Cameron's 'big society' will leave the poor and powerless behind

There is no promise of equal opportunity in the PM's vision. Fair distribution of resources requires democratic government

Big Society
The 'big society' involves giving local groups the power to do things on a voluntary basis that would otherwise be done by publicly funded organisations. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Contrary to what you may hear today, David Cameron's plan for a "big society" threatens to undermine social justice and widen inequalities. While there is some effort to encourage people in poor neighbourhoods to do more for themselves, there is nothing in the plan to make sure that everyone – regardless of background or circumstance – gets a fair chance to participate or benefit.

Effectively, the "big society" abandons the idea of collective action and shared responsibility on a broad scale through the state, focusing instead on encouraging local interventions by the "little platoons" of civil society and businesses of all sizes. Individuals who are already marginalised by poverty and powerlessness will be left behind by the Big Society, where everything hangs on how much power is assumed by which groups and businesses, to do what, for whom and how. A much bigger role for the market is not a recipe for a bigger or stronger society, because in practice businesses – especially the big US corporations that are hovering over the NHS – are accountable to no one but their shareholders and much more interested in their financial bottom line than social justice or equality.

What's more, this scheme makes huge demands on people's time. A big part of the plan is to transfer power from state authorities to local groups so that they can do things on a voluntary basis that would otherwise be done by publicly funded organisations. Some people have much more time at their disposal than others. Individuals with low-paid jobs and big family responsibilities – especially lone parents – tend to be poor in time as well as money. Long hours and low wages undermine a key premise of the prime minister's vision, which appears to be that social and financial gains will come from replacing paid with unpaid labour.

Crucially, there are no central principles of fair play or equal opportunity. And even if there were, it is hard to see where we would find the means to enforce them. Local authorities and public regulators are being sliced down to the bare bones. And the very things that help to build equal opportunity and well-being for all – such as decent benefits for people out of work, housing support, child care, facilities for sports and recreation, not to mention free and fair education and healthcare – are all at risk from severe spending cuts.

What's needed is not just a transfer of power from the state to individuals and groups, but a new kind of partnership between citizens and government, where power and responsibility are shared on an open and equal basis between, on the one hand, professionals and other public service workers and, on the other, the people who are intended to benefit – especially those who are currently disadvantaged and disempowered. The central purpose of that partnership must be to promote social justice and to narrow inequalities. It should be about co-producing public goods and social benefits, not dumping on the poor. We shall also need to redistribute paid and unpaid time by moving towards a much shorter working week. There's already a big shift towards part-time working, which should be welcomed as a step in the right direction, not deplored as a short-term aberration. But it must be accompanied by things such as a higher minimum wage and flexible working conditions, to offset the effects on income for low-paid workers.

We don't want an overbearing state that depletes our capacity to help ourselves. But we do need a state that is democratically controlled, and that enables everyone to play a part and acts as an effective mediator and protector of our shared interests. Democratic government is the only effective vehicle for ensuring that resources are fairly distributed, both across the population and between individuals and groups at local levels. Businesses or third-sector organisations can supplement these functions but cannot replace them, not least because they invariably serve sectoral or specialised interests, rather than those of the nation as a whole. If the state is pruned so drastically that it is neither big enough nor strong enough to carry them out, the effect will be a more troubled and diminished society, not a bigger one.


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  • UglyLesbian UglyLesbian

    19 Jul 2010, 12:40PM

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  • WhyTheFace WhyTheFace

    19 Jul 2010, 12:41PM

    Crucially, there are no central principles of fair play or equal opportunity. And even if there were, it is hard to see where we would find the means to enforce them.

    So, you're criticising the absence of measures that even you can't imagine a way to make meaningful if they existed. Isn't that a bit silly?

