Since Friday the world has become a scarier place. Not just the uncertainty of the Brexit vote itself, but the aftermath of a divisive campaign that has led to a 57% rise in hate crime (and that’s only the ones that get reported).
Where do we go from here? It is hard not to get stuck in the slough of despond, but we can’t do that when there is still so much to play for. So here are three statements made over the weekend that have helped keep me going:
First is the excellent statement from my old boss, Sir Stuart Etherington, asking not what Brexit means for our sector, but what our sector can do to heal our fractured society. Voluntary and community organisations are needed now more than ever: bringing people together, building bridges within and between communities, giving people a voice. Their connections, knowledge, skills and values will be sorely in demand if we are to build a better future.
But if we are to restore trust in society, we have to do so in ways that restore and enhance trust in our sector. We should be concerned that trust in charities has fallen. But by stepping up to the mark and showing that we can, and do make a positive difference to the people and communities we work with, and do so with integrity, we can perhaps achieve both.
Secondly, I received an email from Liberty stating the importance of human rights values at this time, to ‘help build consensus and progress where there is division and fear’. The rhetoric of the referendum has legitimised racism and xenophobia, but I don’t believe that is who we are as a nation. We need to ‘reset the dial’ and reaffirm our commitment to tolerance and social justice.
Human rights are not the ‘charter for baddies’ of popular myth. Rather they are a blueprint for a good society. We all have the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect – and we all have a duty to treat others in the same way.
It is likely that those who led the campaign to leave the EU will also seek to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. We can’t let that happen. Rather we need to ensure that human rights values help us to build a future that is rooted ‘in the principles that enable us all to rub along together – whatever our race, creed, religion or region. Nothing must be taken for granted.’
Thirdly, there was much mention of the NHS during the referendum campaign. Unfortunately the fact that ‘you are more likely to be treated by someone from the EU than standing in a queue with them’ was drowned out by the mythical millions that we were ‘promised’ would be invested in the NHS if we were to leave. Therefore I was pleased to see Chief Nursing Officer Jane Cummings make a statement in support of her staff, confirming:
‘to all EU nurses, midwives and care assistants working in England’s health and care system that you are valued and hugely appreciated …
Your vital contribution to our work together will continue; you are appreciated by me and, most of all, by those we care for.’
This is leadership – and a reminder of how much we have to lose. As Leave campaigners abandon their commitment to NHS funding and the NHS heads towards crisis, the last thing we need is good staff leaving.
I’m not a Pollyanna. I am deeply concerned about where our country is heading. But there is still much to fight for and in the absence of any leadership from the top, we each need to do what we can. As Stuart Etherington says:
‘Every little counts. Every negative encounter, every disappointing news story, does its bit to chip away at the finite reserves of trust that people hold. Every positive encounter, everything that serves to reinforce faith, can rebuild those reserves.’