10 January 2019
Alone or Lonely?
Communities in 21st century Britain.
By Lynda Goetz
Margaret Thatcher famously said ‘there is no such thing as society’, a comment which was seized upon and widely misinterpreted by the Left. However, what most people forget when they remember the quote is how it continues, which is as follows; ‘There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.’ I have no intention here of entering into a discourse on the merits or otherwise of Mrs Thatcher’s beliefs, but it is interesting that over three decades after that comment we appear still to be struggling with how much is down to us and how much we should be expecting ‘Them’ to deal with.
Christmas can be a wonderful time for those with families and friends. It can equally be a horrendous and incredibly depressing time for those who, for whatever reasons, are without either, temporarily or permanently. A few days after the Christmas festivities were over, our new Minister for Sport, Civil Society and Loneliness, Mims Davies MP, made headlines by suggesting that one of the things families could do was to imitate the Southern Europeans and take grandparents on holiday with them. It is of course a great suggestion, but what is wrong with our society that this prompt should have to come from government?
Sadly, my parents are now dead and my children do not yet have children of their own, so three generational holidays are not currently on the agenda. However, there have in the past been wonderful holidays with my parents and small children and indeed my very aged parents and grown-up children. Friends too have undertaken villa stays, barge holidays and even golfing breaks with three or even four generations. Some of these admittedly had some European (although not Southern European) or indeed Celtic heritage, but there were some who were simply English. They all reported favourably on their extended family holidays.
Why, as Ms Davies asks, should we see it as normal to ‘drag our children into our lives – but being that sort of extended family is seen as being a bit more difficult’? If one thinks about it even briefly, it is rather odd that the tendency in modern British society is either to ‘box ourselves in’ as Mims Davies says or to extend our little family unit with other families, rather than our own family. This could of course be down to the increasing independence of the elderly who, with their greater wealth and better health have in many cases taken to holidaying on their own rather than joining in with the extended family. That works fine until one or other of the couple is no longer around, when being independent is no longer so much fun.
Another headline a few days ago which also highlighted the somewhat dysfunctional nature of our contemporary society was the one which claimed that the wealthiest one percent (or perhaps it was 0.01%) were taking sabbaticals with their children ‘to show them how real people live’. A London-based travel agency, Original Travel, has ‘revealed’ that billionaires are taking their children all over the world to show them a simpler life ‘from a bygone era’. Mr Barber, the founder of the travel agency told the Guardian that the trips included living with the Sᾱn people in Botswana, snow leopard-spotting in India and diving with sharks off South Africa. He expressed the view that ‘Some of these people have spent more time away from their families than they have spent with them, so they want to make up for lost time… People are realising just how important spending family time together is.’
Whilst most cannot afford some of the fascinating options on offer for the very wealthy, it really only takes a bit of common sense and not a vast fortune to know that in spite of our many 21st century dysfunctional families, ‘What you put into life is what you get out of it’ (apparently a quote from Clint Eastwood, although I distinctly remember my father saying the same thing). This also goes for relationships and families, of course, and we should not really need to have a government minister point it out to us. However, as Mrs Thatcher said, no government can do anything except through people, so as people we should all be looking to alleviate loneliness in our society by first not only spending time with our families and friends, but listening to them; then listening to and looking out for our neighbours and others around us. That way we create communities and society itself.