Projecting into next week is almost impossible. Doing so for the next decade is even harder. But when the Civil Society Futures team gathered for our first away days in Birmingham, we brainstormed some of the trends which we think are likely to unfold in the next ten years.
Many – though by no means all – of the trends listed below may be seen as negative. This isn’t because we think that the next ten years are destined to be a disaster, but rather because by its nature, civil society tends to spend its time resolving problems, and so we have focussed more on the sorts of problems which are likely to emerge as major themes.
Above is a diagram showing how many of the things we came up with fit together and below is a slightly longer list, which a couple of us added to after the event. Neither the diagram nor the list is comprehensive, and both are the result of brainstorms among a number of people, rather than any sort of consensus. In each case, the explanation is mine (with useful help from James Goodman and Natalie Fenton), rather than the settled analysis of the Inquiry. Please do add other things – or disagree with any of the below – in the comments at the bottom. We hope that it’s helpful.
1) The climate
Climate change is happening, and it’s happening fast. Increases in extreme weather events like storms, droughts and floods; more people fleeing them; and how we respond; are likely to characterise the next decade.
2) Biodiversity collapse
The number of species in England is in freefall. From bees to hedgehogs, the seas to the mountaintops, the life around us is dying off at an astounding rate. Children are spending less time in natural environments, a trend which has been associated with the epidemic of mental ill health in young people.
3) Soil loss
A study in Sheffield in 2014 showed Britain only had 100 harvests left. Soil degradation, and how it shapes both farming communities and our food systems are likely to begin to become a major question over the next decade or so.
4) Other planetary boundaries
I won’t list them all here, but from rare earths to plastics pollution and ocean eco-systems to the nitrogen cycle, we are pushing hard at the natural processes on which society depends.
The long term growth of England’s cities is extraordinary, and the core cities were projected in 2014 to grow by 4.2% by 2019, faster than the population as a whole and with London growing fastest and projected to hit 10 million by 2030. How will that change the dynamics of the country?
6) Changing needs in city regions
As cities grow, they join up.
Metropolitan areas like Greater Manchester and the West Midlands are gaining Mayors for the first time. How will needs in these new city regions change, and how will their political representation change Britain?
7) Increased ethnic diversity
From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of the population of England and Wales which identified as white dropped from 91% to 86%, and it seems likely that the 2021 census will bear out the same trend. The 2011 census showed most Londoners didn’t identify as ‘white British’ for the first time ever, and that seems likely to apply to more of the country in the future.
8) Aging population
Even with life-expectancy falling for the first time the ongoing aging of the baby-boomer generation is likely to continue to be a crucial dynamic in the country over the next decade, with important impacts on distribution of wealth and income generationally.
9) Increased need for social care
As modern medicine keeps people alive for longer, there are more people who need long term social care.
10) Changes in the NHS
Parts of the NHS are already being run by private companies, and more and more of their work is being shifted to private care companies. The role of the private sector in delivering healthcare in the country is likely to remain a live question in the coming decade.
11) Uneven regional distribution of young/old demographics
More than ever, there are places that young people move to and those they leave.
And so England will increasingly become a country that’s fracturing geographically and generationally.
12) White ghettos and gated communities
While the UK is becoming increasingly diverse, levels of integration are not keeping pace.
As Ted Cantel and Eric Abraham’s 2016 report said: “whilst many areas have become more mixed, segregation is increasing in a number of very particular respects in the UK, especially the growing isolation of the white majority from minorities in urban zones.” In other words, whilst different BME communities have become more integrated with each other, many white communities seem to be refusing to integrate.
At the same time, income inequality has led to significant differences of wealth in different places. The most extreme evidence of this comes in the form of ‘gated communities’, where more and more wealthy people isolate themselves from wider society.
13) Loss of civic space
Where once there were public streets, now there are private shopping malls.
Where once there were churches, now there are night clubs. Where once there were non-commercial places for neighbours to meet each other, ever more space in our cities is owned by someone, patrolled by private security guards or requires you to buy a coffee if you want to sit down for a chat or a meeting. That which is publicly owned is policed more and more, with restrictions on street stalls and campaign activities.
Whether it’s indoor space for civic groups to organise in or public streets and squares to meet our neighbours in, civic space is key to civil society, and its loss is a real worry to many groups.
