Building communities of informed citizens – from contributors Mandip Sahota and Patch Hyde

People's Panel Series This piece is part of a series of contributions from the CPI People's Panel - a group of people who are passionate about the impact that government can and should have on people's daily lives. We provide this forum as part of our listening journey to help governments be more responsive to the needs of people.

Mandip is a former civil servant, who has also worked in the private and not-for-profit sectors, focusing on social issues. Patch sells his own handmade fudge from a stall in Greenwich Market.

At our People’s Panel in March, they reflected on a few of the topics that connect them, including their shared interest in civic education, which has a major impact in the workplace and more widely on people’s sense of belonging.

Read on for a round-up of what Mandip and Patch had to say about their reasons for joining the People’s Panel and what role they see government playing in helping people feel that they belong.

 

 

MANDIP: I joined the People’s Panel because I believe in CPI’s mission – the positive potential of government. So it was great to spend the evening talking to a mixed group from across Europe, the Caribbean, and North America – students, a former government minister, an entrepreneur, and an activist. Discussions ranged from education and employment to healthcare and social cohesion. It was uplifting. Overwhelmingly, though, the evening reinforced a couple of things. We need more opportunities to collaborate across sectors and experiences, and the role of the public sector and civil servants is a mystery to many!

As a group, we also explored inequalities around education, work experience and employment. A suggestion that government could facilitate or enable change was met with surprise. How could they help? It was evident to us all that the public sector’s potential has yet to be realised. As a former civil servant, this isn’t a surprise at all. We learn about parliament, not the public sector. In doing so, not only do we risk dehumanising our public servants (the language used to describe or blame them can be shocking), but we also miss an opportunity to promote a career in the civil service to young people from all backgrounds.

A suggestion that government could facilitate or enable change was met with surprise. How could they help?

So why don’t we teach young people about the public sector? Every city or neighbourhood will have its own stories. About local diplomats, policymakers, pioneering reformers, or those on the frontline. In my experience – both professional and personal – our teachers, social workers and staff in local or central government are dedicated public officials, supporting the public every day under increasingly difficult circumstances. Hearing their stories is an opportunity to understand their work, and inspire conversations about the potential of government. Perhaps even to connect communities.

During the evening, I had a great conversation with Patch. He employs a number of staff, pays them the London living wage, and regularly explains to them how their taxes support the local area. And, of course, how they help support the entire public sector.

 

PATCH: Communication is key when running a small business. You have a very limited window, literally and metaphorically in some cases, in which to convey your message to customers. A lot of time and effort is put into this; however, very little is placed on helping staff to understand how they fit into the business. I have a small set of workers, and I go to great pains to help them understand how they fit into the bigger picture. Where the money goes, how much things cost, paying the rent, and so on. I believe this helps them feel more involved and trusted and that they are more than a tool to be used by the business to achieve cold profit. What I’ve discovered is that none of them really understood how taxation worked.

This became evident when we first talked about VAT, but more starkly when we talked about personal taxes. The rhetoric in the media is that taxes are something stolen from you, and that had certainly been imprinted on their minds, but they knew little else about tax. The idea that the living wage is calculated on the assumption that the recipient will pay tax on their earnings was a genuinely fresh notion to them. It is now something I explain to anyone who works for me: how the tax system works, the difference between National Insurance and income tax, and where it all goes. The benefits for me are that they are more informed about their payslips, and frankly less grumpy when they look at them.

More importantly, we get to discuss how taxes are used and the thousand ways that this small donation a month improves our lives and the lives of those around us. Tax is a dirty word these days, but in another light, it could – and maybe should – be seen as something to celebrate, a chance to take some responsibility within society. Now, this is a very hard pill to swallow when you have bills to pay, but – like a lot of the topics raised at the People’s Panel – it’s a discussion we should all be having.

This kind of dialogue is exactly what we wanted to hear from the People’s Panel: a discussion between people from different walks of life about the connections between them.

The March discussion was the first out of four CPI People’s Panel meetings in 2019. We are holding these meetings to ensure that our work and research is informed by and resonates with people. For any comments or questions, get in touch with Amy at amy@centreforpublicimpact.org.

 

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Mandip and Patch are members of the CPI People’s Panel, a group of people who are passionate about the impact that government can and should have on people’s daily lives. We meet regularly to discuss issues that are front of mind for the group, and to gather insights that can feed into our work with government. Read more insights from our #PeoplesPanel.