2 Aug 2010

'Big Society' doesn't address economic causes of poverty

There has been lots said recently about the Tory idea of a 'Big Society'. Well there is some stuff to welcome but overall it has a very long way to go if we are to make the changes that are needed. Meanwhile do see latest issue of the newsletter of the Equality Trust here.

Anyhow here are a couple of my very similar letters to the local press:

Photo: View of Ludlow Green, Ruscombe

To Stroud News and Journal:

Neil Carmichael welcomed the 'Big Society' in the SNJ (28/07/10). Indeed there is good in the idea: more say for communities, better use of local knowledge and when people are treated as capable they can work out how to fix problems. However I have some very serious reservations.

Doing more for ourselves cannot be an alternative to public services. Increasing voluntary action wont address the economic causes of poverty and inequality. How will people already marginalised by poverty not be left behind by the Big Society? Our capacity to help ourselves depends on our education, health, income, family circumstances, time, confidence and more.
Volunteers can't replace publicly funded organisations. Britons work the longest hours in Europe. People with low-paid jobs and big family responsibilities tend to be poor in time as well as money. Community-based charities are expected to help deliver the Big Society, but they are the very ones facing devastating cuts.

All the evidence is that more equal societies are better for everyone with benefits like lower crime and better well-being. If we are to fix poor or 'broken' neighbourhoods then we need structural changes to the economy to prevent wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving others with little or none. The Big Society does nothing to help this.

Neil Carmichael seeks public service reform by handing power back to professionals and seeking new providers. However more powerful is the idea of co-production. This is where 'providers' of services and 'users' work together in partnership pooling knowledge and skill. It changes the way we think about 'services' and 'needs'. Applied across the board it could bring significant benefits.

If we are to play a part in the Big Society we need to redistribute paid and unpaid time by moving towards a much shorter working week, a higher minimum wage and flexible working conditions. Sadly there is not an indication that this is part of the plan. The Big Society also does not address our urgent need to shift away from our current unsustainable path to a system where all thrive on equal terms without over-stretching the world's resources.

Cllr Philip Booth, Stroud District councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward

And my similar letter to The Citizen and Stroud Life:

An article in The Citizen suggests that the 'Big Society' is a great idea (21/07/10). Indeed there is good in it; more say for communities, better use of local knowledge and when people are treated as capable they can work out how to fix problems. However I have some very serious reservations.

Doing more for ourselves cannot be an alternative to public services. Increasing voluntary action wont address the economic causes of poverty and inequality. How will people already marginalised by poverty not be left behind by the Big Society? Our capacity to help ourselves depends on our education, income, family circumstances, time, confidence and more. We don't want an overbearing state that depletes our capacity to help ourselves, but equally a pruned state will not be strong enough.

Volunteers can't replace publicly funded organisations. Britons work the longest hours in Europe. People with low-paid jobs and big family responsibilities tend to be poor in time as well as money. Community-based charities are expected to help deliver the Big Society, but they are the very ones facing devastating cuts.

All the evidence is that more equal societies are better for everyone with benefits like lower crime and better well-being. If we are to fix poor or 'broken' neighbourhoods then we need structural changes to the economy to prevent wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving others with little or none.

Instead of 'big government' we need a bigger democracy which seeks social justice. Co-production is an idea whose time has come. This is where 'providers' of services and 'users' work together in partnership pooling knowledge and skill. If we are to all play a part in the Big Society we will need this, and to redistribute paid and unpaid time by moving towards a much shorter working week, a higher minimum wage and flexible working conditions.

Sadly the Big Society does not shift us away from our current unsustainable path to a system where all thrive on equal terms without over-stretching the world's resources.

Cllr Philip Booth, Stroud District councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Funding cuts to Big Society type projects - charities involved in the Youth Community Action programme for under-16s that it is axing £14m funding for this year – an 18 per cent cut in the budget. This will save the ministry just £7m. A scheme to create a Facebook-style website for young volunteers to share experiences is among the shelved projects
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/big-blow-for-big-society-as-16325m-cuts-hit-volunteers-2040616.html

Philip Booth said...

Another useful perspective on Big Society from Rob Hopkins:
http://transitionculture.org/2010/07/06/3734/

Philip Booth said...

One In Three Charities Have No Funding Reserve Says New NCVO Research
http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/37896

Philip Booth said...

http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/Molly_Scott_Cato/566395/forget_the_big_society_we_just_need_a_cooperative_one.html

Anonymous said...

Institute of Fiscal Studies - Welfare cuts means working families on the lowest incomes – particularly those with children – are the biggest losers: "Once all of the benefit cuts are considered, the tax and benefit changes announced in the emergency budget are clearly regressive as, on average, they hit the poorest households more than those in the upper middle of the income distribution in cash, let alone percentage, terms."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/aug/25/poor-families-bear-brunt-of-austerity-drive