  • RahereofSmithfield RahereofSmithfield

    19 Jul 2010, 12:42PM

    Government spend used to account for around 400bn of 1000bn GNP. That went up, and to bring things back again needs to be hauled back by around 150bn. However, the scope of cuts suggested may perhaps come closer to 250bn, which is the kind of overkill Maggie would have liked to impose on the Civil Service but never dared, not least because every Mandarine would have turned Orange on her.
    Part of the problem is that despite Conservative commitments, nothing has been done to demonstrate transparency in this review. The purported overview of public spend turned out to be a hackneyed microscopic view of a minor sector of Social Services which had been out there for a couple of years, and never matched the label on the packet.
    Now, I'm not saying that there is not a huge need for reform. But this is not reform, this is the Civil Service screwing things royally for everyone so that at the end of the day you'll see all the old warhorses who should be off to the knackers yard dressed up in freshly-spun candyfloss. And that then sudddenly becomes an entirely new justification for the bigger set of cuts - if glasnost is not an idea you can get your heads round, Mandarines, then it's time for Fruit Salad.

  • jeremyjames jeremyjames

    19 Jul 2010, 12:42PM

    We don't want an overbearing state that depletes our capacity to help ourselves. But we do need a state that is democratically controlled, and that enables everyone to play a part and acts as an effective mediator and protector of our shared interests. Democratic government is the only effective vehicle for ensuring that resources are fairly distributed, both across the population and between individuals and groups at local levels.

    All this is quangocrates for 'leave us alone; we know what is best for you.'

    Labour's addiction to quangos has not made society fairer or more equal. Thanks to its education mess up, society is not fairer and thanks to its Mandelson led boot licking of capital, it is not more equal either.

    C+ - go away and think again.

  • Vraaak Vraaak

    19 Jul 2010, 12:45PM

    Local volunteer groups aren't actually able to do much by themselves.

    Almost every after school club, young peoples football team etc who relied on community development people and estates departments in councils to provide a place to do it in and some organisational input folds instantly when this support is withdrawn.

    It's pretty well known that a pound spent on communities is worth ten spend on tackling crime. Somehow we've got ten times the money for police than councils then. Strange that.

    Meanwhile apparently the local injection moulding SME trying desperately to stay in business will donate a corner of its factory for young people to do judo on weeknights instead right? Right.

    You'd have to be some sort of upper class moat cleaning bentley driving bunch of nutjobs who never met a real person outside of a choreographed meeting during an election campaign to think this makes sense. Now it all becomes clear.

  • taffimak taffimak

    19 Jul 2010, 12:46PM

    Have you seen the 4-minute film on the Big Society website? I have and I cringed when I saw the usual stereotyped permed, bespectacled pensioners marking their bingo cards.

    Please, please, I am 84 and I haven't had a perm, don't wear pearls or spectacles, and would not in any way attend boring bingo, or come to that attend a Day Centre of the sort shown in the silly film.

    At least the film demonstrates the distorted vision that Cameron has of 'ordinary' citizens who live in the 'poorer' areas.

  • Sweeting Sweeting

    19 Jul 2010, 12:48PM

    I love articles that tear into government initiatives and then halfway down assert What's needed... and you think, 'here we go - finally, some answers!' before reading on to find some nebulous utopianism proffered as an alternative:

    a new kind of partnership between citizens and government, where power and responsibility are shared on an open and equal basis between, on the one hand, professionals and other public service workers and, on the other, the people who are intended to benefit – especially those who are currently disadvantaged and disempowered.

    Sounds great, could you be a bit more specific though?

  • wotever wotever

    19 Jul 2010, 12:48PM

    I imagine those with the most spare time will be barred from participating in voluntary work by the Job Centre rules - As they will not be 'available' for work.
    Likewise if someone disabled thinks they would like do a bit, voluntarily, then the government will say they are 'capable of work' and kick them off DLA.

    I expect it will be the usual bunch of comfortably retired people and bored affluent housewives, who will participate. In other words the 'out of touch' brigade.

  • oldefarte oldefarte

    19 Jul 2010, 12:49PM

    The big Society is a recipe for unelected unrepresentative Hyacinth Bucket type busibodies 'organising' things to their own advantage. It represents an abrogation of one of the basic duties of government, which is to protect the weak against the strong in society.

  • flatpackhamster flatpackhamster

    19 Jul 2010, 12:51PM

    What's needed is not just a transfer of power from the state to individuals and groups, but a new kind of partnership between citizens and government, where power and responsibility are shared on an open and equal basis between, on the one hand, professionals and other public service workers and, on the other, the people who are intended to benefit – especially those who are currently disadvantaged and disempowered.