14) More migrants (internally and externally)
Internal migration within England and Wales increased by 13.5% between 2001 and 2011.
Migration from outside the UK is roughly stable, but sits at a higher lever than it is thought to have done ever before. The population of the UK seems likely, in ten years’ time, to include more first generation migrants than at any time for generations.
15) Youth unemployment
A combination of older people being able to work for longer, the long term failure to invest in the British economy, and machines taking on ever more jobs that people used to do means that youth un- or under- employment is likely to continue to be a feature in years to come.
16) Intergenerational divide
Opinion polls consistently show vast chasms in attitude between the older generation and the young.
There is no reason to believe that this won’t continue to drive changes in British politics.
17) Changing gender and sexuality norms – breakdown and backlash
Half of British teenagers in the identify as something other than heterosexual.
The number of people who publicly identify as trans has grown drastically in a decade. The feminist movement has made significant gains. And there has been notable backlash against all of these changes. As today’s teens become young adults, we can only expect those attitude changes to continue to shift.
Britain is leaving the EU, meaning huge changes to our legal framework, trade, and our constitution. From Gibraltar and the Cyprus military bases to the City of London and EU citizens in the UK, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to have wide ranging impacts on our political debate, society, identity, and economy over the next ten years.
19) End of the Common Agriculture Policy
The biggest single item in the EU’s budget is the Common Agriculture Policy.
The nature of what will replace it is probably the biggest question facing England’s agricultural communities, landscape, and natural world.
20) Shifting identities & the rise of English nationalism
The number of people identifying as English rather than British is already on the rise, and with the debates around Scottish independence and Irish unity likely to intensify in the coming years, this trend may well continue. Already, there is an appetite for more emphasis on icons of English identity, such as the St George’s Flag and St George’s day.
What will this mean for how people see the world? We’ll see.
21) More protectionism?
Do the election of Donald Trump and Brexit mark a return to the era of economic nationalism, isolationism and protectionism? How does Britain’s recent but receding history of decolonisation impact on our view of our role in the world? It seems possible that the next decade will be marked by a retreat from international politics.
22) More populism
However you choose to explain it, there has been a shift in the political dynamic in recent years towards the sorts of politicians and movements often described as ‘populist’ – whether on the right or left. This trend swept Donald Trump to power in the USA, and, as I write, looks likely to take Marine Le Pen to the second round of the French presidential elections. In the UK, some have used this phenomenon to explain the rapid rise of UK before 2016, and Brexit. What drives this trend? And will it grow for the next decade, or subside?
there has been a shift in the political dynamic in recent years towards the sorts of politicians and movements often described as ‘populist’
23) Less trust
Edleman’s research shows that the last year has seen a collapse in trust in institutions all over the world, with stark figures in the UK, where only one in nine people now think that the system works. That lack of trust hits civil society institutions directly, and also changes the context in which they operate. Will people continue to lose their faith in everything from business to the media to the state? How can civil society rebuild trust in itself, and help transform other institutions to make them trustworthy?
24) Global Unrest
We saw in 2011 how massive uprisings across the Middle East had knock-on-effects across the planet. Will the next decade see a similar wave of protest?
25) Conservative party dominance
Things change and opinions shift.
But current polls don’t put the Labour party in a position to win the next election, which means that most of the next ten years are likely to be dominated by a Conservative government.
26) Falling trade union membership(?)
A government labour force survey put it in 2015 “Around 6.5 million employees in the UK were trade union members in 2015. The level of overall union members was broadly unchanged from 2014. Current membership levels are well below the peak of over 13 million in 1979.”
However, 2016 saw an increase in membership, including the fifth consecutive year of growth in membership in the private sector. Whether this is a shift in the long term trend or a bump on the road, we are yet to see.
27) Withdrawal of state support
The government continues to commit to long term cuts in public spending, and to plug the UK’s structural trade deficit by privatising once public enterprises. There is little reason to believe that these trends won’t continue, fundamentally changing the role of the state. At the same time, civil society has been asked to deliver more and more services formally provided by the state, and it seems likely that this trend will only continue.
