One, if not the main, objectives of the ‘Big Society’ is to enhance the role of the charity and voluntary sector. It will come as quite a shock to Cameron then, to read the comments of Dame Suzi Leather, the chair of the Charity Commission, arguing that public sector cuts will damage vital services and undermine charities’ ability to provide their own services. Charities are as much at risk from the economic problems as any other service provider, and Leather makes sure to highlight this:
“Given these figures, it’s questionable whether the voluntary and charity sector will be able to fill all the gaps left by cuts to public services”
The public sector cuts are going to be very damaging to charities, when considering that:
Research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations found that 23,000 charities rely on local government funding for more than half of their income. Many of these are also seeing greater demand for their services during the economic downturn.
As the local government was one of the most affected areas in the recent 6bn cuts, there is no wonder that Leather has such concerns.
All the ‘Big Society’ will do, is further ingrain inequality with a post code lottery of important services becoming more widespread. After all, those who are the most able to purchase vital public services such as education and health, well they are not going to rely on the underfunded charity/voluntary provision and depleted (due to the cuts) public services when they can buy ‘better’ services. This is why increased privatisation in areas that need to be universally accessible to provide the liberal society that so many champion is counterproductive. There needs to be a concentration on creating a more efficient state sector.
However, current policies are seeing more and more power leaving the communities’ hands into a small number of people’s hands. These people’s interests are often counterposed to the public’s – schools, charities and health is going to increasing fall into the hands of the powerful. This is contra to the government rhetoric of ‘power to the people’.
On a more specific note, Leather’s comments have significance for disabled people. In recent years, we have seen the charity sector becoming more dominant in decision-making within the government. There has been a continual decline in funding for disability organisations ran by disabled people at the expense of funding for charities. Thus, the charities have been promoted, and are increasingly so in the current political context, as being a key source of support for disabled people. However, this disregards the rather poor history charities have had with portraying disabled people. Nevertheless, the threat of economic suffering for charities may undermine the services that disabled people have access to. On the contrary, however, it may mobilise the disability community further to provide services for disabled people themselves.
Everyday there seems to be another reason for why the ‘Big Society’ is little more than a soundbite that has gone out of fashion. If the government are serious about protecting the vulnerable they will abandon this ludicrous idea and the corresponding misguided ‘policy solutions’.