The politics of public behaviour

Despite a retreat from the state in many traditional areas, the UK government is increasingly finding itself drawn into a variety of new personal challenges such as how much people eat, drink, travel, save or dispose of their personal waste. Across the political spectrum, behaviour change is increasingly underpinning policy programmes. One of the reasons for the emergence of this agenda is the growing sense that the intractable problems or ‘wicked issues’ in society (e.g. obseity or climate change) cannot be solved by individuals or governments acting alone. The interdependence of some of these problems have made people more reliant upon, vulnerable to, and concerned with the actions of others in society. All these factors have given rise to a debate around the politics of public behaviour; the personal has become the political.

After several months of research, Demos have published a pamphlet which sets out  three perspectives from different political traditions; each offering contrasting views on the public implications of private decisions, and what they mean for the relationships between people and government. The pamphlet includes a framework with which to negotiate the new politics of public behaviour.

A debate that concerns itself with people’s personal behaviour raises important questions. Where do personal freedoms stop and mutual obligations begin? Which decisions should be public and which private? What will be the balance of all these? And how and when should government play a role? This news post examines some of the possible implications of this focus on personal behaviour for the VCS, the public and the government.

Last updated at 15:08 Mon 18/May/09.
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