28) Northern Ireland
A combination of demographic change in Northern Ireland; the recovery of the economy and collapse of the Catholic church in the Republic of Ireland; and cuts to social security and Brexit in the UK have delivered a surge in support for the immediate re-uniting of Ireland: from 3.8% as recently as 2013 to 31% in November 2016, and with little reason to believe that figure won’t continue to grow. How that sentiment will play out as a border is imposed, and if the increasingly likely long period of direct rule from London does materialise – and how Loyalists will respond – could well turn Northern Irish politics back into a major question in England once more.
29) Scottish independence referendum
The Scottish Parliament has voted to hold an independence referendum. Theresa May has responded “not now”. Whether or not Scotland does have such a referendum, and whether or not it does vote to leave the UK, the issue is likely to remain live – and to intensify – for the foreseeable future, forcing corresponding questions for England, its economy and its identity.
30) Increase in political activism
We’ve already seen vast increases in the memberships of some of England’s political parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens. Online organisations – 38 Degrees, Avaaz, have in the last decade been born and gathered hundreds of thousands of members. Activist groups organising around specific issues or communities have mobilised. A decade ago, pundits talked about youth apathy. Now, they complain that young people are getting involved in politics, and not doing what their parents did. As the world changes, we can expect people to become more politically engaged, in order to try to take control of those changes.
Ever since the first axe meant fewer people were needed to cut down a tree, humans have invented labour saving machinery.
But today, we are in the midst of a rapid wave of automation, sometimes described as the fourth industrial revolution. What will driverless cars mean for cabbies and truckers? What does increasingly sophisticated business management software mean for administration staff? What do more and more sophisticated robots mean for people in factories? From Oscar Wilde’s The soul of man under socialism to John Maynard Keynes’ essay Economic possibilities for our grandchildren, the question of what to do with the time liberated by labour saving technology has been asked before, but it’s only going to become more pertinent.
32) New forms of protest/dissent
New times bring with them new ways of organising dissent.
Just as the factories of the first revolution brought the rise of trades unions and the possibility of strike action, just as global communication allowed the boycott of Barclays over their involvement in apartheid South Africa, new technologies will bring with them new ways for citizens to mobilise against those with power.
Almost three quarters of older people now say that they are lonely, with Britain being named the loneliness capital of Europe. We don’t know our neighbours. As social institutions have been sold off, and people have been required to move more than ever for work or to find a home, communities have broken down. The role of civil society in patching back together a lonely country will become ever more vital.
34) Less violence
Across the Western world, violent crime rates are collapsing. Whether you put this down to cultural change, unleaded petrol, computer games, or something else, it’s a remarkable shift, and one of the great trends of our age. Whilst there has been a small bump this year, the long term trend still seems to go in the same direction.
35) More hate crime and online attacks
There has been a steady increase in reported hate crime in recent years, followed by what seems to be a jump in the last few months. In 2011/12, there were 42,968 reported hate crimes in England and Wales. This figure increased steadily each year to 65,500 in 2015/16. Early indications are that hate crimes have increased dramatically so far in 2016/17.
Likewise, the last decade has seen the emergence of online attacks and ‘trolling’ as increasingly standard phenomena in public debate. How this will shape the national conversation over the next decade will depend on how it’s dealt with.
36) Further financialisation…
The power and influence of a small number of large financial institutions over Britain’s economy and politics has grown vastly in recent years. More than half of the Conservative party’s election campaign in 2010 was paid for by the City of London, and financial services now make up a huge portion of our economic activity. How will the re-growing power of the city to dominate British politics shape the next ten years?
37) … and another financial collapse
British people are borrowing at a rate not seen since just before the banks collapsed in 2007/8. Little has been done to prevent another crash, and so there is little reason to believe that there won’t be one in the next decade. Will the government have the cash to bail the banks out this time? Will civil society be left to pick up the pieces?
38) The rise of China
The Chinese state has already bought up significant pieces of British infrastructure, such as the Hinkley C power station. It seems likely that the next decade will see a significant rise in China’s global power, and, as Britain leaves the EU, a rise its stake in Britain’s domestic political economy too.
39) Rising inequality and insecurity
Recent decades have seen extraordinary increases in inequality of both wealth and income. As the book the Spirit Level has shown, changes in inequality correlate closely to a broad range of other things, like life expectancy, health and happiness. Will inequality continue to rise? And if so, how will that play out across society?
