Reweaving the social fabric after the crisis

Andy Haldane at the Financial Times: “Yet one source of capital, as in past pandemics, is bucking these trends: social capital. This typically refers to the network of relationships across communities that support and strengthen societies. From surveys, we know that people greatly value these networks, even though social capital itself is rarely assigned a monetary value.

The social distancing policies enacted across the world to curb the spread of Covid-19 might have been expected to weaken social networks and damage social capital. In fact, the opposite has happened. People have maintained physical distance while pursuing social togetherness. Existing networks have been strengthened and new ones ­created, often digitally. Even as other capital has crumbled, the stock of social capital has risen, acting as a counter­cyclical stabiliser across communities. We see this daily on our doorsteps through small acts of neighbourly kindness.

We see it in the activities of community groups, charities and philanthropic movements, whose work has risen in importance and prominence. And we see it too in the vastly increased numbers of people volunteering to help. Before the crisis struck, the global volunteer corps numbered a staggering 1bn people. Since then, more people than ever have signed up for civic service, including 750,000 volunteers who are supporting the UK National Health Service. They are the often-invisible army helping fight this invisible enemy.

This same pattern appeared during past periods of societal stress, from pandemics to wars. Then, as now, faith and community groups provided the glue bonding societies together. During the 19th century, the societal stresses arising from the Industrial Revolution — homelessness, family separation, loneliness — were the catalyst for the emergence of the charitable sector.

The economic and social progress that followed the Industrial Revolution came courtesy of a three-way partnership among the private, public and social sectors. The private sector provided the innovative spark; the state provided insurance to the incomes, jobs and health of citizens; and the social sector provided the support network to cope with disruption to lives and livelihoods. Back then, social capital (every bit as much as human, financial and physical capital) provided the foundations on which capitalism was built….(More)”.