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19 January 2012

A lucrative return?

A lucrative return?

The Northern Ireland Executive has just completed a consultation on the Social Investment Fund. To quote the document, the "high level aim of the Fund is to reduce poverty, unemployment and physical deterioration in areas through….partnership with communities". The Fund has a budget of £80 million.

So what is a social investment and how can it lead to the logical conclusion of social dividends? How do millions of pounds translate into real change on the street? 

Money solves problems. If only we had enough, we could spend all our problems away. That's what is often presented by politicians, the media and lottery organisers. As Christians we too struggle to avoid this line of thinking. Let's be honest, money helps in so many practical ways but underlying each problem is a deeper need. All the money in the world will never satisfy greed, lust, pride and selfishness. If money is not the whole solution, what is?

The factors contributing to poverty, unemployment and deterioration in communities across the UK are complex. Deprived areas tend to have higher levels of mental health issues, suicide and self-harm, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and children at risk. These issues often result from, and lead to, a cycle of fractured relationships.

"Relationships are the missing piece of the political puzzle. As we struggle to adapt to the domination of the bottom line the factor invariably omitted from the equation is relationships," according to Lindsay Tanner, Australia's finance Minister.

Healthy relationships and social responsibility are taught organically in the context of family. Families are at the heart of community and social order. It would be a fundamental flaw to attempt to achieve economic or social success without consideration of families. Local churches and faith-based organisations have long been involved in social investment in family relationships. Churches are perhaps one of the few multigenerational groups left. They deliver relationships education including R.S.E, parenting courses, pre-marriage courses and support groups.

Failed family relationships are personal tragedies but they also cost each taxpayer in the UK - £1,350 each year, according to the Relationships Foundation. Any monetary investment in communities will not go far unless families are acknowledged, protected and celebrated in wider government policy. To borrow the language of economics it has been said that we are facing a social recession. It follows that a true social investment is needed to help us recover.

The government is now talking about 'moral capitalism'. Essentially they want to see companies and financial institutions take greater responsibility for the economic environment. Moral capitalism or social investment, either way it is clear that how money is spent both reflects and affects our society. Perhaps more costly for the government, yet more profitable is a genuine investment in family and relationships.

How would you socially invest £80 million? How can we actually invest in families and relationships? How are you currently investing in the relationships that mean most to you?