40) Increasing corporate ownership of the means of organising
As much of political organising moves to the internet, more and more of the space it takes place in is owned by a few massive companies, giving them oligopolistic access to our data and the tools we use to organise ourselves – potentially against them. Will the digital giants own ever more of our political space, or will we see a backlash?
41) Fraying contract between work and pay
Chart: Joseph Rowntree Foundation
As more and more of the work we used to do is delivered by machines, the kinds of work which can’t be automated become ever more important – creativity and caring for each other. But those aren’t the kinds of things which are likely to deliver return on investment, and so they aren’t likely to be paid. At the same time, in work poverty is reaching record highs, as the wealthiest people in the world amass a higher and higher portion of the wealth.
Is the idea that work is something you get paid for beginning to break down? And, what comes next?
42) Changes in work patterns
A combination of technological change, changes in ‘traditional’ gender roles, a fall in trade union membership and a reduction in the number of nuclear families mean that work patterns could well continue to change in the coming years: with on the one hand, employers pushing at the boundaries of what has been considered acceptable in recent years and, on the other, workers demanding more flexibility.
43) Collapse of the traditional/growth of new media
The newspaper industry in Britain is in freefall. As Google and Facebook suck in advert money, Gumtree and eBay eat small-ads income and people expect not to pay a cover-price, the revenue model has collapsed. The battle over what will replace it has already started: oligarchs have bought the old papers, foreign states have set up their own networks, and new media outlets have sprung up left, right and centre. From Facebook filters to Twitter echo-chambers, the boundaries of our bubbles are less permeable than ever. As the 20th century media dies, the next decade is likely to reveal what model will replace it.
44) Rise of localism
As the state retreats from the provision of public services, it seems likely that people will fall back on the institutions around them for what support they need. And so the local could well become more important in the coming decade.
45) Falling church attendance
From 1980 to 2015, total regular attendance at English churches of all denominations fell from just over five million to just over three million while the overall population grew by 8 million. Within that broader figure, there are also significant changes, with 2016 seeing Church of England attendance falling below a million for the first time, and, on the other hand, a growth in the number of Pentecostals as a result of migration from Africa and Latin America.
46) Need for new skills/pressure on education system
Rapid technological change which is breaking down traditional hierarchies means it seems likely that there will be strong demand for significant changes to the education system, both in content and form. What role will civil society have to play in delivering those changes?
47) More use of big data/more demands for privacy
Big data allows those gathering it to know astounding things about us. It’s been credited with the victories for both Trump and Brexit. Whether or not we believe those claims, we can expect it to play an ever-more important role in the coming years. At the same time, the UK has passed surveillance laws described by groups like Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International as the most extreme in both UK history and in Europe. As civil society groups begin to figure out how much the state can spy on them, it seems likely there will be conflict.
48) Increasing concentration of multinational corporate power
According to the Economist, The McKinsey Global Institute calculates that “10% of the world’s public companies generate 80% of all profits. Firms with more than $1 billion in annual revenue account for nearly 60% of total global revenues and 65% of market capitalisation”. This is a significant concentration of power. As the article continues: “In 1990 there were 11,500 merger and acquisition deals with a combined value equivalent to 2% of global GDP. In the years since 2008 the number has risen to 30,000 a year, worth about 3% of global GDP.” Will an ever smaller number of ever bigger companies continue to dominate the market? Or will disruptions in the next decade reverse this trend? Either way, any change in the scale of the biggest businesses in history are likely to have significant impact on the shape of our society in the years to come.
49) Restrictions on civil liberties
The British government has made clear that it wishes to repeal the Human Rights Act. A string of pieces of counter-terrorism legislation have restricted civil liberties in recent years. It seems likely that the boundaries of protest will continue to be policed ever more closely, leaving civil society with more and more questions about how to achieve change.
50) Increased regulation of civic life
Few words in politics are more contentious than ‘regulation’. But whether you think about it, ever since the 1601 Charitable Uses Act, there has been more and more regulation of what civil society can do: from the contentious Lobbying Act of 2013 to the introduction of Public Space Protection Orders to DBS checks for those wishing to work with children. The long term trend towards the regulation of civil society shows little sign of reversing.