    The 'partnership' you describe would not involve a transfer of power from the state to individuals and groups. It would extend the power of the state.

    The central purpose of that partnership must be to promote social justice and to narrow inequalities. It should be about co-producing public goods and social benefits, not dumping on the poor.

    So the purpose of your partnership is to achieve socialist redistribution.

    We shall also need to redistribute paid and unpaid time by moving towards a much shorter working week. There's already a big shift towards part-time working, which should be welcomed as a step in the right direction, not deplored as a short-term aberration. But it must be accompanied by things such as a higher minimum wage and flexible working conditions, to offset the effects on income for low-paid workers.

    Fantasy. It's as though a whole group of functionally innumerate communists sat together in a room with some biscuits and tea and decided how the economy should be operating.

    We don't want an overbearing state that depletes our capacity to help ourselves. But we do need a state that is democratically controlled, and that enables everyone to play a part and acts as an effective mediator and protector of our shared interests. Democratic government is the only effective vehicle for ensuring that resources are fairly distributed, both across the population and between individuals and groups at local levels. Businesses or third-sector organisations can supplement these functions but cannot replace them, not least because they invariably serve sectoral or specialised interests, rather than those of the nation as a whole. If the state is pruned so drastically that it is neither big enough nor strong enough to carry them out, the effect will be a more troubled and diminished society, not a bigger one.

    Your plans demand an overbearing, all-powerful state. They actually require it. Enforced reductions of the working week (penalised how, fines, jail terms?), enforced targets for 'social justice' (which is what we're calling communism this year), ever-greater control handed to armies of bureaucrats. Your plans will deliver exactly that, and the world has seen what happens when you try to enforce equality.

    You can not help people by controlling their lives. That's what the NEF proposes and it simply doesn't work.

  • DBrown DBrown

    19 Jul 2010, 12:54PM

    Crucially, there are no central principles of fair play or equal opportunity

    Please give up the left-wing ideology that assumes that only state organisations can deliver fairness or morality. Society itself does comprise a huge number of decent people and we should cast off the Labour notion that wants us to mistrust each others' motives.

    Britain was built by great people, not by great committees.

  • Peason1 Peason1

    19 Jul 2010, 12:54PM

    Gosh, however did this country function before we looked to the state for everything and the state didn't have its fingers in every aspect of our lives?

    Gooid grief. Are the citizens of this country so helpless, useless and pathetic that unless the government is there to organise and carry them every step of the way they'll just die?

    The world is changing.

  • tofu tofu

    19 Jul 2010, 12:57PM

    While there is some effort to encourage people in poor neighbourhoods to do more for themselves, there is nothing in the plan to make sure that everyone – regardless of background or circumstance – gets a fair chance to participate or benefit.

    There are no barriers to participation except the ones we impose ourselves.

    If some communities do not choose to play they will not be forced.

  • davesays davesays

    19 Jul 2010, 12:57PM

    Cor, remember the "Volunteer Corps pay £00.00" adverts? (I think it's called Volunteering England now ) Among the useful things you could do were " cooking for firemen" and "decorating a busy Civil Servant's house!" This Big Society is just an excuse for cuts. In any case, if I'm going to volunteer I expect to be very well paid for it.

  • madmonty madmonty

    19 Jul 2010, 1:00PM

    A simple way to do this would be to return all the local government powers that were taken over by Westminster in the last 40 years. Allow local authorities whose cabinets are elected by local people, to deliver the services which their constituents demand.

    Sadly my own local authority has decided to close down its voluntary network centre due to the budget cuts, and like all local authorities will soon be reduced to only providing statutory services to its own areas.

    'The Big Society' is nothing but another Westminster con, a half baked idea by Cameron, who now demands its application with only £60 million pounds to try and stimulate a voluntary sector, which must somehow replace all the services about to be cut. I can see a lot of vunerable people being hurt by political dogma...

