The United Kingdom is suffering a major housing shortage. As one of Europe's most successful economies it attracts migrants seeking work, mainly from other European countries. In parts of the land, the South East notably, but also other wealthy areas, the pressures on housing consequent upon the situation are enormous, and prices are soaring, now to the point that purchasing a property is beyond the reach of many. But renting is increasingly expensive, and rents are soaring in places, as rent controls are anathema to the present government. The anti-European United Kingdom Independence Party is making inroads as voters feeling immigration pressures, notably in the South East move to them. They offer a quick, unintelligent fix, but as the system fails, what is to be done?
In the Independent newspaper today, 2 March 2015, we saw a possible solution: In the village of Beer, in Devon, an idyllic area of South West England, local families established a community land trust. In such pretty English villages houses are snapped up by rich people keen to be country dwellers, and many keep second homes while villagers cannot get a first one. The villagers asked the council to let them purchase building land and commissioned a design of seven homes, one for each of the member families, then they managed the project themselves. This is an example of civil society at work. It is community enterprise, not primarily for profit, but not opposed to it.
Another form of civil society in action is the Landshare project established by the successful celebrity chef and restauranteur Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hugh is concerned that food security in Britain is limited, so he wants to encourage communities and individuals and communities to grow their own. To achieve his goal his project seeks spare land to turn into allotments and smallholdings [in US parlance, community gardens and small farms.] Some councils have co-operated by providing land, while generous landowners have sometimes provided an acre or two. As a result families have land for cultivation.
Civil society also includes charities, such as churches, trade unions and food banks, along with a range of voluntary, non-profit organizations. There has been in Britain a long history of generous voluntary action, but in recent years it has become extended to self help activities of the kind outlined above. This is because people are seeing the inadequacy of the state to help them and the unwillingness and incapacity of capitalist institutions to assist on their own.Something else was needed, and the rebirth of civil society was an answer to the problem.