Are we fighting the right giants? some reflections after the CSI launch

Just what are the most pressing social issues of today? We recently launched CSI with an event at the British Academy. The centre aims to be a source of reliable information on contemporary social issues. But what are the issues that we should be talking about? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. At the CSI launch event, we subjected our audience to a little quiz. We had a room full of people who are engaged in social issues and they, we thought, would be able to help us identify what the big issues are. We asked people to identify Beveridge’s Five Giants. Our (primed!) audience did well. We also asked what issues are the highest priority today. The results were interesting; although almost everyone knew that idleness was one of Beveridge’s giants, less than 10% thought it was still a ‘top-5’ issue today. Yet, unemployment is associated with a high risk of mental health issues, a pattern exacerbated by economic hard times. More than that, this giant is getting meaner about who it picks on, increasingly going for the vulnerable in our society; young people of black, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds experience far higher rates of unemployment, as do young people of all ethnicities with low qualifications. This giant is not only present but changing its tactics to bully the vulnerable. And who are the new Giants on the block? Many of our audience identified priorities that tap into these themes including social fragmentation, and inequality was the most popular answer.

But have we all been wrong about inequality? Our empirical evidence suggests we ought to be careful in our choice of new giants. You can read a longer version of these reflections with illustrations of the trends and our mini-survey here.