  • vrager vrager

    19 Jul 2010, 1:00PM

    It is typical that the people who whinge about lack of State funding seem to know nothing of the past when there wasn't any State funding and community programmes laid on by volunteers resulted in out of school and after work activities that are now paid for by the State with paid staff.

    Football for children run by parents, youth clubs run by churches, working men's clubs, community hall dances and social evenings, Scouts/Cubs-Guides/Brownies, luncheon clubs for the elderly, all kinds of interest groups and societies, many kinds of local sports leagues for all ages etc etc all flourished in the past without CRB checks and community funding from some quango or Govt agency.

    Fairness and equality of opportunity requires those who want things laid on for them to get off their bottoms and make it happen. Middle class Guardianistas worried about the poor should do what their forefathers did: get out there and provide the manpower for activities for the community.

    It is because people expect someone else to provide that they are so apathetic. To say lone parents are poor on time is to diagnose a problem without seeing a solution: for every lone parent with children and "no time" there must be another lone parent without the children and plenty of spare time. Anna Coote - your narrow negative analysis is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  • ProfessorPlums ProfessorPlums

    19 Jul 2010, 1:01PM

    Democratic government is the only effective vehicle for ensuring that resources are fairly distributed, both across the population and between individuals and groups at local levels

    We have one of the most democratic governments in decades who will be ensuring that resources are distributed in a firm but fair way across the population.

  • Timak Timak

    19 Jul 2010, 1:03PM

    I still don't understand what it actually is?

    Is he expecting people to do for free what people are currently paid to do?

    The only real example given is people being allowed to volunteer to work in a museum? I'm pretty sure any council who had been directly approached would have let people do that anyway.

  • releasethedogs releasethedogs

    19 Jul 2010, 1:04PM

    It isn't the job of central govt to run peoples lives for them. Should people want to become involved in the 'community', a totally abused and meaningless concept used by idiotic socialists and Toynbee like journalists, they can become involved.

    People have to be allowed to accustom themselves to taking control of their own lives and getting off the arses and creating opportunities for themselves rather than them looking to the state for support at every turn. That's not about politics IT'S ABOUT LIFE!

    Socialists are boring people with a predilection for interference. They really do think that they can run other peoples lives better than themselves.

    Leave people alone! Let them do their own thing! Let them become strong individuals!

    Socialists are so prescriptive. They really do believe that if you pull lever A the desired outcome will be guaranteed. NO!

    Society is infinitely complex and attempts to control and cajole will always end in failure and tyranny.

    PEOPLE MUST LEARN TO STAND ON THEIR OWN TWO FEET. THEY MUST LEARN THAT COMMUNITY MEANS NOTHING UNLESS INDIVIDUALS DECIDE TO COOPERATE TOGETHER TO PROMOTE THEIR OWN AND OTHERS INTERESTS

    The world is not a finely tuned watch. Socialism does not offer any solutions. Big govt and high public spending always undermines freedom , humanity and personal responsibility

    Toynbee is a classic example of why all socialists are hypocrites to the core. They espouse redistribuition, equal opportunities and humanity. Of course when you dig a little deeper in her history you begin to realise that the manner in which she arranges her own affairs is in direct conflict to the philosophy seh espouses on these pages ie hypocritical crap

  • TheEdGallagher TheEdGallagher

    19 Jul 2010, 1:05PM

    I see "Call me Dave" has stated that Gripper from Grange Hill was his roll model....

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10681424

    So who does that make all the poor people - Roland!!!

  • bailliegillies bailliegillies

    19 Jul 2010, 1:06PM

    I'm suspicious of "charities" taking over tasks that should be done on by the state as it looks like it has too many agendas. Job creation for the Middle Classes who will manage the "charities" while they will save costs by using "volunteers" who will have to work for nothing, or will be made to do so if on benefits and the ultimate goals is that they will eventually be "privatised", becoming "Publicly Funded Companies" (Pfc).

  • jereboam jereboam

    19 Jul 2010, 1:08PM

    PEOPLE MUST LEARN TO STAND ON THEIR OWN TWO FEET!

    SO START LIKE WE DID - FIND SOMEONE RICH AND MARRY THEM!

    THEN GET INTO POLITICS!

