The Big Society and its implications

Thu, 03 Mar 2011 21:31 in News Digest
Dialogue Society News Digest

At its root, the Big Society is about three things: decentralisation, grass roots initiatives and a smaller state. The Big Society is otherwise known as David Cameron's political "mission". Due to the amount of job losses, pay freezes, pension hikes and public service cuts - some do not find the Big Society's strategies to be very effective. This week news on the Big Society focused on the challenges that lay ahead for this multi-faceted policy.

BBC News - Tuesday 1st March 2011
Flintshire Council to set council tax amid £12m cuts

The Flintshire Council is to hold a meeting to discuss whether to set a council tax rise of 3% for the average band D property as it needs to fill a £ 12 million funding gap. The council will have to cut youth clubs, close down libraries and will have to commence efficiency savings. Additionally, the council may have to share staff with the Wrexham and Denbigshire councils to reduce costs. There will be plans to close five libraries in the area and cuts will be made to the mobile service libraries. Additionally, there will also be a reduction on the spending of library books with the opening of youth clubs reduced from three days to two. Owen Thomas the council chairman stated "I wouldn't say it's a good budget but it's one that has to be due to the circumstances. "

Ian Cowie, The Daily Telegraph - Monday 28th February 2011
Little women and a growing problem for the Big Society

Women which were born in the mid 1950's will have to work an extra two years before they retire under the current proposals of the parliament. These women provide voluntary care to their friends and relatives and save the government billions of pounds for their unpaid work. They will be the ones who are the most affected by the plans to raise the pension ages. Many women are complaining that it is unfair to draw out their plans for retirement whilst they must have to simultaneously do unpaid voluntary work for others. Ros Altman the director general of the charity Saga is encouraging people to write to their MPs before parliament take a vote on the pension bills.

Victoria Coran, The Observer - Sunday 27th February 2011
Big Society you've got to laugh

Victoria Coran questions what the Big Society means. After an incident on a train she deems that the siphoning of funds to private enterprise gives people more power to make up their own decisions and this cannot always be positive. Coren gives the examples of an old woman who boarded the wrong train and was forced to pay 115 pounds of indemnity .However not being able to afford this she burst into tears. Tom Wrigglesworth, a comedian, was shocked by the inhumanity of the train personnel that he collected money from the whole carriage and managed to hand over the 115 pounds. This created uproar with the British police who were waiting at Euston tube station ready to arrest Wrigglesworth for begging. Angry at this Wigglesworth turned this incident into a comedy show which led to Virgin changing its policies of onboard fares however the operators still have not. As a consequence, journalist Victoria Coran questions: do we have to put on a comedy show or is there any other way of getting an ounce of attention from the current government?

Roxanne Persaud, The Guardian - Friday 25th February 2011
Caught in the charities moral maze

Roxanne Persaud reviewed a recent edition of Radio 4's The Moral Maze, which focused on charities and states that charities may "loose their plot, their virtue or both."

During The Moral Maze, Michael Portillo said that charities should pursue public interests and not those of the public sector. It should be the public who decide which charity to support not the Big Society. Catherine Prisk assistant director of Play England said that voluntary work is more important now more than ever before. However there are always more volunteers in wealthier or Middle Class areas in London than in more disadvantaged ones such as Hackney or Knowsley. Emma Harrison who represents small charities states that the meaning and the value of charity cannot be reduced just because of the cut in state services.

Key players on the field

Labour MP Stella Creasy branded the Big Society "wooly" on the BBC website. "By not setting out the purpose of the Big Society, the government leave themselves open to acknowledging a whole range of volunteering activities that they may not want to support."

"Taken to extremes, for example, the Ku Klux Klan and the English Defence League would be seen as wanting to bring people together for a particular purpose in their local community, but I am sure none of us would want to promote such organisations and their values."

Baroness Warsi in the same report said: "These are shameful comments. This is a cheap and irresponsible attempt to smear the Big Society and degrade it by linking it to racists and extremists.

"For those of us who believe in the Big Society and who have spent their careers combating racial hatred and extremism, this is particularly offensive. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, pointed out in the Guardian that the dangers of the Big Society approach, is that local charities are by no means evenly or fairly distributed across the country. We need large charities with national reach to support the most deprived areas, which are least likely to have the volunteering capacity to meet their own needs.

Moving Forwards:

The government will provide neighbourhood grants for the UK's poorest areas. This micro-funding will go to charities and social enterprises to work with new and existing neighbourhood groups in the most deprived and broken communities. People will therefore have a new incentive to come together to form neighbourhood groups in the poorest areas. This will encourage charities and social enterprises to support the creation of new neighbourhood groups.