David Cameron: We will tackle poverty by building strong community ties

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The Independent Online

Social entrepreneurs and community activists already exist, they want to do more, and we will help them do it. But the big society also needs the engagement of that significant percentage of the population who have no record of getting involved – or a desire to do so. The big society demands mass engagement: a broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation.

Of course there are no easy answers, short cuts, or simplistic levers we can pull. But there are lessons we can learn from the latest academic research which shows how government by going with the grain of human nature can better influence behaviour. The behavioural psychologist, Robert Cialdini, argues that one of the most important influences on how we behave are "social norms" – that is, how other people behave. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler have argued that with the right prompting, or "nudge", government can effect a whole culture change. It needn't even involve government doing anything. For example, if Facebook added a social action line to their standard profile this would do more to create a new social norm around volunteering or charitable giving than any number of government campaigns.

We can also learn from evidence that physical connection is paramount in building trust and strong communities. In a big state bureaucracy, where everything is distant and removed, it is hard for trust to grow.

That's why we want to build up strong local institutions which are tangible and where people – literally – come together to meet and mingle. So we will strengthen civic institutions that already exist – like shops, the post office and the town hall. But we can also create new ones. Our plan for National Citizen Service will bring together 16 year olds from across the country in a three-week programme where they can learn what it means to be socially responsible, to serve their community, and to get on and get along with people from different backgrounds.

Poverty and inequality have got worse, despite Labour's massive expansion of the state. We need new answers now, and they will only come from a bigger society, not bigger government. That's why it's now clear to me that the Conservatives, not Labour, are best placed to fight poverty in our country.

Taken from the Tory leader's Hugo Young Lecture, delivered last night