    THEN FIND A TAX EXILE TO GIVE YOU LOTS OF MONEY!

    THEN START TELLING EVERYBODY ELSE TO STAND ON THEIR OWN TWO FEET ...............ad nauseam.

  • jimmyyadders jimmyyadders

    19 Jul 2010, 1:08PM

    Probably not such a bad idea but as with all such things, it will succeed or fail in the implementation.

    I'm sure there will be pockets of success which will be held up by the coalition as validation of the idea, but I'm also sure there will be many examples of initiatives which wither on the vine because the people involved are too busy squabbling to get the job done, or just don't have the necessary drive.

    As many have already said, in this thread and others, it will depend for its resourcing on a fairly narrow section of society, those who have both the time on their hands and the interest in getting involved. Personally I think this will be the biggest hurdle of all.

  • afinch afinch

    19 Jul 2010, 1:10PM

    Democratic government is the only effective vehicle for ensuring that resources are fairly distributed, both across the population and between individuals and groups at local levels.

    Utter, utter, rubbish. The state is manifestly incapable of distributing resources fairly, because it does not know enough about the hopes, desires, needs and values of individual people.

    Speaking of big society, I was on my scout troop's summer camp a couple of weeks ago. We had 120 children, and received the following assets from the community mercifully free of state interference, or funding:

    1. Free use of a large field on the banks of the river Wye, given by the landowner.
    2. Free use of a nearby forest, permitted by the forest warden and the landowner.
    3. Drivers for two lorries to transport equipment, both parents with the required licenses who volunteered.
    4. About 10 adults aged 21-58 who gave up various amounts of time for free.

    However, we did get some help from the state:
    1. We all had to do the new CRB checks which require two references. These had to be done even for adults showing up for a weekend to see if they liked it. Huge waste of time.
    2. We have a new minibus driving license that basically means hardly anyone is qualified to drive a minibus, so the same 3-4 adults have to do all of it.
    3. All the children had to get their parents to fill out consent forms, and we had to keep paper copies of these (all 120) and provide them to all the activity centres and instructors throughout the camp.

    If (and I've no idea if this is what Cameron means) the 'Big Society' means the state walking away and letting people get on without without either help or hindrance, that's fine by me. I can't think of anything worse than a state funded youth camp, complete with targets to justify the funding like 'personal development' and 'challenge'.

    Think how much better in every respect a volunteer based summer camp is compared to what a local authority run one would be like, and ask yourself if it might not be better for more things to be volunteer run.

  • AllyF AllyF

    19 Jul 2010, 1:10PM

    Contributor Contributor

    Bit of a superficial analysis here, I think, but raising some legitimate concerns.

    If you ask me (not that you did) the real threat from the Big Society is not anything to do with what Cameron is talking about at the moment - much of which is fine on paper - but a reasonable projection of where the policies lead us in a few years time.

    Example: Cleaning the parks.

    Where we're at, right now, is that Councils can't afford the staff to keep parks properly clean. In addition, Ideologically the Tories (and New Labour) prefer the idea of local communities having 'ownership' of their own park, rather than the Statist bureaucracies of local councils. So, starting under New Labour and accelerating under the Tories, councils have said to residents that if you want anything more than the most basic service, it's up to you to organise it yourself. I stress, this has been going on for years, it is not Tory initiative.

    Now, to begin with, it's quite easy to get people to buy into this. It's a fun, community-minded, rewarding activity to organise a Big Tidy Up. Much like the Big Lunch, this stuff is an unequivocal Good Thing.

    The problem is a year or two down the line, when people are bored of doing Big Tidy Ups. It becomes harder to persuade the schools and the community groups to join in. Numbers dwindle, making it harder work and less fun for those who do come, so it becomes a negative spiral.

    What will happen then? My prediction is that in the wealthier areas, rather than organising litter-picks in the parks, community groups will take to rattling tins, collecting donations, holding raffles, raising money the old fashioned ways. Maybe even go the whole hog and establish their own Parish Council (another New Labour wheeze) which can add an additional penny onto council tax to be spent in the local neighbourhood. That money is then used to hire a private contractor to come in weekly and clean the park. Then, to protect their investments, private security guards to prevent people messing the park up in the first place. The wealthier the area you live in, the cleaner, shinier, better cared for your local park will be.

