‘It’s easy to moan’, I told a colleague, ‘but to really effect change you must want to be part of the solution.’ So, this month I have been thinking about how we might begin to elicit that change.
There has been a slow but steady shift in the national priority from community and well-being to profit and intensive expansion. Political dialogue is centred around economic gain or ‘output’ rather than ‘value’.
As a result, more philanthropic services begin to have market principles applied to them. Look at Dominic Raab’s idea to ‘lift the bar on profit-making companies running academies and free schools’ (2013). We already work within this context in the nursery sector and it currently appears that only large players seem able to expand (or for that matter to break even). Should children be connected to profit?
If profit is the underpinning aim, it inevitably means that we define our success through monetary goals rather than broader sociological ones. What is good for communities is not necessarily popular with government because it does not contribute to the value they place on raising GDP. As a result, services are run for the investors rather than users.
We need a change of mindset. Within the aims of early years (in fact, in life) a key factor is happiness. Research on the ‘science of happiness’ by those such as Martin Seligman refine a view of well-being in different terms from the pursuit of profit and material growth.
I am not so idealistic to reject the requirement of funds to alleviate stress, but the concept of ‘income satiation’, the point at which more money doesn’t make you any happier (Andrew Jebb, Purdue University, 2018) is significant in introducing lifelong aspirations for well-adjusted children.
So, how do we find a way of removing the emphasis on profit and place it firmly on happiness and well-being? In my optimistic way I think it has already started to happen. The climate change movement has initiated a re-ordering of priorities and the relentless grip of austerity has brought inequality more clearly into the spotlight. As a result, people are beginning to question what their personal contribution could be to improving the health of society – this finds itself at direct odds to populism and self-interest.
We do a lot right in the early years sector in putting others first – we are a caring profession. As a result, we have an important role to play in the forthcoming dialogue that allows a reordering of priorities and a better understanding of what ‘value’ truly means.