Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Big Society: a ruse for cuts, inequality and unaccountability

A friend said to me last week: surely you're in favour of big society over big government?. Of course big society and the level of collective responsibility that should go with it are attractive but the rhetoric from the Cameron / Clegg camp is not about collective responsibility, it is about cuts and punishing the poor.

Collective responsibility would need a democratic process to underpin it to prevent protectionism by the existing hegemony or as Anthony Zacharzewski, suggests it needs 'Big Democracy'. As democracy doesn't yet exist in many aspects of British life - perhaps the ConDems could start with democratising government at all levels?

Big Society as a ruse for public sector cuts is what Cameron is suggesting. When the massive and unnecessary cuts are being made across all areas of society, charities and social enterprises will need to step in. As my friend and fellow green, Steve Campkin, pointed out a couple of days ago: "charities exist where government fails".

The two main dangers of replacing of government services with charities and social enterprise are loss of accountability and equity.

Accountability is a feature of true democracy. Accepting that we only have partial democracy in our electoral system, moving public services further from a democratic mandate and further from democratic accountability cannot be a good thing. Without the structures in place, big society will mean more power for the existing elite. By all means give more power to local government, but relying on organisations outside of government to prop up society is wrong.

Inequity is equally(???) worrying. Redistribution of wealth from rich to the poor protects the vulnerable people in society. Moving to social enterprise and relying on local investment and funding for 'big society' schemes will not ensure that poorer people in deprived areas receive the support that they need. It could mean that residents of Chelsea and Kensington have a great vegebox scheme, but it may also mean that there is no funding for street cleaning Tower Hamlets.


Anonymous said...


rialisis said...

Five years ago it was social responsibility. It seems Conservative come up with new buzz words for the same thing.

And when poverty reaches breaking point in another 5-10 years time, Labour will sweep the votes and push the state back out. Except it will be rushed, and a system full of holes to be exploited. It will haemorrage money and we'll have to call in the "cost-cutting" experts again.

Will the cycle ever end?