The Big Society Debate

The Big Society Debate

A New Agenda for Social Welfare?

Edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter

The book is divided into two sections, history and policy, which together provide readers with a historically grounded, internationally informed, and multidisciplinary analysis of the Big Society policies. The introduction and conclusion tie the strands together, providing a coherent analysis of the key issues in both sections. Various chapters in this study examine the limitations and consider the challenges involved in translating the ideas of the Big Society agenda into practice.

Chapter 2: Britain’s Social Welfare Provision in the Long Run: The Importance of Accountable, Well-financed Local Government

Simon Szreter

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


Simon Szreter INTRODUCTION The precise meaning and agencies of the ‘Big Society’ are unclear. Mr Cameron, its chief political advocate, offers a definition which at times seems close to pure rhetoric, where it serves simply as the opposite to ‘the broken society’, another ill-defined term first publicly aired, like Big Society, during the 2010 election campaign: ‘We do need a social recovery to mend the broken society and to me, that’s what the Big Society is all about.’1 In terms of the agency envisaged for the ‘social recovery’, Mr Cameron has talked of individuals volunteering with donations of time and money in their communities and of promoting the activities of non-profit charities.2 Big Society proponents, such as Cameron’s former speechwriter Danny Kruger, also talk of being in favour of a shift of power and resources away from central government social welfare policies and schemes, with a preference instead for the ‘voluntary sector’ operating at its best in local ‘communities’.3 But in that case what is the role of local government in all this? There has been no clarity on whether ‘Big Society’ includes the elected and accountable local governments of communities or whether the latter are seen as part of the problem of too much ‘big government’, preventing individuals and non-profits from taking local and community responsibility. There are two key pointers in terms of policy, which both seem to suggest that the promotion of ‘Big Society’ is in fact envisaged as a centrally imposed alternative to a more empowered...

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