State services have no monopoly on virtue

A charity called the Personal Support Unit (PSU) helps make the civil and family courts in England and Wales more accessible to those who have to face them alone. Last year it provided 691 volunteers — some of them retired professionals, others law students — to help such litigants-in-person, as they’re called, on an average of more than 5,450 occasions every month.

The volunteers help these people sort out their paperwork and complete all necessary forms, guide them round the courts to make sure they keep their appointments, explain court procedure, get them to practise what they want to say in court and attend the hearing with them, explaining to them afterwards what has happened.

Put like that, it may not sound very much. In fact, such help can make all the difference between abandonment and rescue.

Such altruism is local and personal, involving giving up your time to help others. It’s very different from the loud virtue-signalling about saving the planet or fighting the capitalist hetero-patriarchy or other causes trumpeted by our current social justice warriors.

The PSU isn’t “woke” but rather awake to real, everyday need and distress, which its volunteers quietly set about alleviating. It’s the exercise of what used to be called social conscience, in the days before social justice became a war to be waged over abstract causes that divide us from each other.

The correct balance to be struck between the responsibilities of the impersonal state and services provided by community-building voluntary associations is, however, a political question that remains fraught and unresolved.

To read my whole Times (£) column, please click here.

Related posts