In the last week, three incidents have highlighted the precarious state of the Tory-led Coalition government’s aspiration for the ‘Big Society’:
First, Lord Wei – a life peer with an unpaid role in the Cabinet Office as ‘Big Society Tsar’ tasked with encouraging volunteering – resigned citing the incompatibility of working for free three days a week, earning an income to support his family and spending time with them.
Then, Liverpool City Council, selected as one of four ‘vanguard’ areas for the Big Society’, has withdrawn from the initiative arguing that spending cuts have undermined funding of hundreds of voluntary sector organisations in the city, perceived as vital to delivering ‘Big Society’ objectives.
Speaking today on Radio 4’s, Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, retiring head of the Community Service Volunteers (CSV) – named in the Guardian last year as the ‘Mother of the Big Society’ – has criticised the government for a lack of a strategic approach to delivering the ‘Big Society’ arguing that cuts to public spending are undermining efforts to encourage volunteering and community action.
The ‘Big Society’ is a flagship agenda for the Coalition government, one which Cameron has personally aligned himself to, but it is one that has come in for significant scrutiny and criticism. These recent events seem to dispel the myth that cuts in public spending will act as a catalyst rather than a barrier for the achievement of the Big Society, particularly in areas of social disadvantage where capacity in the voluntary sector may be more limited and where individuals already juggle work and family commitments.