    If you live in a poor area where people cannot afford to pay the private contractors, then when people run out of energy and enthusiasm for cleaning the park themselves, the park will quickly descend into a rubbish dump, until it actually becomes impossible for local people to control the problems of litter, even if they want to.

    And of course, these message boards, the phone-ins, the columnists at the Express etc etc will all be filled with snide remarks about how the feckless poor allow their own communities to go to rack and ruin, won't take responsibility for anything, and so don't really deserve to have parks after all, so why not just sell them off and put a Tesco there instead?

    Sorry, that was a bit of a rant.

    My point is that the principles of 'Big Society' are no bad thing. The huge danger with Cameron's plans is that he has not clearly spelled out how Big is too Big?

    I very much doubt he believes there is such a point. And that makes his ideas very, very dangerous indeed.

  • afinch afinch

    19 Jul 2010, 1:12PM

    while they will save costs by using "volunteers" who will have to work for nothing

    Volunteers don't have to work for nothing. They choose to. Try it some time and you might understand.

  • AnObserver AnObserver

    19 Jul 2010, 1:15PM

    Subeditors:
    Can we get a more representative picture for this story? This one (at 1315, 19/07) seems to be from the election, and features as many Tory Party workers as genuine "Big Society" particpants - but is not spelled out by the caption or by hovering the mouse over it.

  • Streatham Streatham

    19 Jul 2010, 1:18PM

    releasethedogs

    Socialists are so prescriptive. They really do believe that if you pull lever A the desired outcome will be guaranteed. NO!

    Society is infinitely complex and attempts to control and cajole will always end in failure and tyranny.

    Couldn't agree more - which is why I have always believed that industry should be co-operatively owned and controlled on a day-to-day basis by the workers themselves. Who needs bosses, either private or state.

  • afinch afinch

    19 Jul 2010, 1:19PM

    @AllyF

    I agree with many of your depressing predictions, but that is a result of a failed society. The state can't fix it. If a group of local people cannot keep their local park clean, what hope is there? Sure, you can tax someone or something somewhere to pay for endless collection of litter and replacement of vandalised trees, but it's painting over the cracks.

  • Vraaak Vraaak

    19 Jul 2010, 1:21PM

    "Gosh, however did this country function before we looked to the state for everything and the state didn't have its fingers in every aspect of our lives?"

    It functioned pretty well, but then it built massive housing estates where young people don't have enough to do.

    It then mismanaged the chances of them getting a job. Now it won't let them have a place to meet after school or a place to kick a football around.

    And if they get bored and cause trouble, demonise them. Lock them up. That's got to be cheaper, right?

    While the bloke with the funny handshake in the Jag who just knocked up another block of plastic flats where their youth club used to be and their mate at the council who had it knocked down and sold them the land laugh all the way to the bank.

  • BobBobson BobBobson

    19 Jul 2010, 1:23PM

    Britain was built by great people, not by great committees.

    Britain was built by the rapacious acquisition of the resources of other countries through military and economic might.

  • Humberwolf Humberwolf

    19 Jul 2010, 1:24PM

    Anyone who expected the Tories to provide a fair distribution of resources and actually help the poor and powerless is a fool. Tory doctrine since Thatcher has always been to shit on those who are most vulnerable in the name of business. This 'Big Society' idea will do nothing but tear the dying guts out of society in this country.

  • eagle12 eagle12

    19 Jul 2010, 1:28PM

    ProfessorPlums 1:01PM

    We have one of the most democratic governments in decades - you're having a laugh.

    Decades ago the Pied Piper was called in to get rid of the RATS the amount of Cuts made by this coalition government made up from Cons and Rats our country is heading for a fall with No Pied Piper around to drive out this coalition YET, but there will be around 5 May 2011 where many of the Tweedle RATS will be unelected by Labour Voters-in the mean-time watch DemRats and DemMice gnaw their way through Britain.

  • thfc123 thfc123

    19 Jul 2010, 1:28PM

    Tough tit. Labour had 13 years in power and blew it.

