How Successful Has Britain’s Big Society Been?

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June 29, 2014; The Independent

The idea of the “Big Society” was floated in the UK Conservative Party’s 2010 election manifesto and launched with fanfare as the Conservative-Liberal coalition came to power. The prime minister, David Cameron, described it as his “great passion.”

“We want to give citizens, communities, and local government department the power and information they need” read the opening statement of a government White Paper. Amongst other key points, it promised to support the creation and expansion of mutuals, cooperatives, charities, and social enterprises and give them a greater role in running public services.

According to “State of the Sector 2014,” a survey conducted every two years by nfpSynergy and ThirdSector Magazine, the charities find themselves disappointed. Only one in 10 believe Big Society has been a success. A third of respondents “disagreed” and a third “strongly disagreed” that its aims were being realised.

Disillusion with the government and with politics in general is another main finding of the survey. The full report is available here.

A second article in the Independent points to two other recent reports. Rather than charities being given a greater role in running public services, these other reports conclude “the farming out of public services is effectively turning some charities into sub-contractors for private firms.”

A government spokesperson has responded, “Over the past few years we have supported a bigger, stronger society. More people are volunteering. Charities have more powers and say over public services, and we are seeing more community organisers. On top of this, more than £600m has been set aside for Big Society Capital, the first social investment fund of its kind in the world.”—John Godfrey