Is ‘elf and safety’ destroying community responsibility?

The other day I was browsing the online edition of the Sunday Times and came across a brief quote from Jeremy Clarkson :

“I mean, if you really want to serve the nation, you could stop whining about the council gritters and shovel some snow off a school playground yourself.”

This set me thinking back to when I was a child.  Yes, we had bad winters back then and one of the things I remember clearly is being equipped with a shovel and sent out to clear our garden path of snow, then clear the stretch of the causeway from our gate to the next door neighbour’s fence post.  I think that part of it was probably a maternal exercise in keeping me busy, but it seemed to be an activity that was done by a number of householders and shop keepers in the town where I lived.

As I got older, it seemed to happen less, and then somewhere along the way I heard that one of the reasons why people no longer did this was that by clearing the causeway you laid yourself open to being sued if someone slipped on your clear patch.  Leaving the causeway to the tender ministrations of the local council didn’t leave you open to this risk.  Whether this is true or not I have no idea, but it seems to be widely believed.

Moving on a few years, one day I was walking past the gates of the local maternity hospital when I noticed a chap, rather worse for wear, sitting bleeding in the church-yard next door.  I poked my head in to the hospital lobby and mentioned it, expecting a nurse to perhaps pop out to take a look.  Instead, I was told that I would have to call 999 and a nurse couldn’t be made available because ‘it wasn’t their job and they might have problems if someone sued’.

Have you noticed an emergent pattern here?  Don’t do anything that might be helpful to people in your community – what you might call exercising community responsibility and your part of what was once called the ‘social contract’ – because you may get sued.  There’s also the call to ‘Elf and Safety’ – that’s the thing that’s been used in the past to prevent the collection of extra bags of rubbish from the roadside – it’s against health and safety regulations for the bin men to lift the bags.   People wishing to volunteer for charity work may have to have a Criminal records Bureau check because of the small risk that they may be a child molester.  Again – something of a breakdown between local government and citizen and community.

Which brings me to my point – are Health and Safety and the generally risk averse culture we seem to have generated over the last 15 years or so – unsurprising mostly the ‘Big Nanny’ years of New labour – leading to a breakdown in community greater than anything managed by Thatcher in her years in charge?  The general expectation in society has become ‘someone will deal with it’ – usually the Government, Local Council, ‘them’.  This may work well when ‘they’ are actually delivering the goods, but today this is becoming less and less common.  More often than not central and local government. along with big business, the banks, etc. are failing to deliver whilst at the same time legislating to prevent us from helping ourselves.

Folks – you centralists can’t have it all ways.  If you wish to control all aspects of our society then deliver the goods.  If you can’t deliver, then stop playing ‘dog in the manger’ and allow us to start helping ourselves.

Because we will help ourselves, soon.  With or without your agreement.

2 thoughts on “Is ‘elf and safety’ destroying community responsibility?

  1. An interesting question is, what leverage over the people is the community breakdown from Elf and Safety giving to the people behind the government? Big Nanny must have a reason for her actions…

  2. Thanks for dropping by!

    My own Libertarian view is that it benefits Government by pushing people to become even more reliant on the State for everything. People get a mindset that says ‘It’s not my responsibility’ and tend to believe that you have to ask permission to do anything to do with your community. When society then starts to decay, people are scared and basically demand ‘action’ from the authorities – so we get a new tranche of laws brought in that remove some more personal liberties.

    Here’s a hypothetical example. A community starts getting run down. People ask their councillors, etc. to do something about the graffiti, poor street lighting, etc. The council can’t help because they’re skint. People start to do stuff – remove graffiti, develop community gardens on waste land, etc. Next thing that happens, Council officials turn up with the ‘Can’t do that, gotta wear high vis clothes for doing that, do you have a permit to put the wheelbarrow on the causeway whilst doing that’, etc. Folks jack it in. Situation gets worse. Petty street crime increases (there’s often a causal relationship between apparent urban decay like graffiti, rubbish, etc. and feral scum coming in) and the next thing is local people are demanding police action, SUS, etc.

    You could have stopped the rot early on, but by not permitting communities to help themselves you just end up screwing down the pressure cooker.

    I’m a member of the awkward squad; I don’t like to be told ‘No’ by anyone when there’s no good reason, especially when they’re not doing anything about the problem themselves.

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