    Pre 1997 most people in the UK managed to wipe their own backsides without state guidance, lets hope that all those that seemingly cannot live without massive state interference will be able to work how for themselves, though I have my doubts.

  • RobertSnozers RobertSnozers

    19 Jul 2010, 1:29PM

    However this may look in theory, in practice it will be like everything else - the powerful and the enfranchised will turn it to their advantage, and the deprived will lose out. In other words the pushy middle class, on the principle of 'to he that hath shall be given', will be able to raise money and lobby to get projects moving, further shifting resources away from those that need them most.

    Where is the 'needs assessment' in all of this? Where is the accountability for the schemes that will be set up?

  • MrJoe MrJoe

    19 Jul 2010, 1:29PM

    @AllyF
    You're imagining a worst case scenario, which I feel is as unlikely to occur as the best case scenario of a return to the rose-tinted idealized version of the past - an Enid Blyton book without the racism, where everyone is friendly and wonderful and the whole community pulls together and nobody ever makes a mess in the park because they too feel a sense of pride and ownership. Not going to happen, but neither is your distopian worry.

  • otters otters

    19 Jul 2010, 1:32PM

    "" And the very things that help to build equal opportunity and well-being for all – such as decent benefits for people out of work, housing support, child care,""

    But then there is the financial heroin aspect of the above. Robbing aspiration and creating welfare dependency. There is the safety net, and there is the welfare trap. My guess is for everyone rescued by the safety net five are snared in the welfare trap.

  • philw12 philw12

    19 Jul 2010, 1:35PM

    Anna Coote is quite right to highlight the dangers associated with Tory/Lib agenda. But and it is a big BUT where is the alternative? once again the Left has been caught out with no real response. The truth is Big Society could be the call to action that is needed for progressive political parties to get involved in local action. Poor communities will only change when local people are politically organised this can't be done from Millbank or Whitehall (even with Audit Commission pressure in support). The state does have a role in all of this, the local state a crucial one, but we have to move away from the idea that the state is the only option. I think we are moving to a new era where the role of the individual will have an important role to play. An era where a new definition of the collective is defined, based on mutuality and cooperation and a real voice of the dispossessed is discovered through local action.

    Local action leads to stronger and more resilliant communities that have the confidence to organise and demand their rights from Con/Lib and Labour Governments.

    I suppose those of us who think of ourselves as progressive thinkers have a choice - stand on the outside only seeing the problems while this government continues unraveling the state - or supporting local people to find their own voice and sense of worth in a world that has for a long time ceased to hear what they have to say.

  • baublebag baublebag

    19 Jul 2010, 1:35PM

    Quote. 'Couldn't agree more - which is why I have always believed that industry should be co-operatively owned and controlled on a day-to-day basis by the workers themselves.'

    But Streatham - what that amounts to is that you want to be the biggest, most authoritarian, most prescriptive boss of all - you want to outlaw individual enterprise! I believe they have tried that in North Korea.

    We need world-class education free at the point of use and equally accessible for all. Ditto health care. Ditto security, protection from crime and access to justice. I believe it is simply more efficient for the state to provide these services. I very much dislike the idea of my taxes going to the shareholders of 'healthcare commissioning companies', especially non-UK.

    What we don't need is to infinitely pay people for not working. It makes no sense in terms of happy people or a healthy society. We must incentivise work. There's plenty of jobs and to create even more we need to encourage enterprise (which may well include co-operatives and other worker-owned models - I'm not saying they can't work although they have many problems in practice and in my experience usually evolve into more conventional entrepreneurial structures) and remove barriers to creating and taking jobs, such as reverse incentives, minimum wage etc. It's true that many jobs are pretty crappy and pay low-wages but, hello, that's how I started.

  • TheSpidermonkey TheSpidermonkey

    19 Jul 2010, 1:37PM

    I see from the picture that the Big Society is entirely white... will Mail readers still be so keen on it when it's Muslim groups running things in their own communities, setting up summer camps for kids etc?

    This is all just a fig leaf anyway for the dismantling of public services and the privatisation of the NHS.

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