn't ultimately all that satisfying either, if that's all you ever do, because it's not constructive.

Politicians and social activists should be interested in animals in society because animal protection groups are almost entirely self-supporting (if only because there is a policy of not giving them lottery grants) and because they do foster networks between people. This isn't just about charities and pressure groups; it's been demonstrated that dogs act as "social catalysts" breaking the ice and encouraging walkers to make contact (possibly not if they happen to be status dogs). An Australian study showed that pet owners scored higher on a variety of "social capital" measures than non pet-owners (for example loaning tools to neighbours).