Friday, 3 June 2011

Social work

I have recently been south onto Shetland Mainland doing a course learning to build dykes (aka dry stone walls).  I was near Sumburgh head and so decided to visit the lighthouse.  Near the lighthouse are some late 19th century dykes.  According to local legend, these are "meal dykes" , where as a form of poor relief in time of hunger, the local tenants quarried the stone for and built the dykes in return for oatmeal, given by the local Laird. 

Currently in the UK, we have a a reasonably good social security system.  We have the National Health Service (Department of Health expenditure £98.6 billion in 2008-9)  and many ways of supporting those in need.  My feeling is that this might not always be the case.  In an economic downturn (currently the budget defecit is £149 billion) and facing an energy crisis, with the added financial burdens which climate change will place upon the state, I am concerned that the infrastructure and social systems of the state will be severely strained. 

With the recent food price rises, and the likely future doubling of basic food prices  highlighted by Oxfam, which will force millions more into hunger, and the fragility of our food supply, I wonder how we will cope. 

How will we deal with the social issues around food?  Will we repeat history and have rations doled out by someone who is living in relative luxury?  Will we adopt a more mutualist approach, where if you contribute to the community you get food/support from the community?  Or will we go for the more idealistic "from each according to his/her means to each according to his/her needs" communist approach?
Will we rise to the occaision as our best selves or fall into warlordism and gang mentality?

Other questions arise from this, how will the less able fare?  Will we watch families struggle to support someone deemed to be a non-contributor?
 I think that most of us would find it difficult to watch another go hungry, but we are speaking from the position of the well fed.   I wonder if these are questions which we or our children will have to answer in the not too distant future.