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Can a big society be a fair society?


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Is it possible for a big society to be a fair society? This presentation, given at the VONNE policy forum on 22 October, explores some of the dilemmas.

Published in: News & Politics
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Can a big society be a fair society?

  1. 1. it’s not fair!
  2. 2. Can a big society ever be a fair society?
  3. 3. ‘ it’s like 500 people applied for the same job and only like three vacancies... so it’s really hard. When you know there’s only three going and there’s like 500 people applying, and then you’re thinking, “yeah, it’s not likely”.’ Oxfam research on poverty in Bradford
  4. 4. The context: the cuts <ul><li>civil society institutions under threat </li></ul><ul><li>welfare cuts WILL hurt the poorest </li></ul><ul><li>the private economy will get worse before it gets better </li></ul>
  5. 5. Big Society: the aspiration
  6. 6. ‘ at its core, the big society is an attempt to connect the civic institutions that lie between the individual and the state... our centralised state has become too big, too bureaucratic and just too distant to support many of those most in need of help.’ Ian Birrell, speechwriter for David Cameron
  7. 7. The Big Society agenda <ul><li>redesign public services to put users first </li></ul><ul><li>strengthen civil society institutions and encourage voluntarism </li></ul><ul><li>localism: decisions should be taken as closely as possible to those they affect </li></ul>
  8. 8. Big Society: the critique
  9. 9. ‘ the Big Society idea is strong on empowerment but weak on equality. By equality we mean everyone having an equal chance in life so that, regardless of circumstance, they can contribute to society, fulfil their potential and live a satisfying life.’ Anna Coote, new economics foundation
  10. 10. Can we tell what it is yet? <ul><li>critique 1: it’s a cover for cuts </li></ul><ul><li>critique 2: it’s a rightwing ideological agenda </li></ul><ul><li>critique 3: it’s vacuous nonsense </li></ul><ul><li>critique 4: should the state be telling us how to construct civil society anyway? </li></ul>
  11. 11. Big Society: the opportunity
  12. 12. ‘ the really helpful things will not be done from the centre; they cannot be done by big organisations; but they can be done by the people themselves.’ E F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful
  13. 13. hard times demand hard thinking <ul><li>opportunity 1: subsidiarity is intelligent </li></ul><ul><li>opportunity 2: co-production is more effective </li></ul><ul><li>opportunity 3: resilience is learned, not programmed - ecology, not just economy </li></ul><ul><li>opportunity 4: reduced resources require innovation </li></ul><ul><li>opportunity 5: civil society may be the only show in town </li></ul>
  14. 14. So is a big society fair?
  15. 15. ‘ all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ George Orwell, Animal Farm
  16. 16. hard thinking about fairness <ul><li>question 1: does fairness equal universality? </li></ul><ul><li>question 2: is diversity ‘unfair’? </li></ul><ul><li>question 3: do we have a shared view of fairness? </li></ul><ul><li>question 4: if we all believe in it, how come we don’t vote for it? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Making the most of it
  18. 18. ‘ it is not only possible for one human being to make a real and lasting difference to another; it is often, in the most difficult circumstances, the only thing that ever does.’ David Robinson, Out of the Ordinary
  19. 19. Five ways forward <ul><li>1: build on community development values </li></ul><ul><li>2: recognise and share learning </li></ul><ul><li>3: create new connections </li></ul><ul><li>4: critique, conversation, collaboration </li></ul><ul><li>5: create the mainstream from the margins </li></ul>
  20. 20. From Big Society to Our Society <ul><li>Big Society is the government’s story.... </li></ul>....Our Society could be our story