Liverpool’s social economy helps combat today’s ‘giant evils’

The Liverpool city region’s emerging social economy may not attract foreign investors but it is helping to combat multiple ‘social evils’ says Alan Southern

Being known as a social economy city may not be a wholly attractive proposition to those place marketing teams, where of course they still exist. The social economy will not be the main attraction for potential foreign investors.  Nor will you see it highlighted in government plans for economic development other than by means of a rhetorical nod to inclusive growth or social value. Yet there is more than a transactional economic impact from the social economy.

In our work on the Liverpool city region social economy we began to ask those involved about its purpose. We were then able to articulate a series of goals that we know social organisations in the city region try to address for the wider locality.

‘Social organisations challenge the feelings of

disenfranchisement wrought by globalisation’

To take from Beveridge, we can identify a set of social ‘evils’ that are faced by social organisations and in trying to combat these, there emerges a clear purpose for the social economy.

Poverty: many social organisations are located in areas that record the highest levels of deprivation, according to Index of Multiple Deprivation measures. Social organisations react to this and try to establish new, often collective methods of helping people to overcome this individualistic hardship.

Inequality: we know social organisations specifically support groups and communities who are often marginalised.  They aim to bring such groups into civic society particularly around matters of social and economic exclusion.

Unemployment: social organisations create employment and importantly, they can provide the principles for dignity in employment. They provide opportunities for the self-employed and as they are active in those sectors that address social problems, they develop new skills, managerial competence and training.

Homelessness: the social economy is a central player in the provision of homes. Homes are places where people live, dwellings that are not regarded as commodities; these are provided through large housing association anchor institutions, and by the self-help initiatives of community-led housing.

Markets that fail: social organisations bring into the mainstream those who are often marginalised through market mechanisms. This might be about basic consumption, such as food or energy, or it may be about providing different models of financial management (local exchange trading systems (Lets), credit unions etc.) among those with the least income.

Disenfranchisement: by seeking accountability in economic and political decision-making, social organisations encourage democratic participation and make efforts to provide new spaces for discussion on localities. They challenge the feelings of disenfranchisement wrought by processes of globalisation.

Health and wellbeing: social organisations include those who are often left out of active programmes that support a healthy life. They support older people or those with specific health and wellbeing needs, and of course, those who suffer with mental health problems.

Community: social organisations build social capital; they support strategies in the community that strengthen individual ties between people and organisations. The social economy offers hope in the design of spaces, to create neighbourhoods of common value.

Ignorance: social organisations build human capital. By providing education, across all ages, and through training and informal learning, the social economy addresses ignorance and supports social cohesion.

In practice many of these overlap and this is why social organisations are often involved in multiple projects. And when we begin to recognise the political and economic credibility of the social economy, we will better understand its social purpose and the potential it holds to shape localities. The sector is economically significant and carries a strong social purpose.


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