The tune has changed for the big society

Back in October, when I went to the
Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, the big society was everywhere. It
would have been physically impossible for one person to go to every conference session that
had the phrase in its title.

It was the buzz phrase of the conference, and
was being used in a universally positive way by charities, think tanks, MPs and
councillors. Everyone was asking: What is the big society? How can we
contribute to this exciting new idea? What will we gain from it?

Just four months later, the picture has
changed. As councils and charities across the country see their funding cut and
their services closing, the big society has lost its fuzzy glow and become
intrinsically linked to a sense of fear and vulnerability and a struggle to survive.

During the coalition’s first six months in
government, many in the voluntary sector were prepared to get caught up in a
big, abstract, enticing new idea, particularly if they thought this would
endear them to the new administration and protect them from the worst of its
impending cuts.

A few months on, they have gone back to
thinking with their heads rather than their hearts. As more charities realise
that no amount of fawning over the big society idea will protect them from the
cuts, more will follow CSV’s Dame Elisabeth Hoodless in speaking out against

This may well have the effect of forcing
government ministers to quietly stop using the phrase. But unless it also
forces them into U-turns on major policy areas, will anything have been

2 Responses to “The tune has changed for the big society”

  1. Rob Dyson

    I’d say Big Society is still pretty ubiquitous, but yes for slightly different reasons than planned..

    I was never an initial naysayer, and thought it was perhaps a badly communicated good idea; but if genuine Gov should have made a strong effort for it be non-Partisan and non-ideological and also refrained from cherry picking orgs and charities to initially cosy up to.

    Incidentally I saw one-time launch supporter Camilla Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company on Newsnight on Monday, clearly pretty angry about being mis-sold the narrative.

    As she’s quoted as saying at an event this week:
    “The difficulty with the Big Society narrative is that unfortunately it’s been conceptualised by very bright people who don’t always know the dirty spaces of social care.”


  2. Andrew Climo

    Big Society has left us with a problem: Six months of talking about a vague Big Society concept rather than how to deal with the cuts has left the sector unprepared and options or initiative that may have been available then have been lost.


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