A Year of BS: 3 Reasons why The Big Society is a Big Fraud
For some time in opposition David Cameron had been quietly supportive of a group of people doing things most people didn’t rate, but that made a huge difference to the country. The Labour Government had sometimes made overtures to them. But towards the end things had got a bit sticky. Cameron would surely move to make life easier for them once he was in government.
And that’s what happened.
David Cameron turned out to be bankers’ greatest advocate in adversity. But this article’s about the voluntary sector, to which Cameron had made very vocal overtures in opposition. But unlike bankers, he’s comprehensively failed to deliver on his voluntary sector initiative: “The Big Society.”
The Big Society is a year old. The first of four (or is it five) launches by David Cameron was on the 19th June 2010. Having talked about it for six months before the election as an alternative to what he describes as the “big state” I was looking forward to hearing what Cameron had to say. I’ve supported a range of voluntary groups in my ward. Many of them, like the Pilmeny Development Project, do a great job helping people to live better lives.
There are a whole range of things that government could do to help voluntary groups and volunteering. Most groups need more funding. While that can be difficult to find there should be no reason not to give better funding. One of my first motions to the Council when I was elected was to demand 5 year funding for voluntary organisations. This wouldn’t cost any more, but it would put projects on a much firmer footing.
I was hoping that Cameron would be a champion for the voluntary sector. It might mitigate the damage his party was promising to do to other public services. But the Big Society has turned out to be a massive fraud. While it looked at first like a poor marketing exercise it’s now clear that it is effectively a cover for cuts.
There are three reasons why it is a fraud:
1. The Big Society only applies to things the government doesn’t care about
The Big Society seems only to apply to things that right-wing governments around the world don’t care about. The areas which are being highlighted for ‘big society’ intervention are those where the work is difficult, often thankless and currently poorly paid.
There are many of us who’d like to take over other aspects of government. The government wouldn’t be short of “Big Society Revenue and Customs” volunteers. Some of us have been trying to encourage big tax avoiding companies and individuals to pay their tax. Sadly Cameron seems more interested in letting Phillip Green avoid millions in tax, or to allow Vodafone to walk away with billions unpaid.
There’s a serious point here. Leaving jobs like social care to volunteers is asking for disaster. But Cameron doesn’t care. He’s only interested in making a society in which the blame for old people dying alone is someone else’s. It’s reprehensible. The Big Society is a fraud because it is a disgusting cynical ploy to divest government of responsibility for the most vulnerable.
2. The Big Society seeks to replace qualified and committed professionals with volunteers.
At the heart of “The Big Society” is the contention that instead of the state paying for support to the vulnerable, it can be provided by volunteers. This is bad for the service users, but it’s downright offensive to the qualified and committed professionals who provide care for eye-wateringly small remuneration. To suggest that caring for high-need people can be done on a shoestring by people who may wish to help out but cannot be expected to acquire qualifications, or to commit full-time to the task is asking for trouble. Especially if there’s little evidence to suggest that those volunteers actually exist.
Having watched the horrific revelations by Panorama it is surely demeaning to those who need care to suggest that rather than carers on the minimum wage, they should be left at the whim of volunteers. When Lord Wei, the “Big Society Champion” can’t find enough time to “champion” the “Big Society,” what hope is there for those who really need care?
It again smacks of a cynical exercise in shifting responsibility for the most vulnerable from the state to someone, anyone else.
3. It fails to deliver anything for anyone other than the rich
The aim, it seems, of the Big Society is to create a framework in which the responsibility for the most vulnerable is shifted from the state to someone else. The reason for this is clear. This is a government absolutely committed to plundering the country for the benefit of the wealthy. While many voluntary organisations do a great job of empowering service users, delivering services that are more responsive and speaking up for people, the Big Society has achieved none of these things.
In fact, getting people back to work, one area where there was a real opportunity to bring strong voluntary sector involvement to helping people the tendering process resulted in 38 out of 40 contracts going to big private sector companies. It may be a coincidence that the millionaire owners of some of the organisations are advisors to the Conservative government. But it’s certain that they are less able to help people get jobs than the voluntary organisations in the same field. Against targets of 30-50% under New Deal contracts the big private providers achieved rates of no better than 13-16%.
When it comes to the conflict for David Cameron between using his government to hand a huge subsidy to millionaires and giving contracts to the voluntary sector there’s only one winner. And it’s not the people who need help getting a job. Nor is it the organisations who’ve built a long track record of success in employability.
At first I thought the Big Society had the most appropriate acronym of any government initiative. But this goes well beyond BS to being another front in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s vicious attack on the most vulnerable.